The UK renewable energy sector and its supporters were left hoping hardline campaign rhetoric will be softened by the realities of government as Liz Truss was on Monday confirmed as the nation’s incoming Prime Minister.
Truss – foreign secretary under departing leader Boris Johnson – was picked as its new leader ahead of rival Rishi Sunak by members of the governing Conservative Party and will take office with energy at the top of her agenda.
Like every other European leader, Truss is under massive pressure to address soaring energy costs and is expected to unveil a plan that includes a price freeze within days of entering 10 Downing Street.
The UK green energy sector became increasingly concerned during the month-long campaign to elect the new Conservative leader over rhetoric from both candidates – but Truss in particular – that was supportive of increased fossil fuel activity and downbeat on renewables, especially onshore wind and solar.
Mark Sommerfeld, head of power and flexibility at the UK’s Renewable Energy Association, said the comments coming from Truss had been “pretty concerning”, for example over tightening planning laws to restrict solar development.
Sommerfeld told Recharge that the sector should hope that a campaign directed at a Conservative membership that is perceived as hostile to renewables will be softened by “a more pragmatic approach” once in power, especially because of the legal obligation to meet 2050 net zero goals signed up to by her Conservative predecessor Theresa May.
“That’s certainly our hope. When Liz Truss says she wants to remove green levies from energy bills, what does that really mean? Does that mean putting them on general taxation? Does it mean completely removing and not paying green levies at all, in which case you are undermining legal contracts?”
Long-standing Conservative policies hindering onshore wind and solar – despite their ability to rapidly deliver cheap zero-carbon power – has been an ongoing frustration to the UK renewable energy sector and stands in stark contrast to the robust support given to offshore wind under Johnson.
'Cheap energy not windmills'
The misgivings of green power advocates will not be helped by reports that her Conservative ally Jacob Rees-Mogg is being lined up to take over as business and energy secretary, replacing current incumbent Kwasi Kwarteng, who is tipped to become Truss’s chancellor of the exchequer – the UK’s finance minister.
Rees-Mogg has previously said that he would like his voters to have cheap energy “rather more than I would like them to have windmills” and has spoken enthusiastically about new fossil fuel projects.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth said after Truss’s victory: “The UK has huge renewable energy resources. In addition to the rapid growth in offshore wind already promised by the government, we need to see the same commitment to boosting onshore wind and solar.
“But instead of promising to do so, the candidates vying to be Prime Minister have spent the summer condemning onshore renewables, despites their popularity and the fact that renewable power is now nine times cheaper than gas.
“The next Prime Minister must unlock the UK’s full renewable power potential by removing the unfair planning barriers to onshore wind and scrapping the limit which restricts the quantity of solar and onshore wind projects that the government will support.”