The UK renewables sector is today (Thursday) gearing up to work with yet another energy secretary after new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak placed Grant Shapps – who once used the alias ‘Michael Green’ – in the role as part of a shake-up of his top team.
Shapps – formerly Britain’s transport secretary and most recently briefly caretaker home secretary – replaces Jacob Rees-Mogg, who held the top job at Britain’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for just a few weeks under the disastrous leadership of Liz Truss, who Sunak replaced yesterday.
The departure of Rees-Mogg, labelled a “climate dinosaur” who openly favoured fossil fuel production, will be mourned by few UK clean energy advocates, and Shapps comes with less obvious immediate causes for alarm, despite an occasional role as a controversial character in British politics because of his use of the alias Michael Green to carry on internet-based business activities early in his political career.
Shapps is a political ally of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who championed net zero initiatives during his time in office, and as transport secretary spoke of the need to cut reliance on fossil fuels and backed measures designed to phase out petrol vehicles.
Shapps said earlier in October: "If there's one thing for certain we cannot carry on relying on, as the world has done so many times, on hydrocarbons."
Key decisions for the new energy secretary and Sunak will include to what extent it continues the aggressive push back into fossil fuels started by Truss and Rees-Mogg, which saw a new round of North Sea oil & gas licensing announced along with plans to lift a ban on shale gas fracking.
On the flip side, both Shapps and Sunak have previously spoken out against onshore wind expansion, a sector where their predecessors signaled an easing of prohibitive planning decisions.
One of Shapps’ shadows in the opposition Labour Party, climate and net zero spokesman Ed Miliband, quipped after the new appointment: “Fair play to him, one of his aliases was Michael Green, which could be a good sign.”
But Milliband added: “Solar and wind are by far the cheapest power we have but Grant Shapps called onshore wind an ‘eyesore’ in April this year, and Rishi Sunak spent the summer saying he'd ban it. Sticking to this will drive up bills and imports and damage our energy security.”