The UK’s renewables industry urged incoming leader Rishi Sunak to act fast on key issues facing the green power sector, as it faces up to the policy uncertainties of a third Prime Minister this year.
Sunak will formally take the keys to 10 Downing Street today (Tuesday) after his selection by the governing Conservative Party, replacing disastrous predecessor Liz Truss who lasted less than two months in office before being turfed out over economic policy bungles that almost crashed the British financial system.
The UK energy sector will now await signals from the Sunak government over major policy areas shaping power and renewables – and whether it will stick with some of the measures rushed in by Truss during an ongoing period of chaos in British politics.
As chancellor of the exchequer – Britain’s chief finance minister – in the government of last Prime Minister but one Boris Johnson, Sunak was closely linked with major ambitions for offshore wind that saw the UK set a goal to have 50GW installed by 2050, four times what’s in place now.
A rare bright spot in the short-lived Truss government was an indication that it planned to reverse long-standing planning restrictions on onshore wind development in England. Sunak has previously talked tough on keeping onshore wind restrictions, albeit in the context of a contest to lead the Conservatives, where such a position could appeal to some of the party’s membership base despite turbines on land being shown to be hugely popular among the public as a whole.
Truss angered the renewables sector, however, with plans for a revenue cap on green power generation that major utilities said could threaten investor confidence, and infuriated environmental campaigners with a new round of North Sea oil & gas licensing.
Dan McGrail, CEO of RenewableUK, said: “Cutting people’s energy bills and boosting energy security will be high on the new Prime Minister’s agenda, so we’re keen to work with Mr Sunak to achieve this as fast as possible.”
The industry body said Sunak’s government needs to “pull out all the stops” to hit the 50GW offshore wind target.
“We’re also urging the new Prime Minister to maintain the Conservatives’ commitment to lifting the block on onshore wind in England, as it has the support of over 70% of the public and over 80% of Conservative voters.”
McGrail said to help the UK meet its mandated net zero goal by 2050 “we’re urging Mr Sunak to reassess of some of the Conservatives’ recent measures which risk undermining confidence among investors, such as the energy price cap which could skew investment towards fossil fuels. We also need to see a reform of our system of clean power auctions to increase the volume of new capacity we secure each year”.
One early casualty of the Sunak government could be Jacob Rees-Mogg, the controversial energy secretary installed by Truss who has previously made no secret of his enthusiasm for the fossil fuel sector.
Rees-Mogg has been on the other side of several inter-Conservative leadership contests from Sunak, backing the new Prime Minister's opponents, and is tipped for the chop.