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Labour's state control plan for UK power grid draws mixed reaction

Opposition party's nationalisation proposals prompt warnings over complexity and cost

Plans by the UK’s opposition Labour Party to take Britain’s energy networks back into public ownership drew a mixed reaction from the country's renewables sector – and a stark warning from existing operator National Grid.

Proposals outlined by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow energy secretary Rebecca Long Bailey – which the party claims will help “usher in a Green Industrial Revolution” and tackle climate change – also include the removal of distribution network operators (DNOs) and a pledge to put solar panels on almost two million British homes.

Labour – the largest opposition party to the UK’s Conservative government – said it plans to replace the existing structure with national, regional and municipal energy agencies to “build out connections to parts of the country with high solar, wind and tidal potential, overcoming the bottlenecks, inefficiencies and underinvestment that has characterised private ownership”.

Labour has previously committed itself to major expansion of UK wind power, on- and offshore.

The grid nationalisation plan prompted an immediate backlash from incumbent, London Stock Exchange-listed network operator National Grid, which also has interests in the US power sector.

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“At a time when there is increased urgency to meet the challenges of climate change, the last thing needed is the enormous distraction, cost and complexity contained in these plans,” National Grid said in a statement.

Industry lobbying group RenewableUK’s head of policy Luke Clark said “restructuring our energy networks risks being a costly and complex option, when we also need to speed up the decarbonisation of our economy”.

Clark added: “There is much more that can be done within existing structures to enable investment in cheap renewables, and clean jobs and industry around the UK.”

There was a warmer welcome from another renewables body. Nina Skorupska, chief executive at the Renewable Energy Association said: “It is good to see positive ambitions set for renewables and with the urgency the task requires.Solar is one of the cheapest forms of energy.

“After years of damaging policies we would welcome the kick start to an industry that was thriving three years ago.”

Scotland’s energy minister Paul Wheelhouse, told Recharge he wants to consider the implications of Labour’s proposals for the grid in Scotland before delivering a verdict.

“We do have a slightly different landscape in terms of DNOs, ScottishPower and SSE, and the relationship with National Grid is different from the rest of the UK,” he said on the sidelines of the All Energy 2019 conference in Glasgow.

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“Clearly the first priority is to decarbonise our energy system, secure investment into the grid, and help the supply of energy.

“If it’s helpful in doing that, then it’s a good thing, but I have some worries that it might not be adequately reflecting the landscape in Scotland,” Wheelhouse said.

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics for Greenpeace UK, was the most upbeat about the plan. “Nationalising gas and electricity distribution networks, if managed properly, has the potential to be positive for the climate, energy bills and workers in those sectors,” she said.

“More control over these networks would give those in government more power to implement a rapid transition away from damaging fossil fuels towards clean and increasingly cheap renewables.”

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