British Prime Minister Boris Johnson name-checked decarbonisation as he celebrated a decisive general election victory that leaves the offshore wind industry hoping he will keep his promises, makes Brexit a certainty, and raises questions over the future in the UK of Scotland and its massive renewable resources.
Johnson flagged a desire to make the UK the “cleanest, greenest” nation after his Conservatives crushed the Labour opposition, which ran on a broadly hard-left ticket, to remain in power and secure his party’s largest majority in the House of Commons since Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
The Conservative election campaign contained few concrete pledges on green issues, preferring to lean on the 2050 net-zero carbon goal already put in place by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May when challenged over its climate ambitions.
The big exception was offshore wind, where the Conservatives made specific mention of boosting to 40GW a 2030 goal that currently stands at 30GW, along with a pledge to back floating wind technology. As in so many other areas of policy, the sector will now await the detail behind the number, but the fact that both major parties backed an increase leaves the UK’s world-leading offshore wind sector well placed to play a central role in national industrial policy.
The same cannot be said of other renewable technologies. The Conservatives have excluded both onshore wind and solar from the contract-for-difference (CfD) support mechanism, with no immediate signs of a rethink on that.
With Brexit set to – in Johnson’s words – “get done” by the end of January – at least as far as a withdrawal agreement is concerned – the offshore wind sector should at least see an easing of the rolling deadlines that caused stockpiling against a ‘no deal’ Brexit this year.
However, longer-term the uncertainty remains over the detailed future relationship between the UK and EU’s energy markets. And while Johnson triumphed in England and Wales, the Scottish National Party (SNP) swept the board in Scotland, strengthening its calls for another referendum on independence for the devolved nation, the biggest source of UK onshore wind power and a growing force offshore.
Early reaction to Johnson’s win stressed the need for urgent policy action to push the UK towards net-zero.
Hugh McNeal, CEO of wind-focused industry group RenewableUK, said: “We look forward to working with the new government to grow the UK’s renewable energy sector and deliver on the commitments to 40GW of offshore wind by 2030 and developing floating wind projects.
“The voters have sent a clear signal that climate action must be a top priority, and the eyes of the world will be on the UK as we host the UN global climate summit, so this Government must take urgent action to get the country on track for net zero.”
Power sector umbrella group Energy UK's policy director Audrey Gallacher added: “While Brexit will continue to dominate the political agenda, and there will be important issues to now focus on as we look to the future relationship with Europe, we must also quickly break the hiatus in energy policy.”
Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group think-tank said: “The government’s policy decisions in this parliamentary term will be absolutely critical. They will determine whether the UK is genuinely on track for achieving its net zero target and reversing the decline of the natural environment within a generation.
“They will also determine whether UK businesses can become amongst the most competitive providers of low carbon goods and services globally.”
The UK Renewable Energy Association said: “The climate emergency is the biggest challenge that we face and this is the pivotal moment. The new government must now implement credible policy to decarbonise the economy in line with our net-zero targets.
“To achieve this, the new government must be more ambitious and commit to wholesale systems change across energy, in particular for transport and waste, required to unleash the full potential of renewable energy and clean technology.”
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