General Election 2019: What Do The Manifestos Mean For The Electricity Network?

With the UK public getting set to cast their votes in the 2019 General Election, we take a look at what the implications might be for the energy sector and the way we produce power.

When the country heads to the polling stations later this month, it’s fair to say the state of the nation’s electricity network might not be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Topics such as Brexit and the NHS dominate the debate and media coverage. But this vote is also described as ‘The Climate Change Election’.

Whoever ends up in 10 Downing Street on Friday 13 December, there’ll be huge question marks hanging over the way the UK generates its electricity in the years to come.

Never mind the ballots, what about the blackouts?

So we’ve tried to get the inside track on what each of the parties are saying about their power plans.

Here’s a brief overview of what the main political parties’ official general election manifestos have to say about energy and electricity.

Wind turbine farm power generator in beautiful nature landscape for production of renewable green energy is friendly industry to environment. Concept of sustainable development technology.
WINDS OF CHANGE: Most political parties are pledging to ramp up renewables as the UK transitions to a lower carbon electricity system

Conservatives

The current government heads to the polls with a 64-page manifesto emblazoned with the well-parroted slogan ‘Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s Potential’.

Away from attempting to answer the big question of the UK’s relationship with the European Union, pledges on energy and the environment focus on a commitment to be Net Zero by 2050, with investment in clean energy and green infrastructure.

If Boris Johnson wins a majority, the first budget of Parliament will “prioritise environmental issues” including R&D funding for decarbonisation schemes.

The Tories promise to increase offshore wind capacity to 40 GW by 2030. They also support new floating wind farms.

Its manifesto also pledges £800 million to build the first fully-deployed carbon capture and storage cluster by the middle of the next decade.

A further £1 billion is allocated to bolstering the electric vehicle charging network. This move will ensure everyone is within 30 miles of a charging point.

It makes no firm commitment on timings, but the manifesto pledges to consult on “the earliest date we can phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, while minimising the impact on drivers”.

The Conservatives will also use a £1 billion Ayrton Fund to develop affordable and accessible clean energy.

An extra £9.2 billion is set aside to improve the energy efficiency of homes and public buildings such as schools and hospitals.

Labour

Clocking in at 107 pages, Labour’s ‘It’s Time For Real Change’ is by far the longest party manifesto. It should come as little surprise to learn it includes a raft of new policies and plans for the energy industry.

The most eye-catching – and controversial – is its pledge to bring the utilities back into public ownership, along with other essential services such as rail and mail.

It argues that a publicly owned power network is the only way to accelerate and coordinate the investment necessary to generate 90% of electricity (plus 50% of heat) from low-carbon sources by 2030.

The renationalisation would lead to:

  • A new UK National Energy Agency to own and maintain national grid infrastructure
  • 14 new Regional Energy Agencies to replace the existing distribution network operators. By law, these bodies will be responsible for decarbonising electricity and reducing fuel poverty
  • Nationalisation of the electricity supply arms of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies.

Another key pledge is a £400 billion National Transformation Fund, of which £250 billion will go into a Green Transformation Fund dedicated to renewables and low-carbon energy and transport.

This cash will help build 7,000 new offshore wind turbines, 2,000 new onshore wind turbines, and “enough solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches”.

Labour will also look to trial and expand tidal energy, roll out technologies like heat pumps, solar hot water, and hydrogen, and expand power storage to help balance the grid.

The manifesto also includes vows to:

  • Impose a windfall tax on oil companies that will raise £11 billion towards decarbonisation
  • Delist any company that fails to contribute to tackling climate change from the London Stock Exchange
  • Introduce a zero-carbon standard for all new houses. Upgrade almost every existing home to the highest energy efficiency standards
  • Expand community and distributed energy.
  • Introduce a zero-carbon standard for all new houses. Upgrade almost every existing home to the highest energy efficiency standards
  • Expand community and distributed energy.

Liberal Democrats

There’s little doubt where the Liberal Democrats’ primary focus is. It’s titled its 98-page manifesto ‘Stop Brexit, Build A Brighter Future’.

However, the party does dedicate significant chunks of the publication to renewable energy. This includes an overarching commitment to generate at least 80% of the nation’s power from renewables by 2030.

It claims it could do this by removing current restrictions on solar and wind. It would also build more interconnectors to guarantee the security of supply. While the party will end subsidies for fossil-fuels by 2025 in line with the G7 pledge.

The Jo Swinson-led group promises a £130 billion infrastructure investment, which would include a £5 billion Green Investment Bank to support zero-carbon priorities.

This would contain £12 billion over five years to develop technologies such as tidal and wave power, energy storage, demand response, fuel cells and smart grids.

The Lib Dems also pledge to:

  • Implement an emergency 10-year programme to reduce energy consumption from all buildings
  • Expand community and decentralised energy. Support for councils to develop local power generation
  • Fit all new homes with solar panels
  • Electrify the entire rail network by 2035
  • Phase in the installation of heat pumps in homes and businesses off the gas grid
  • Ensure every new car and small van sold by 2030 is electric through cutting VAT on electric vehicles to 5% and increasing the install rate of recharging points
  • Support carbon capture and storage and low-carbon processes, including offering advice on minimising industrial emissions.
sign for electric vehicle recharging point
WHEELS OF CHANGE: Rolling out electric vehicles forms a key plank of several parties’ environmental agenda as the country heads to the polls

Brexit Party

The 24-page publication by Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party isn’t referred to as a manifesto. Instead, it’s dubbed as the organisation’s ‘Contract With The People’.

Whilst it is unsurprisingly packed with information about the party’s preferred choice of a so-called ‘Clean-Break Brexit’ and calls for wider political reforms such as abolishing the House of Lords, there is precious little about energy infrastructure, climate change and renewables.

The only energy-related pledge concerns cutting VAT on domestic fuel once the UK leaves the European Union.

Plaid Cymru

A £20 billion ‘Green Jobs Revolution’ to ensure Wales is 100% self-sufficient in renewable energy by 2030 is the centrepiece of Plaid Cymru’s Westminster manifesto.

Titled ‘Wales, It’s Us’, the 45-page document also proposes creating a new national energy agency (Ynni Cymru) to oversee a green energy transformation.

This would include tidal lagoons in Swansea Bay, Cardiff and Colwyn Bay to fully-realise the potential of marine energy.

Other green energy infrastructure proposals include:

  • Building an Ynys Môn (Anglesey) offshore wind farm
  • Building an Usk barrage
  • Establishing a network of local energy grids
  • Opposing the development of new nuclear power stations
  • Banning fracking and new open-cast coal mines
  • Amending planning regulations and legislation to fast-track community-owned energy schemes like hydro-electric power
  • Equipping all new-build housing with solar panels for electricity generation and solar water heating
  • Promoting the use of underground and undersea electricity cables where feasible. Opposing the use of pylons in National Parks and Areas of Natural Beauty (AONB).

Plaid Cymru’s plans also incorporate the establishment of a ‘Welsh Energy Atlas’ showing where different forms of energy resources would have the least ecological impact. This would help ensure green infrastructure is built sustainably.

In addition, the party will invest in a national electric vehicle charging network to ensure Wales isn’t “left behind in the coming electric car revolution”.

At present, Wales has eight of the counties with the lowest number of public car charging points per person across Great Britain.

Cardiff has just 45 public charging points compared to 112 in Edinburgh and 258 in Milton Keynes.

Scottish National Party

Its ‘Stronger For Scotland’ 52-page publication highlights the already impressive impact of renewables north of the border.

Scotland accounts for a quarter of Europe’s tidal and offshore wind resources, along with 10% of its wave potential.

Nearly 75% of Scotland’s electricity in 2018 came from renewable sources. Wind power output hit a record high in the first half of this year, generating double the amount of electricity to power every home in Scotland.

The manifesto proposes to build on this by demanding the ring-fencing of Scottish oil and gas receipts, which it claims will be worth £8.5 billion up to 2023-24.

The SNP would use this cash on a Net Zero Fund to support the development of renewables, electric vehicles and carbon capture utilisation and storage. At least 12% of the fund – £1 billion over five years – will be committed to diversifying the economies of oil hubs such as Aberdeen, Falkirk and Shetland.

Other manifesto pledges include:

  • Opposing new nuclear plants and prioritising investment on clearer forms of electricity generation
  • Ensuring all new homes must use renewable or low carbon heat by 2024
  • Allowing onshore wind and solar projects to bid for ‘contracts for difference’ support, the UK’s main renewables support scheme
  • Unlocking resources for emissions reduction via a Green Growth Accelerator bringing combining public and private investment
  • A £3 billion portfolio of renewables, waste and construction projects
  • Pressing UK government to ditch plans to quadruple VAT on domestic solar installations
  • A diesel scrappage scheme to encourage trade-ins to ultra-low emissions vehicles
  • Introduce a national free energy switching service incorporating an Ofgem database of customers who haven’t switched suppliers. The service would encourage people to switch to the cheapest possible energy tariff.

Green Party

As a party dedicated to environmentalism and fighting for what it calls climate justice, it should come as no shock that the 56-page ‘If Not Now, When?’ manifesto outlines a radical shake-up of the energy industry.

At the heart of the Greens’ proposals is a £100 billion a year Green New Deal to tackle the climate emergency by reducing emissions to Net Zero by 2030.

This investment incorporates:

  • £10.4 billion on upgrading the electricity grid
  • £4.5 billion for energy storage projects
  • £12 billion to boost renewables generation, paving the way for wind to provide 70% of the UK’s electricity by 2030
  • £2.5 billion on electric vehicles and charging infrastructure

Other ideas put forward include:

  • Empowering communities to develop renewable energy projects
  • Reforming the planning system to support a massive increase in wind and renewable generation
  • Remove subsidies for the oil and gas industries and prepare for the rapid decommissioning of North Sea rigs
  • Apply a Carbon Tax on fossil fuel and imported energy based on the greenhouse gas emissions produced. This tax will rise over the decade to make coal, oil and gas unviable
  • Creating subsea interconnectors to Norway and Iceland to tap into their hydro and geothermal power
  • Doubling demand side response capacity to improve electricity grid efficiency
  • Expand short-term energy storage capacity so peak periods of renewables-led generation can be stored more effectively using domestic solar batteries, smart electric vehicle battery charging and heat storage in hot water cylinders
  • A ban on new nuclear power stations
  • Creating a nationwide network of electric vehicle charging points and requiring all petrol stations and motorway services to offer electric recharging by 2025
  • Rolling out solar PV and other domestic renewable energy systems to one million houses a year
  • Replace boilers with renewable heat to reduce the use of natural gas

In Northern Ireland, we’ll take a brief look at the main parties representing the unionist and nationalist perspective. For the latter, Sinn Fein’s 16-page ‘Time For Unity’ document doesn’t mention energy or electricity at all. It predominantly focuses on the big issues of Brexit and Irish reunification.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) does reference the energy grid in its 28-page document ‘Let’s Get The UK Moving Again’.

The manifesto highlights the importance of grid interconnectors with other countries. It pledges to explore the possibility of an interconnector with Iceland.

Compared to other programmes, it is far less radical towards meeting Net Zero by 2050, suggesting it can be hit with “just transformation”.

The DUP also advocates zero VAT on domestic electricity and gas. This would cut household bills and encourage take up of more environmentally-friendly heating technologies.

On a similar theme, it proposes a zero rating for new electric vehicles, reducing VAT for new hybrids and increasing the grants for installing domestic charging points to £750.


So there we go. A snapshot of what might be in store for the nation’s electricity network once all the votes are counted at General Election 2019…

If you were Prime Minister, what policies would you put forward for our energy sector?

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