The voice of the energy industry

The Energy Election?

With voters taking to the polls today (May 7), the campaign for the 2015 General Election is in full swing. For those of us working in public affairs the Purdah period has been filled with speculation over the various party colours which a new government could be made up of. 

The ubiquitous cliché that this is the most unpredictable election in generations has only been rivalled by the political party soundbites attesting to a ‘long term economic plan’ and a ‘cost of living crisis’. In planning for our post-election engagement with MPs we can make a series of educated assumptions as to which Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) will find themselves taking their seats in the House of Commons come May such as those selected to replace incumbent MPs with healthy majorities and certain constituencies subject to intensive polling. Ultimately, however, it remains very much guesswork.

With neither Labour nor the Conservatives on course to win an outright majority, the UK energy industry and, indeed, wider industry is clouded in uncertainty – the one word which can strike fear into the hearts of investors. This is worrying news for the UK’s ageing electricity infrastructure which requires £100 billion worth of investment by 2020.

It is in this context that Energy UK and DeHavilland hosted a breakfast briefing (Tuesday 28 April) seeking to shed some light on the prospects for energy policy under a future government. The panel reflected the broad range of views which currently exists when discussing energy policy. 

Providing us with Labour’s perspective on the future of energy policy was Leonie Cooper from the Socialist Environment and Resources Association (SERA), an environmental campaign and green lobby group which feeds into the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee. Ms Cooper guided attendees through the Party’s Green Plan, highlights of which include commitments to set a decarbonisation target for the power sector by 2030, providing free energy efficiency measures to 200,000 low income households a year and the creation of an Energy Security Board which would plan and deliver a diverse energy mix. Ms Cooper also stressed the importance of giving investors’ confidence in the UK energy market which she believed a Labour Government would achieve through a combination of a decarbonisation target and support for onshore wind.

Richard Howard, Head of Environment and Energy at Policy Exchange, was next up to share his views on the parties’ manifestos and the direction he saw energy policy taking over the next five years. Mr Howard was quick to point out that although energy and the environment will not be the battleground where this election is won and lost, this election will shape energy policy for decades to come. With this in mind it is important to note that there is a lot of common ground between the political parties in areas such as decarbonisation, support for EMR and international efforts to tackle climate change. The key dividing line, however, would be the level of state intervention required in the energy market with the Conservatives favouring competition and Labour in favour of stronger regulation. 

DeHavilland’s own Anna Haswell concluded the panel’s opening remarks with a succinct analysis of the parties’ policies and the PPCs who could be influential in the next parliament. Ms Haswell highlighted the potential for the smaller parties such as the SNP and UKIP to hold the balance of power and demand more radical energy policy, for example, an end to the locational transmission charging for the former and the abolition of the Department for Energy and Climate Change for the latter.

The event chair, Jillian Ambrose News Editor at Utility Week, opened the event to questions from the floor which kicked off a lively discussion on a number of important topics which will surely be shaped by the outcome of the General Election, including the future of the UK in the European Union, the pace of decarbonisation and the next steps following the outcome of the CMA investigation.

As is the case with the majority of events speculating the outcome of the election, attendees would have been forgiven for coming away with a sense that more questions had been raised than answered. As May 7 fast approaches, it seems the only certainty is ambiguity as to when a new government can be formed… and the looming prospect that we might need to do it all again later in the year.

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