The history of energy policy in the United Kingdom is the worthy subject of much political discussion and literary discourse. From the harnessing of steam during the industrial revolution, to the oil and gas fields of Hardstoft and Heathfield, to Calder Hall and Burbo Bank, many a writer has attempted to charter a course and establish a functional narrative along the long and winding road that energy has weaved across every corner of our country.
Page after page, readers will have seen the precariousness by which domestic energy has been treated and the fragmented ownership of responsibility for the brief itself by successive governments. Over the past fifty years, for instance, policymaking has been spread across five departments – the Department for Trade and Industry (1970-1974; 1992-2007), the Department for Energy (1974-1992), the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (2007-2008), the Department for Energy and Climate Change (2008-2016), and the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (2016-2023).
Now, the Prime Minister has opened a new chapter and created the sixth, and hopefully final, department wherein energy policy will hope to find solace amidst a series of ongoing crises caused by global gas prices, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.
The immediate priorities outlined by the Prime Minister certainly provides a degree of optimism for the future of a sector that has long been in need of a dedicated workforce and department. Yet, in order for optimism to shift into measurable results, what is needed now more so than ever is not just simple rhetoric but a clear and tangible reality wherein suppliers, generators, and the ancillary services can operate with full confidence and certainty, both of which have been severely diminished over recent years. So, the question remains, what steps should the Government take to deliver this?
Well, now that energy has found itself back in its own department with a team of dedicated ministers and civil servants, newfound resources must be utilised and harnessed in order to reassure industry with the utmost haste. The Secretary of State must engage with industry in a constructive and formative manner rather than demanding reform of longstanding institutions, conventions, and mechanisms on a Sunday morning. Governance is not simply government directing actors within a given market, but rather government working with actors to ensure smooth, efficient results which benefit the economy, the consumer, and the industry in question. Constructive consultation with the energy sector must be a priority and treated with the sanctity it so deserves.
Efforts must also be taken to mitigate the risk profile of long-term infrastructure projects. The investment landscape has long been in need of revival, as the Electricity Generator Levy continues to tilt the so-called level playing field between fossil fuels and renewables in favour of the former alongside the courting of capital away from the United Kingdom and towards foreign markets, such as the United States as a result of their Inflation Reduction Act. Urgent steps must be taken to redress the symbiotic relationship between state and business, which has for far too long been neglected. The money is there to invest, the Government need to realise this and provide the fertile ground on which private companies can sow the seeds. The rewards will be reaped by all.
Lastly, the Government must ensure the swift and secure passage of the Energy Bill through Parliament. Whilst the Energy Prices Act was passed through Parliament as emergency legislation for the present, laying and mandating the consumer support schemes on a statutory footing, the Energy Bill is the prime opportunity for government and parliamentarians to look towards the future and lay the foundations for which our energy systems in the decades to come will act as a safeguard from any future crises. In the seventh months since its introduction into Parliament, the proposed legislation is yet to reach the House of Commons, having originated in the Lords. Industry continues to support the Energy Bill and it is of fundamental importance that it passes as soon as possible so policy implementation can unlock the limitless avenues of our energy innovation.
Hope is often a word synonymous with political change but is frequently met with disappointment and often despair. The Prime Minister now stands at a pivotal moment in his tenure. A golden opportunity awaits him, to take ownership of energy policy and seize the potential of a Net Zero economy; yet this outcome is not necessarily a foregone conclusion, we have seen many in his position simply pass the buck onto their successor. As is the way in the political world, time will be the judge, industry and the people will be the jury, and governments to come may or may not prove to be the executioner.
Jordan Jacobs is the Public Affairs Officer at Energy UK. He is also a local councillor in his hometown of Rayleigh, Essex.