Greg Clark appointed new Energy Secretary

Prime Minister Theresa May has merged the departments of business and energy and appointed Greg Clark as the new Secretary in charge of the newly merged Whitehall ministry.

Industry leaders have welcomed the arrival of Clark, the Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, who takes over the energy portfolio from Amber Rudd, who was appointed Home Secretary in the new-look Government.

RenewableUK’s Chief Executive Hugh McNeal said: “We’re looking forward to working supportively with Mr Clark in his new role, as we represent industries that can attract inward investment in the UK, and onshore wind offers the cheapest source of new power for Britain.

“The renewable energy industry has faced some tough challenges over the past year, but now we have clarity on the make-up of the new administration we can move forward”.

The UK will invest over £20bn in wind energy in the next five years. Energy is the big ticket item in British infrastructure spending. Industry is ready to invest and it is vital for our economy that this work continues.”

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said: “Greg Clark is an excellent appointment. He understands climate change, and has written influential papers on the benefits of Britain developing a low-carbon economy.

“Importantly, he sees that economic growth and tackling climate change are bedfellows not opponents – and he now has the opportunity to align British industry, energy and climate policy in a way that’s never been done before.”

On the abolition of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Richard Black said: “The disappearance of DECC as a stand-alone government department will of course raise concerns that the UK is going to ‘go soft’ on climate change.

“However, Theresa May has assured Conservative MPs that her government will continue to be an international leader on climate change, and it would be odd not to continue with that when all the most important new trading partners in our post-Brexit world, such as China, India and the United States, are themselves making massive investments in a clean energy transformation.

“The most pressing questions are domestic: what will the government do to restore the shot confidence of energy investors? They’re demanding consistency, transparency and long-term planning – and over the last year, they haven’t had it. And how can the economic advantages of a clean energy transformation such as jobs and export potential best be realised?

“Creating this new department opens up the exciting option of an innovation and industry strategy that enables companies in the clean energy supply chain, including steel, to expand and thrive together. But they’ll need a strong British market. Within the last few months, the National Infrastructure Commission and energy industry big cheeses, through Energy UK, have said that the UK should continue building a smart, flexible low-carbon grid – so there’s a clear pathway laid out for ministers, and the rationale for following it hasn’t changed a bit.”

James Court, Head of Policy and External Affairs for the REA, commented: “We are delighted Greg Clark has been appointed the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He previously showed real vision as the Shadow Energy Secretary and we look forward to working with him once again in order to get things moving on the deployment of new renewable energy infrastructure.”

Phil Hurley, managing director at leading renewable heating manufacturer NIBE, described the surprise decision as “unsettling”, especially in the context of the RHI – and reiterates the importance of building a market that can thrive without subsidies.

Hurley added: “The announcement about the abolition of DECC was unexpected, to say the least. Following the welcome boost provided by the launch of the RHI in 2014, this decision could throw the industry into a renewed state of uncertainty.

“It would be wrong to say that we at NIBE have no concerns about the potential implications of this for renewable heat in the UK – particularly as it comes during a pivotal RHI consultation period. However, regardless of the political situation, the long-term cost- and energy-saving benefits of renewable heating technologies are inescapable.

“The fact remains that the UK is legally bound by statute to honour its 2030 carbon reduction targets, and technologies like heat pumps will be integral to ensuring this happens. That said, yesterday’s news does leave plenty of room for speculation about the specific focus of the government’s future energy strategy. While the prime minister made it clear in her speech that fuel security and lower bills will be key priorities, what was noticeably absent was any mention of decarbonisation – and at NIBE, we find this potentially unsettling.

“As a leading manufacturer, we urge the newly formed cabinet not to overlook the vital importance of demand-side reduction in shrinking our collective carbon footprint in line with targets. Outside Parliament, we’re asking the renewable heating industry not to lose focus. Yes, the RHI and other government initiatives have been major market drivers – but what we need to do now is pull together to ensure renewables flourish on their own merit. At NIBE, we remain fully committed to their capabilities, and their role in building a lower-carbon future for the UK.”

Tim Knight, Head of Energy Practice at Political Lobbying and Media Relations, said: “The merger will have considerable ramifications for the energy industry, and it’s important organisations keep a close eye on these developments.

“There has been a pervasive sense that the Treasury was pulling the strings at DECC in recent years, but this new combined department may be afforded a greater degree of autonomy.

“Bringing business and energy together in the same department could also help to bring a more coordinated approach to policymaking, yet there is a concurrent risk that energy may fall down the Government’s list of priorities.

“From a communications perspective, it is therefore important that energy businesses engage with the right people in government at the earliest opportunity to ensure they are not left behind.

“Furthermore, with climate change dropped from the name of the department, those involved in renewable energy will watch the new Secretary of State’s first moves with interest to see the vigour with which he pursues the ongoing commitment to the UK’s carbon reduction targets.”