In a speech at Labour’s annual conference yesterday, she noted that new energy developments are being “left in limbo” with connection dates stretching into the late 2030s. This reflects comments from across Solar Energy UK’s membership.
Such delays are holding up billions of pounds of vital investment into cutting energy prices and achieving net zero.
Crackdown on delays
In response, Labour offers a plan to “rewire Britain, securing the supply chain we need for lower bills and to build faster and cheaper,” Reeves said, partly by opening up the construction of new grid connections to competitive tendering. This would be accompanied by a new ‘National Wealth Fund’ to leverage further investment from the private sector into renewables and industrial decarbonisation.
Labour is also seeking to crack down on long waiting times for decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs). A number of proposed solar energy projects sit above the 50MW NSIP capacity threshold, the largest to be approved so far being EDF’s Longfield scheme in Essex, at 400MW. More can be expected in the coming years.
Reeves further pledged to retrofit homes, “in every village town and city across our great country”. This offers the prospect of further growth for the rooftop solar market, which is enjoying its most successful year since the end of subsidies.
State ownership of energy
In his speech today, Shadow Energy and Net Zero Secretary Ed Miliband MP announced that his party would deliver an Energy Independence Act, intended to put in place reforms needed to deliver the largest expansion of renewable power ever seen in the UK. The proposed legislation would also set up the publicly owned Great British Energy, to be run on similar lines to other state-owned energy companies such as Vattenfall in Sweden and Denmark’s Ørsted.
“Why should only the wealthy have solar panels, when they provide cheap, clean energy and cut bills? So, GB Energy will invest a billion pounds a year to develop local renewable power, owned by local people,” across thousands of projects across the UK, cutting bills and tackling fuel poverty, he said.
In the summer, Shadow Energy Minister Alan Whitehead MP said that Labour hopes to achieve 45-50GW of solar capacity by 2030, which would imply a more ambitious rate of growth than the Conservatives’ aspiration of 70GW by 2035: “a real moonshot challenge” he said at the time. It would be supported by reforms to the Contracts for Difference regime, Whitehead added, with GB Energy working with transmission and distribution operators to speed up investment in the grid.
“I would say that the solar industry should be broadly happy with Labour’s plans to bolster investment in the sector and, most importantly, tackle grid connection delays. We will be working closely with Ed Miliband’s team to refine these policies over the coming months, with their response to the Solar Taskforce’s forthcoming roadmap being critical,” said Chris Hewett.
Support for solar farms
Solar Energy UK has also given guarded backing for Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ plans for solar farms to pay back to the communities around them,
In a speech at Labour’s annual conference earlier today, Reeves confirmed that a Labour government would establish a framework for community benefits from renewable energy projects, echoing work that is already underway across the solar industry. Solar Industry UK will publish guidance on the subject before the end of the year and will be engaging with the party on the details of its proposals.
The prospect of discounted energy bills for communities close to new infrastructure projects was first floated under Boris Johnson, and again by Liz Truss, though has not yet been established.
Solar Energy UK understands that Labour wants to have its approach to community benefits up and running within its first term of office. Although levels of support may vary according to individual circumstances, potentially millions of pounds could be paid out by the largest solar farms in the pipeline, helping to secure local support for them.
“The industry can offer proportionate community benefits, which may be distributed in several different ways. Discounted energy bills are one option, or perhaps payments could go into a trust to pay for the upkeep of neighbourhood assets, for example. The choice really has to be in the hands of the communities involved, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Chris Hewett, Chief Executive of Solar Energy UK.
“Communities close to solar farms also benefit from increased biodiversity and employment opportunities,” he added, noting that solar farms have more public support than ever.