The General Election must deliver a ‘green Christmas’

The Advent calendar is about to get a political makeover with six weeks of campaigning ahead of the first December election in a century.

It’s set to be Brexit dominated, but I think there is an even bigger issue that voters are rightly concerned about: climate change. It is one of the few issues where we’ve seen cross-party support for action and now we need clear delivery plans for the country with government, business and the investment community all working together.

Companies like ours are already investing billions in the infrastructure, jobs and supply chain to deliver a low carbon economy; but we want to do more. The good news is there’s no Santa wish list required: we can make huge progress within the framework we have, with greater ambition and focus.

Firstly, whilst the UK has had the wind in its decarbonisation sails because it made a bold move to put a high cost on carbon to drive low carbon investments, the job isn’t done yet. A new Government should maintain its robust approach to putting a price on carbon . Certainty and stability are needed quickly on the Carbon Price Support (CPS) rate for April 2021 and beyond.

Secondly, renewables have blown nuclear away on cost and must be the anchor low carbon technology for net zero. Record low prices for offshore wind should be a straightforward signal to a future Government that by ramping up more projects, offshore and onshore, we can decarbonise faster, using indigenous energy. The current target of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 just won’t cut the mustard. We also need Government to urgently turn its attention to back up power sources so carbon capture and zero carbon hydrogen in new power stations can move from imagination to reality.

Thirdly, despite the consensus that we need more electrification of power, transport and heat, the electricity networks that transport it are not enabled to invest in anticipation of that demand. I fear that motorists, businesses and electricity generators could end up queueing up for charge points, connections and network reinforcements holding up the transition to net zero. So the next regulatory settlement for electricity networks companies needs to facilitate anticipatory investment in a way it has never done before and needs to have a clear strategy for delivering all of the EV charging points we will eventually need.

I think a new Government should go even further in zero carbon regulation though, by changing the regulator Ofgem’s remit to have net zero at its core, empowering a willing regulator to orientate around creating a net zero UK. Ministers could do the same with the FCA and Ofwat and others too.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we mustn’t lose momentum and start ripping up the frameworks that are delivering with an expensive and purposeless nationalisation programme. The UK’s energy networks are among the highest performing in the world: attracting record levels of investment from private sources; achieving customer satisfaction that is at an all-time high; costing customers significantly less than was the case under state ownership; and already playing a big part in decarbonising the energy system.

We have one of the most progressive renewables markets in the world and we’re driving down the cost of clean, green power while driving up technology advancements. Ideas like nationalisation sound simple but would jeopardise all of this, disrupting service, investment and the significant innovation under way to reach net zero.

The UK Parliament made history legislating for ‘net zero emissions’ by 2050; but voters think politicians need to do even more to tackle climate change. I hope their political verdict on 12 December leads to a ‘green Christmas’.

About the author

Alistair Phillips-Davies Chief Executive

Alistair became Chief Executive of SSE on 1 July 2013. He has a degree in Natural Sciences and is a qualified Chartered Accountant. He has worked in the energy industry since 1997, when he joined Southern Electric. He was appointed to the Board of SSE as Energy Supply Director in 2002 and was appointed Deputy Chief Executive in 2012. As Chief Executive, he leads the Executive Committee and the rest of the SSE team in the day-to-day running and operations of SSE and is responsible for implementing the strategy and policy set by the Board.

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