The Challenges Facing the UK’s New Energy Minister

A change of department and a change of minister. This could be exciting times for the energy industry. Following the installation of a new UK PM and the upheaval of the recent Brexit vote, all hopes for a clean energy future have fallen on the shoulders of one Greg Clark, Tory MP for Tunbridge Wells.

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, here’s a quick recap of where we are with renewable energy in the UK. Things were going fine up until May last year with plenty of policies in place following the coalition government that came into effect in 2010. That meant solar panels companies and wind power installations were being supported by subsidies such as the Feed in Tariff and people were generally being helped in their clean energy aspirations via schemes such as the Green Deal.

When the Conservative Government gained a majority in 2015, things took a turn for the worse. Amber Rudd took over the DECC and decided that Feed in Tariffs were a bad idea and that we should be building less wind farms. In January this year, the FiT was slashed, causing consternation in the solar industry as domestic installations in particular began to fall significantly.

Following the Brexit vote in June, we now no longer have the same Prime Minister, nor do we have a Department of Energy and Climate Change. We do, however, have is Greg Clark.

Who is Greg Clark?

MP for Tunbridge Wells, Greg Clark, has been a special advisor in trade and industry departments and became a politician in his own right in 2001. Since then he has worked as the Shadow Secretary for the DECC and has produced a couple of interesting policy papers on clean energy and climate change. Until recently he was Secretary of State for Communities. In short, Clark has an understanding of the renewables industry and about 15 years’ experience as a politician.

Now head of the new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, he had this short statement to make when he took up his position:

“I am thrilled to have been appointed to lead this new department charged with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change.”

What are the Challenges?

In short, there are plenty and most of them are urgent.

One of the first problems is actually going to be setting up his new department. This is no mean feat in Westminster and can often take a good deal of time – finding staff, premises and getting things up and running is a notoriously protracted affair. That means it could be a while before policies start to become clear, something green activists and enthusiasts are not going to be too happy about.

At first sight, bringing together energy and climate change with business and industry makes a good deal of sense. However, a number of key players in the green sector have expressed their disappointment that climate change is not even mentioned in the title of the department. Clark is going to have to do a lot of work convincing people that he is serious about it considering the confusion of the last couple of months.

A key problem that the MP for Tunbridge Wells is going to have to face fairly quickly is the issue of Hinkley Point. In particular, there may be problems now that Brexit is actually a reality. How is this going to effect the deal? And are French company EDF going to be able to bring the project in on time and budge – something that seems increasingly unlikely?

A lot of investment has stalled because of the Brexit vote and the Government’s confused energy policy in recent times, with delays to important projects such as the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon which is in danger of failing because investors are getting cold feet. How this is addressed is not clear at the present time but is key to stop further damage to the renewables industry in the UK.

There’s no doubt there is much for Greg Clark to do. But there are a number of fans in the world of renewables who think he is the man for the job. According to ECIU Director Richard Black:

“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 has never been done before.”