The Energy Crisis: “The UK is still too reliant on fossil fuels”

24/09/2021

In a statement on the energy (gas) crisis in the Commons on Monday 20 September the BEIS Secretary of State, Kwasi Kwarteng MP said “the UK is still too reliant on fossil fuels”

Community Energy England agrees with his diagnosis.

The current energy crisis, causing multiple energy suppliers to fail, is precipitated by gas prices soaring by 250% since January along with a ‘perfect storm’ of other circumstances.

The Secretary of State continued, “Our exposure to volatile global gas prices underscores the importance of our plan to build a strong, home-grown renewable energy sector to strengthen our energy security into the future.” It would also ultimately reduce costs to consumers as fuel prices rise. 

He acknowledged that “there is still clearly a lot more we can do in this area” but went on to talk about plans for new nuclear which is not renewable energy, nor is it home-grown. It is expensive, dependent upon imported fuel, inflexible and unlikely to deliver carbon savings in time. It also comes with huge decommissioning costs, and waste storage duties lasting up to 100,000 years.

He spoke of "approving at least one large-scale new nuclear project in the next few years" and "backing the next generation of advanced nuclear technology with £385 million."

If this money were used to kickstart genuine low-carbon renewable energy projects that can install fast and the remobilisation of community energy, that would go a long way to achieving the diversified, distributed, resilient, local, low-carbon energy system that must be the future of energy in the UK. 

We welcome the new Contracts for Difference allocation round and the £265m allocated to it. It is only fair that equivalent revenue support is offered to sub 5 megawatt installations.

We would welcome more focus on energy conservation, efficiency and insulating the UK’s buildings which is top of the energy hierarchy. This would reduce the risks of problems during the winter when the UK’s dependence on gas for heating increases. It also produces very high returns on investment. The New Economic Foundation report, A green stimulus for housing calculated that a £10bn investment in home energy retrofits would pay for itself in 7 years from health cost savings alone. Thousands of people every year die because they cannot keep warm enough. Numbers in fuel poverty are set to increase by half a million with the rise in the energy price cap on 1 October.

The Environmental Audit Committee recommended in April: “Due to the urgency of the climate crisis  and the vital roles communities will have to play in reaching net zero, it is essential that a timely  solution to support the long-term growth of community energy across the UK is found.” 

The Select Committee recommended that “the forthcoming Net  Zero Strategy emphasises the importance of community energy”, that the government remove barriers and put in place “practical support measures to harness the potential of community energy.“ This should include significant financial support in the Comprehensive Spending Review and tax reliefs and incentives in the Budget this autumn. 

The Climate Change Committee has repeatedly warned that ”It will not be possible to get close to meeting a net-zero target without engaging with people or by pursuing an approach that focuses only on supply-side changes.” Community energy is essential to achieving this engagement as well as local generation and demand management measures.

Government net zero policy and the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan, largely ignore the vital role of people, communities, social businesses and community energy in inventing and adopting climate solutions, and focus mostly on big-cheque, centralised, business and technology focused supply-side measures.

As the Climate Change Committee says, “This will need to change.”

(CEE is working with BEIS to assess the risks to community energy from non-payment of FiTs, ROCs and PPAs from defaulting energy companies and assess what indemnity is available)