The Labour party and independent experts have warned that Boris Johnson’s energy security strategy will fail to reduce the UK’s reliance on expensive imports this decade and do little to alleviate the pressure on households from soaring fuel bills.
The prime minister has backed away from setting targets for some of the fastest and cheapest methods of indigenous electricity generation, in particular onshore wind, and instead emphasised technologies such as nuclear power, which can take more than a decade to construct and has a record of long delays and cost overruns.
Energy groups and specialists also attacked the lack of fresh funding to improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock, which is among the leakiest in Europe. Reducing waste would be one of the quickest ways of tackling the current energy crisis, they said.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s energy spokesperson, called the strategy “hopeless” and said the government was in “disarray” over the current cost of living crisis.
“The gaping hole at the centre of it is it will do nothing . . . this decade to help people with energy bills or with the energy security situation that we face,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Danny Newport, head of net zero at the non-profit Tony Blair Institute, said the strategy felt “perilously insecure”.
“It was supposed to be a plan for rapidly overcoming three interlocking tests: how to reduce bills, improve energy security and stop funding Putin’s Russia. On any reasonable timeframe it fails all three,” Newport added.
Simon Virley, head of energy and natural resources at advisory firm KPMG, called the plan a “missed opportunity” and cautioned about the potential costs to consumers.
“The best way to reduce energy bills permanently, cut emissions and reduce our dependence on imported gas is a step change in energy efficiency,” said Virley.
“Other European countries, like Holland, France and Germany, are doing this as a matter of urgency as part of their response to the Russia/Ukraine crisis. Yet the UK strategy is almost silent on measures to improve energy efficiency.”
Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, admitted that the proposals represented “more of a medium” term solution that would not yield results for at least three to five years.
“It’s really important that we get an energy strategy, an energy policy, that means we can have more security and independence in the year ahead,” he told Sky News.
The strategy, which was delayed by several weeks because of rows between Downing Street and the Treasury, dropped a 30GW onshore wind target originally put forward by Kwarteng. The strategy only says the government will look to develop partnerships with a “limited” number of communities in England that might want to host onshore wind farms in return for lower energy bills.
The strategy instead puts a heavy emphasis on longer-term options such nuclear power, setting a goal of 24GW by 2050 — the equivalent of eight large new plants — despite Britain’s poor recent record on delivering new atomic energy projects.
It also did not set a firm target for solar power, another source that can be built quickly and relatively cheaply, but said it would “look to increase the UK’s current 14GW of solar capacity, which could grow up to five times by 2035”.
The prime minister is, however, seeking to increase Britain’s offshore wind generation capacity fivefold by the end of the decade to 50GW, although energy groups have warned this ambition will need to be matched with overhauls to planning processes and grid connections given projects that are being constructed now were first conceived well over a decade ago.
Robert Gross, professor of energy policy at Imperial College in London, said “very little” of what had been announced will bring short term relief to households.
“Even the quickest of the new technologies . . . won’t be operational for years, irrespective of streamlining of planning,” Gross added.