Boris Johnson’s energy security plan has been dismissed as a missed opportunity to bring down bills quickly, due to his failure to fund energy efficiency improvements or support onshore wind farms amid Tory opposition backbench.
While the government’s plans set targets for long-term expansion of nuclear, offshore wind and solar capacity, it has stopped short of doing so for onshore wind. The proposals also lacked a major intervention to help households reduce their gas consumption by improving insulation standards.
Shadow Business and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband said Johnson had been “held hostage” by backbench opposition to wind farms.
Energy experts and environmental groups called the plan ‘inadequate’, warning it would do little to address the urgent need to tackle sky-high bills and reduce dependence on gas imports, including from Russia.
The strategy set ambitious targets for offshore wind generation, with the government raising its target from 40 to 50 gigawatts by 2030.
But Johnson did not back a wind industry proposal to double onshore capacity to 30GW over the same period.
Leaders reportedly told the Prime Minister at a meeting last week that onshore turbines offered the cheapest and quickest way to wean the UK off gas, the price of which skyrocketed further amid the invasion Russian from Ukraine.
But the government backed away from setting targets for onshore, after fierce opposition from senior Tories including Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who called the turbines ” horror”.
Instead, the government has promised to offer a “limited” number of communities guaranteed reduced electricity bills in return for supporting local wind farms.
Miliband said it would do little to unblock planning restrictions that he says place a “single burden” on onshore wind, which he says could have replaced Russian gas imports within 24 month.
Under a moratorium put in place by David Cameron’s government in 2015, onshore wind farms in England require the unanimous consent of local communities, meaning they can easily be blocked.
“If one person opposes it, it won’t be built,” Miliband told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, adding that it was easier to build an incinerator or a road in the face of local opposition. . “The government has rejected the cheapest, cheapest and most secure forms of energy we have […] including onshore wind.
Mark Worcester, of planning consultancy Turley, said: ‘Some of the more immediate opportunities appear to have been missed.
Once an onshore wind farm has been awarded a power supply contract, it can be fully operational in around two years, compared to four or five for offshore projects, according to trade body RenewableUK.
Onshore wind electricity is also about 20% cheaper than offshore, which in turn is cheaper than nuclear or gas.
Miliband accused the government of turning away from onshore “not because of the national interest but because some Conservative backbenchers said they didn’t want that to happen”.
The energy security plan has also been criticized for failing to plan a return to nationwide home energy efficiency improvements, which have declined significantly over the past decade.
Since 2013, successive government cuts to insulation support have reduced the number of installations from 2.3 million to 10% of that number, according to the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, an independent advisory body.
But the energy security plan contained no new measures to accelerate efficiency efforts, amid a dispute over costs between the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
A Whitehall source said Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had been keen to use around £300m of departmental underspend over the past few years to launch a program of mass home insulation.
But Chancellor Rishi Sunak, with whom Kwarteng has previously clashed over financial support for businesses, would have preferred not to commit funding for the plan.
Robert Colvile, head of the Center for Policy Studies think tank, said the government had “failed to seize the opportunity to promote demand-side energy efficiency, including through insulation – which to its tower will help drive down the most important costs and support the push to net zero.” .”
Greenpeace said the plans were “completely inadequate”, while the Renewable Energy and Clean Technology Association said the government had “failed to meet the challenge facing the country”.