Utility Week

UTILITY Week 30th October 2015

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12 | 30TH OCTOBER - 5TH NOVEMBER 2015 | UTILITY WEEK Lobby Election / Party conferences P arty conference season 2015 was his- toric. Not only was it the first on the back of a Conservative general election victory since 1992, but it was the debut of Jer- emy Corbyn as Labour leader, and a chance for the Scottish National Party to celebrate its new position of influence. A key part of it was energy policy, which was significant in the run-up to May's vote and played a role in Corbyn's ascent to party leader. Energy policy also remains a core area where the SNP wants more powers devolved to Holyrood. The Conservatives, free of the restraint of the Liberal Democrats, have started to implement their will on energy policy. Feed- in tariff pre-accreditation has gone and the Renewables Obligation support for onshore wind is going the same way. Further subsidy cuts for solar have also been announced. In Manchester, energy secretary Amber Rudd insisted the Tories are still pressing ahead with the transition to a low-carbon economy – the recent Hinkley Point C deal a prime example – but she insisted that this cannot be done at any cost. "There is no magic money tree," she said. Conservative-flavour environmental responsibility began to manifest itself in water policy with water minister Rory Stew- art embarking on a year-long project to pull together a 25-year plan that will feed into, and help shape, abstraction reform towards the end of the parliament. At conference, the Tories were triumphant about the election victory but eager to show the country that they were "getting on with the job". Meanwhile, down in Brighton, there was a very different atmosphere. In his leadership campaign, Jeremy Cor- byn publicly expressed his "personal wish" to see the energy companies, including National Grid, return to public hands. How- ever, this notion was promptly dismissed by his new shadow energy secretary, Lisa Party power plays Mathew Beech presents a round-up of the three main party conferences. Policy & Regulation ●  Labour says no to nationalisa- tion. Despite being a well-publi- cised "personal wish" of Jeremy Corbyn during his leadership campaign, taking energy compa- nies back into public ownership has been shelved and replaced with plans to "democratise" energy instead. ●  Conservatives champion cost. Energy secretary Amber Rudd made it very clear, the Conserva- tives are cost conscious and keen to keep consumer bills down. ●  SNP says no to underground coal gasification. With a morato- rium on fracking already in place, the SNP is calling for greater powers to be able to put the same barriers in place to underground coal gasification. ●  Return of the Green Tories? Although support for renewables subsidies has been stripped back, Amber Rudd and Rory Stewart kept referring to the low-carbon agenda and looking after the environment in the long term. The green Tory is dead – long live the green Tory? ●  Corbyn's coronation leads to navel-gazing. Little in the way of policy came out of Labour's confer- ence as the party tries to establish where it is positioning itself under its new leader. ●  SNP demands devolution. Another independence referendum was ruled out – for now - but the SNP is demanding more powers to be devolved as part of the Scotland Bill - including the ability to have a greater say over its own energy policies. KEY OUTCOMES Nandy, who unveiled "more radical" plans for the democratisation of energy. This boils down to supporting and encouraging community ownership of gen- eration assets – such as solar farms – as well as collective switching schemes and new, independent energy suppliers, such as Not- tingham City Council's not-for-profit Robin Hood Energy. The newly appointed shadow energy min- ister Alan Whitehead also took the opportu- nity to attack the "quite random and bizarre announcements" from the Conservative government, while new shadow environ- ment secretary Kerry McCarthy accused the Tories of "chipping away" at environmental legislation. Despite the posturing and attacks, how- ever, navel-gazing was mostly the order of the day, and more substantial policies will emerge only once Labour establishes where it wants to be. For the SNP, its conference in Aberdeen was both a celebration and a rallying call. Party members rejoiced at the near-clean sweep of Scotland in the election while remembering to position themselves for the Scottish parliament elections next year. One of the key things MPs and MSPs called for was a greater devolution of pow- ers – particularly around planning consents for underground coal gasification. The SNP would like to see this put alongside fracking on the moratorium (if not banned) list. Other greater autonomy would allow the Scottish government to stop onshore oil and gas developments, continue to promote pro- duction from there North Sea, and continue the country's push towards 100 per cent renewable electricity generation. In short, six months on the from gen- eral election, party political power plays are well underway, and energy policy is a point- scorer for all while water largely remains on the sidelines. Utility Week Lobby produced in partnership with:

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