The solar industry has reportedly welcomed recent remarks by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves to expedite the development of the critical infrastructure and grid connections necessary for the country to achieve its clean energy objectives.
During her speech at the Labour Party’s annual conference earlier this week, Mrs Reeves highlighted the current challenges faced by new energy developments, some of which face connection dates extending well into the late 2030s.
Such prolonged delays are obstructing significant investments worth billions of pounds in the pursuit of reduced energy costs and achieving net-zero emissions targets. In response, the Labour Party has proposed a strategy to “rewire Britain” in order to ensure a reliable supply chain, reduce costs, and expedite development, including a plan to open the construction of new grid connections to competitive tendering. Additionally, it involves the establishment of a new ‘National Wealth Fund’ to attract further private sector investments into renewable energy and industrial decarbonisation initiatives.
Furthermore, the Labour Party is committed to addressing the protracted wait times for decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs). Several proposed solar energy projects exceed the 50MW NSIP capacity threshold, with EDF’s Longfield scheme in Essex, boasting 400MW, as the largest approved project to date. More such projects are anticipated in the coming years.
Reeves also pledged to retrofit homes across the nation, aiming for comprehensive growth in the rooftop solar market, which is experiencing unprecedented success following the discontinuation of subsidies.
In his address, Shadow Energy and Net Zero Secretary Ed Miliband MP (read the full speech here), announced the party’s intention to enact an Energy Independence Act, legislation designed to facilitate the most extensive expansion of renewable energy in the UK’s history. The proposed act also includes the establishment of a publicly-owned entity called Great British Energy, operating in a manner similar to state-owned energy companies like Vattenfall in Sweden and Ørsted in Denmark.
Ed Miliband emphasised the importance of making solar energy accessible to all, irrespective of income:
“Why should only the wealthy have solar panels, when they provide cheap, clean energy and cut bills? So GB Energy will invest a billion pounds a year to develop local renewable power, owned by local people,” across thousands of projects across the UK, cutting bills and tackling fuel poverty”, he said.
Labour’s ambition is to reach a solar capacity of 45-50GW by 2030, representing a more rapid growth rate than the Conservative Party’s goal of 70GW by 2035. Achieving this goal will involve reforms to the Contracts for Difference regime, with Great British Energy collaborating with transmission and distribution operators to expedite grid investments.
Mrs Reeves also proposed that solar farms should contribute to the communities surrounding them – a suggestion “cautiously endorsed” by trade body Solar Energy UK. The prospect of reduced energy costs for communities in proximity to new infrastructure projects has been discussed previously by political figures but has yet to be implemented. Labour aims to implement its approach to community benefits within its first term of office, with varying levels of support depending on individual circumstances. This initiative could result in substantial payouts from the largest solar farms, fostering local support for these projects.
Chris Hewett, Chief Executive of Solar Energy UK emphasised the importance of flexible community benefits, allowing communities to decide how they wish to receive these benefits, saying:
“The industry can offer proportionate community benefits, which may be distributed in several different ways. Discounted energy bills are one option, or perhaps payments could go into a trust to pay for the upkeep of neighbourhood assets, for example. The choice really has to be in the hands of the communities involved, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach”.
Hewett also highlighted that solar farms provide benefits such as increased biodiversity and job opportunities, and they enjoy more public support than ever before.