Ministers must act to attract energy investment

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

Brexit uncertainty is scaring off investors, and with the UK set to lose £2.5bn in European Investment Bank loans and EU funds, we need long-term policy to boost confidence.

With Brexit eclipsing all other debates, plus the hiatus caused by the snap general election, climate and energy policy has largely been on hold for more than a year. This political uncertainty is contributing to a risky investment climate in energy and it’s affecting immature low-carbon technologies most acutely.

I hear this message frequently from senior figures across the industry, and it’s reflected in the recently published Energy Barometer survey of Energy Institute (El) members, who rank Brexit-related uncertainty among the five most pressing concerns.

Due to its complexity, investment lead times and the potential loss of EU funds, energy is in critical need of an effective, clear and far-sighted government strategy.

So what’s our prescription? First, the transposition of EU energy legislation into UK policy post-Brexit must be a top priority for the government. Retaining energy-related EU directives in UK law across the system, from air quality and emissions controls, to regulations on energy efficiency and renewable energy is a clear preference. Only in the case of state aid rules would most El members prefer to change or abandon the legislation.

Second, we need continued cooperation and resource sharing with European counterparts. Britain may be an island, but even post-Brexit. it would be a mistake to treat the energy system in that way. While most of our members surveyed view the UK as an appropriate level for policy decisions in the areas of energy security, energy efficiency, research and innovation, and energy markets, a large minority of members feel that the EU is an appropriate level for policymaking in these areas. Perhaps the
best example of this support for continued cooperation with the EU is our concern about the planned exit from the EU atomic energy regulator, Euratom. which could negatively impact the cost and delivery of new nuclear projects as well as the supply chain in the UK.

Third, we need to see government efforts to ensure a sufficient supply of workers to the industry, prioritising engineers as well as qualified and unskilled manual workers. Nearly 60% of Barometer respondents expect a fall in the number of skilled workers, and more than 40% foresee a drop in qualification levels if free movement of labour is curtailed after Brexit. Mitigating measures should include training to facilitate transition from other industries, providing apprenticeships and vocational courses, encouraging closer cooperation between academia and industry, and allowing immigration of skilled labour.

Finally, clear and long-term government policy that boosts investor confidence in specific technologies and the system as a whole is critical. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports investment in clean energy plunging in the first quarter of 2017 to around $lbn, the lowest since 2010. It was encouraging to see the recent publication of the government’s smart systems and flexibility plan, but ministers still need to press play in other key policy areas and. in particular, deliver on the much-delayed clean growth plan and the evolving industrial strategy.

Clear and long-term state policy that boosts investment confidence is needed as the UK will lose EU funds and European Investment Bank loans, which account for around £2.5bn of the UK’s energy-related infrastructure, climate-change mitigation and R&D funding per year.

Replacing EU funding will be a challenge if domestic spending constraints are maintained, and should be a central focus for the government’s industrial strategy. Support for energy infrastructure and R&D should flow from the National Productivity Investment Fund, alongside indirect incentives such as tax breaks for R&D and support for academia-industry collaboration.

Getting both energy strategy and the post-Brexit relationship with the EU right will determine how we successfully deliver a secure, clean and affordable energy system, vital to sustaining our economy and society.

This blog first appeared on ENDS Report online on 11 August 2017

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