The Queen’s Speech – more of a waiting game for energy

Following the victory of the Conservative Party in the 2019 General Election, the Queen’s Speech – the second one this year – took place on 19 December, setting out the new government’s priorities for the next five years.

Notable in its absence was any mention of a new Energy White Paper. Its release had already been delayed from summer 2019 and Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng informed Parliament in October it would be released in 2020. We may now need to wait for the Budget for any more news.

National Infrastructure Strategy

In the briefing documents published alongside the Queen’s Speech, the government announced that it would be publishing its National Infrastructure Strategy alongside the first Budget, setting out “further details of the government’s plan to invest £100bn to transform the UK’s infrastructure”.

The Strategy will set out the government’s long-term ambitions across all areas of economic infrastructure including transport, local growth, decarbonisation, digital infrastructure, infrastructure finance and delivery. It will have two key aims:

  • To unleash Britain’s potential by “levelling up” and connecting every part of the country. Prosperity will be shared across all of the UK, and longstanding economic challenges addressed, through “responsible and prudent” investment in the infrastructure.
  • To address the critical challenges posed by climate change and build on the UK’s world-leading commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Strategy is the government’s formal response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s 2018 National Infrastructure Assessment, which made a series of independent recommendations to government across all sectors of economic infrastructure, including energy and transport.

Energy policies

The government said: “We will build on our progress with an ambitious programme of policy and investment, with our first Budget prioritising the environment.” The speech makes mention of several policies put forward in the Conservative manifesto:

  • Accelerating efforts to realise nuclear fusion energy through investment in a new UK fusion reactor design programme, known as STEP, which aims to deliver the world’s first commercially viable fusion power plant by 2040.
  • Investing £9.2bn in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals.
  • Increasing offshore wind capacity to 40GW by 2030 and enable new floating turbines.
  • Investing £800mn to build the first fully deployed carbon capture storage cluster by the mid-2020s; and £500mn to help energy-intensive industries move to low-carbon techniques.
  • Introducing a Future Homes Standard by 2025.
  • Supporting the North Sea oil and gas industry with a “transformational” sector deal.

Environment Bill

The government will introduce an Environment Bill, which will establish new long-term domestic environmental governance based on: environmental principles; a comprehensive framework for legally-binding targets, a long term plan to deliver environmental improvements; and the new Office for Environmental Protection.

It will also set a legally binding target to reduce fine particulate matter (PM2.5). The Bill also increases local powers to address sources of air pollution and brings forward powers for the government to mandate recalls of vehicles when they do not meet legal emission standards.

What didn’t get a mention?

There was also a number of other items absent from the speech.

In the speech, the government mentioned that the first Budget would include investment in nuclear energy, but there was no mention of the financing of new nuclear – Regulated Asset Base or otherwise.

The speech made no mention of fracking, despite the government recently putting a moratorium on shale extraction.

With no mention of the Energy White Paper, we may have to wait until the Budget and National Infrastructure Strategy for any significant energy policy news.