Boris Johnson’s long-awaited new energy strategy has been met with widespread anger and frustration, with scientists, climate campaigners, charities and politicians lining up to criticize plans they warned will fail to cut fuel bills or tackle global warming.
The prime minister was accused of having “completely caved to his own backbenchers” after the government abandoned plans for a major expansion of onshore wind farms and ignored calls to focus on energy efficiency to cut waste and reduce costs.
The strategy, set out by ministers on Wednesday night and due to be launched in full on Thursday, will instead revive nuclear power in the UK, ramp up oil and gas drilling, and push for new hydrogen production.
Ministers rejected calls for measures to allow new onshore wind turbines and failed to support insulation, deemed vital to reduce energy use and cut bills.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the energy secretary, admitted the plan was likely to do nothing to reduce rocketing energy bills for at least four years, while environmental groups warned it would do nothing to help wean the country off Russian fossil fuels.
Ed Matthew, from environmental think tank E3G said: “The government has prioritized policies that will keep us dependent on high cost fossil fuels and nuclear power.
“This isn’t an energy security strategy and will do nothing to bring down energy bills.
“It is a national security threat and the person who will be happiest with it is Vladimir Putin.”
The plan to scale up production of oil and gas in the North Sea came days after the UN warned “investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness”.
Scientists were deeply unimpressed by the government’s strategy, with separate experts from a range of fields and institutions saying the strategy was “defined by incoherence”, “left gaping holes”, “takes the UK backwards”, and was “half a strategy”. Others found it “regressive”, “vague”, “inadequate”, and “uninspiring”.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow climate change and net zero secretary, told The Independent “the government’s energy relaunch is in disarray”.
He said: “Boris Johnson has completely caved to his own backbenchers and now, ludicrously, his own energy strategy has failed on the sprint we needed on onshore wind and solar- the cheapest, cleanest forms of homegrown power.
“After 12 years in government, families are paying the price of Conservative failure. This relaunch won’t cut bills, won’t deliver energy independence, and won’t tackle the climate crisis. Labor would deliver a green energy sprint. This government just cannot deliver.”
A leaked copy of the draft energy showed the government had planned to remove barriers to installing new onshore wind turbines, which have effectively been blocked since David Cameron tightened rules on planning in 201, as part of a major expansion of the sector.
However, those plans were dropped from the final version announced on Thursday following a reported cabinet rift on wind farms, which Minister Grant Shapps last week attacked as an “eyesore”.
Alethea Warrington, of climate charity Possible, said the continued block on onshore wind came despite “overwhelming support for the expansion of renewables, including onshore wind, voiced in poll after poll after poll.”
She said: “By dragging its feet on onshore wind, the government is failing people across the UK who are facing a worrying future of cold homes on a warming planet. Instead, we should be making the most of our abundant, clean wind resources. “
Environmental campaign group Greenpeace said the energy strategy would do little to help people’s bills or cut the immediate demand for gas and oil from Russia, which experts have said could be achieved through improving insulation and prioritizing heat pumps.
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “This strategy comprehensively fails to stand up to Putin’s violence, to take the sting out of soaring energy bills, or take control of the spiraling climate crisis.
“The government could have chosen to power ahead with quick, cost-effective and fair solutions like taxing oil and gas companies’ mega-profits, investing more to cut energy waste from homes, and unblocking planning barriers for cheap and popular onshore wind.
“Instead, while there are some improvements on renewables targets, they have prioritized slow solutions, dishing out rewards to vested interests in the nuclear and the oil and gas industries, which won’t tackle the cost of living crisis or reduce our dependence on gas .”
Luke Murphy, associate director for energy and climate at think tank IPPR said: “This energy strategy appears to be a recipe for failure. The choices the government appears to have made will see consumers pay more, leave the UK less secure, and expose us all to a greater risk from climate change.”
Think tank Green Alliance also expressed disappointment with the strategy, saying it missed a “huge opportunity”.
Roz Bulleid, deputy policy director at the organisation, said: “It’s great to see cabinet ministers, especially the business secretary, raising ambition on renewables. But the strategy as a whole misses a huge opportunity to help people cut their bills now and reduce our reliance on fossil fuel imports with better energy efficiency.”
The reaction from scientists was similarly damning.
Michael Grubb, professor of energy and climate change at UCL, said: “The defining feature of this energy strategy is incoherence. It doesn’t know what problem it is trying to solve – and thus fails to solve any.”
He said the government’s proposals to “consult” with a “a limited number of supportive communities” in England about onshore wind was effectively “kicking the only possible short-term supply option into the long grass”
“It most certainly won’t help families struggling with energy bills for the coming winters,” Prof Grubb added.
His colleague at UCL, Jim Watson, professor of energy policy and director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, welcomed new targets on offshore wind but said plans for new nuclear power stations “will be much more costly and slower to implement” than renewables.
And he said the strategy’s proposals on energy demand were “simply inadequate”.
“It is half a strategy, which focuses on energy supply,” Prof Watson added. “Once again, the government has missed an opportunity to provide more immediate relief to families facing very high energy bills, and more help in future via a proper program to upgrade and decarbonise our homes.”
Dr Neil Jennings, partnership development manager at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and Environment, at Imperial College London, said: “A key component of energy security should be using less energy in the first place. It seems however that the UK energy security strategy has morphed into an energy supply strategy.
“There is a gaping hole where energy efficiency should be. It begs the question, where’s the energy demand strategy? At a time when millions of households are struggling to pay their energy bills, much more support is required to help insulate homes and reduce energy demand for good.”
Jon Gluyas, director of the Durham Energy Institute, said: “The re-emergence of a UK energy strategy after decades of a laissez-faire approach to energy provision by successive governments is welcome but the announcement today by the UK government of this new strategy is an uninspiring mix of more of the same and it fails to properly tackle the UK’s underlying insecure energy supply and does very little to meet the nation’s zero carbon mantra shouted so loudly at Cop26.”
The government issued a separate press release with a selection of quotes from supporters of its strategy. Among those quoted are fossil fuel companies, and firms which will benefit from investment in hydrogen and nuclear power.
Sam Laidlaw, executive chairman of oil and gas firm Neptune Energy, said the plan “breathes new life into the North Sea, giving investors confidence to allocate significant capital to the diverse range of energy supply we will need through the energy transition”.
There was also support for the government’s commitments to nuclear and hydrogen power.
Clare Jackson, chief executive of Hydrogen UK, said: “We are thrilled that the government has doubled down on hydrogen by increasing the production target to 10GW, recognizing that hydrogen is a key part of the net zero transition.
“This new goal will allow industry to unleash investment, bring down costs and widen the use-case for hydrogen, exploring its potential in transport, heavy industry and to heat homes.”
Chris O’Shea, the chief executive of Centrica, which owns British Gas said: “The British energy security strategy is something we can all get behind to protect the nation and help households today and over the long term.
“We welcome the government’s boost for renewables and nuclear and the focus on kick-starting the hydrogen economy.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.