When Theresa May called for a snap general election on 18 April, the immediate consideration was that the entire process would be centred around forthcoming Brexit negotiations. Theories that May needed to strengthen her hand with a more significant majority in the house, coupled with a seemingly faltering opposition, abounded, and everything seemed to be geared towards June’s vote becoming a single issue election.
That it hasn’t must only be considered good news for the green economy. Last week’s manifesto avalanche wrestled attention away from Brexit with plentiful policy proposals establishing the direction each party believes the country should be headed.
Jeremy Corbyn’s typically socialist manifesto took a typically socialist approach to the energy market. Reforms must be set into motion for the good of the people, the manifesto states, arguing that more community energy, a phased nationalisation of the transmission and distribution grids, and the establishment of publicly-owned energy companies in every region would create a fairer market.
The Conservative alternative was perhaps vague in its approach – few specific, costed policies were confirmed outside of electric vehicles – but more pointed towards desired outcomes. Fracking will be nurtured to become a key strategic industry for the UK and consumers will be protected while yet another independent review of the market will be launched.
The Lib Dems and the Greens, at least partly singing from similar hymn sheets, will further solar and onshore wind where the Conservatives have cut them, with community energy projects again supported as decentralised generation and systems really take off.
But what is seriously lacking from all but one of the manifestos so far is a commitment to Europe’s internal energy market (IEM), and this oversight should be of concern for the energy industry. Only Labour’s manifesto included a firm commitment to remaining part of the IEM, while the Lib Dems merely stated that it would look to develop more interconnectors with Europe to underpin more renewable generation.
KPMG argued in December that the UK would be far better served by remaining in the IEM, echoing concerns raised before the vote that Brexit could send energy bills climbing if tariffs are attached to interconnected energy.
In 2015 interconnectors currently supplied around 6% of the UK’s electricity, a figure which could rise once the connection with Norway is complete to add to those already established with Ireland, France and the Netherlands. They’ve rightfully been determined a key technology to ensure security of supply and there’s every reason to expect them to make a meaningful contribution towards the other two tenets of the energy trilemma too.
So it’s therefore surprising – if not alarming – that all but one of the political parties vying for share in this forthcoming general election seemingly have no concrete position on the IEM.
Or is it? Energy was included in a list of priority areas for discussion by May’s government in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote last year but there has been little discussion of it since. Numerous select committee hearings have asked the question but there has yet to be much in the way of an answer. More important matters of trade, security and the movement of people will rightly take centre stage.
But that is not to say that securing the UK’s position in the IEM, or at least discussing the merits of it, is not of sufficient importance to include in extensive manifestos.
It can only be good for the green economy and the energy industry as a whole that this forthcoming election breaks from Brexit – in truth we could all probably do with something else to talk and think about, if only for a fleeting few months. But there is no denying or avoiding its material importance to the future of the UK, and the subject of the IEM cannot be ignored much longer.