4 August, 2023
The Daily Express, by Sam Richards
If Britain is to be a thriving 21st century economy, then there is no alternative to getting more clean energy infrastructure built.
Britain's greatness and prosperity were built on our mastery of science and engineering, coupled with our ability to just get on and build things.
It’s this spirit of ingenuity and belief that anything is possible that birthed industrial heroes like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, made Manchester the home of nuclear physics and electrified our nation with the world’s first coal-fired power station and then the first commercial nuclear power plant.
In recent years this spirit has turned from a roaring flame that propelled Britain forward, to a glowing ember that only flickers every so often.
But could we be at a turning point? The Government recently announced plans to overhaul the planning system. Slashing bureaucracy and red tape to get spades in the ground as quickly as possible for new offshore wind farms, transport links and nuclear power stations.
This is a major step forward and something Britain Remade, the pro-growth, campaign group I lead, has been calling for.
And this week ministers have been churning out announcements as part of the government’s ‘energy week’.
The PM kicked things off in Scotland with two major announcements, one on new oil and gas drilling licences, along with funding for the multi-million pound Acorn carbon capture and storage project in Aberdeenshire.
The drumbeat of announcements and ministerial visits continued with a host of Cabinet members finding their way to the former industrial heartland of Teesside.
Energy Secretary Grant Shapps visited a gas processing terminal on the river Tees. Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced cash for a hydrogen investment at Teesside International Airport and the Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden found himself in Hartlepool talking about energy network security- making sure Putin can’t cut off gas supplies or attack the National Grid.
However, the most consequential news may have come today from the little-known Electricity Networks Commissioner, whose job it is to speed up construction of electricity cables and pylons.
If we are to keep the lights on, keep our factories running, keep data centres online and keep creating good-quality, well paid jobs then we are going to have to install more cables and build more pylons.
The simple reality is that if we are to build the clean energy infrastructure the country needs to become energy secure and go green, then we are going to have to build more grid connections over the next seven years than we have built over the last thirty years.
The outdated way the grid currently operates is holding Britain back.
Currently, wind farms are paid to turn off because the grid is unable to transport the power from where it is generated to where most households are.
Not only does this mean millions of households are missing out on cheaper energy, it resulted in wind farms being paid £507 million in 2021 and an extra two million tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere.
To get maximum benefit out of wind power, bigger and better grid connections are needed. A lack of connections not only means we can’t get energy from where it’s generated to where it’s needed. It means we’re missing out on job-boosting investments.
One developer who was looking to build a battery storage project was told the earliest the firm could get a grid connection was 2036 – a 13 year delay.
We simply cannot have a 21st-century economy built with 20th-century thinking and infrastructure. Those opposed to building new pylons, such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England and some Conservative MPs, say that new power lines should be built underground instead. But going underground is about five times more expensive than pylons.
This extra cost will have to be funded through higher bills. Do we really want families across the country to pay more for their power, just to protect a small minority of rural views?
The only solution is to get building. These proposals, to halve the time electricity projects take to deliver from 14 to seven years, are a good start, but we need to be more ambitious. We need to rediscover the spirit of Brunel.