Weekly News Review - 23rd June 2023

Labour pledges to end North Sea exploration in green energy strategy

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was in Edinburgh on Monday to launch his party’s new energy and climate policy. A key part of the new policy is the end to new North Sea oil and gas exploration whilst managing the transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy.

In his speech, Starmer confirmed that Labour would refuse to grant licences for the exploration of new North Sea oil and gas fields if it wins the next general election. However, he was also keen to reassure the 200,000 North Sea workers that they would not be left behind in the journey to Net Zero.

Starmer said: “The moment for decisive action is now. If we wait until North Sea oil and gas runs out, the opportunities this change can bring for Scotland and your community will pass us by, and that would be a historic mistake. An error, for the future of Scotland, as big as the Thatcher government closing down the coal mines, while frittering away the opportunity of the North Sea.”

He added: “My offer, the Labour offer, is this – a credible plan to manage the change, protect good jobs and create good jobs. No cliff edges. But at the same time, to harness the wealth that is in our air, in our seas, in our skies and use it to serve the interests of your community.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Oil and gas workers need concrete, fully costed plans that will provide cast iron guarantees that they will not be thrown under a bus in the transition to net zero. I have said before that we can’t have a repeat of the devastation wrought on workers and their communities by the closure of the coal mines. Keir is now agreeing with that, but actions speak louder than words.”

During his speech, Starmer also confirmed that the previously announced publicly-owned green energy company, GB Energy, would be based in Scotland. He also announced that planning rules which effectively ban new onshore wind farm developments would be scrapped if Labour won the next election as he vowed to “cut bills, create jobs and provide energy security”.

Ministers to block plans to ban new coal mines

Government ministers are considering the removal of a ban on opening new coal mines from the Energy Bill, which is currently going through Parliament. The House of Lords approved the amendment to ban the opening of new coal mines back in April by a majority of just three with 197 peers voting in favour of the motion and 194 against.

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said: “The Energy Bill will ensure we have cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy for the future. While our reliance on coal is rapidly diminishing, there is still a need for it in industries such as steel and cement so now is not the right time to make changes.

“We will continue to listen to representations made by Members as passage of the Bill continues but oppose this amendment because a complete ban isn’t appropriate and risks meeting future demand from our own resources.”

The government also plans to remove measures put in by the House of Lords which would have enabled small community energy projects to sell electricity directly to local homes. More than 60 organisations have written to Energy Secretary Grant Shapps urging him to reconsider.

The organisations, which include the National Grid and the Church of England, say community energy schemes have seen “almost no growth for six years, despite renewable technologies being cheaper than ever”. They say this is “largely due to the prohibitive costs they face in accessing local markets” and suggest the current rules are holding back the possibility of a big expansion in community schemes.

Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, said: “By blocking plans to end coal and bring in low cost, renewable community energy, the government’s approach is truly stuck in the last century. Endlessly repeated words of no new coal at COP26 were clearly meaningless. These Energy Bill amendments must be reinstated.”

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