UK energy independence strategy: what are the cabinet divisions? | Energy
Downing Street’s long-awaited energy independence strategy is not expected to be published until next week, amid rows between No 10 and the Treasury over how to fund it.
Ministers in Boris Johnson’s cabinet have a range of views on the best way forward:
Kwasi Kwarteng: The Business Secretary is an avowed enthusiast for green energy sources and has made it clear that he thinks the situation in Ukraine only makes them more important.
He has publicly suggested that planning rules may need to be liberalized to facilitate the development of new onshore wind, thus reversing the effective moratorium imposed by David Cameron’s government.
Kwarteng has also made clear his skepticism about hydraulic fracturing, the controversial practice of domestic shale gas extraction. He has, however, toned down his rhetoric lately, insisting he has no objections in principle, but wants to see scientific evidence that it is safe.
Jacob Rees MoggMinister for Brexit Opportunities has urged Boris Johnson to press ahead with fracking, proponents of which have become more vocal since Russia invaded Ukraine, underscoring the case for energy independence.
On a recent episode of his regular ‘Moggcast’, he called shale gas ‘very clean’ and dismissed concerns about earthquakes, saying they were ‘the equivalent of a bus going past your house” and “not the San Francisco earthquake”.
Like most ministers, Rees Mogg also supports faster expansion of domestic nuclear power. He is more skeptical of onshore wind power, however, with a conservative small-c aversion to the turbines scattered across the British countryside.
Boris Johnson: the Prime Minister is enthusiastic about the idea of increasing national nuclear production. The long lead times mean he will make little short-term contribution to UK energy independence, but he called industry experts last week to discuss how to speed up the construction of new plants .
Johnson has been skeptical of wind power in the past, once notoriously suggesting in one of his contrarian columns that it wouldn’t “pull the skin off a rice pudding”, but aids say he is now keen on a rapid expansion of offshore wind – and open-minded about onshore generation.
On fracking, Kwarteng cited a conversation with Johnson to explain the recent softening of his stance. Downing Street insists no decision has been made – but say given the gravity of the situation, all options must be on the table.
Rishi Sunak: the chancellor rarely mentions net zero in his public statements – it didn’t feature in last week’s spring declaration speech, for example. The aides say it’s not because he’s skeptical, but because he thinks private sector investment will have to do much of the work of financing the transition.
Meanwhile, he has been keen to grant new licenses for North Sea mining, telling the Mail on Sunday earlier this month: ‘In the short term we need to make sure we help people meet the cost energy, but also recognizing that things like natural resources and gas have a role to play in our transition. We are going to reach net zero over decades, not days and weeks. »
Sunak suggested he’s not opposed to fracking in principle, but wants to see proof that it’s safe – a line similar to Kwarteng’s. He and Johnson have argued in recent days over funding for new nuclear power plants.
Michel Gove: The upgrade secretary told a recent environmental reception that he was ‘not sold’ on the case for fracking and would like to see more wind power developed land and offshore, alongside solar and nuclear.
As Kwarteng made clear, this would likely require a change in the planning system – which Gove oversees.
The Cameron government has not banned new onshore wind developments, but has made them subject to strict local consultation, which ministers say amounts to a moratorium.
Alok Sharma: with the Glasgow summit over, Britain’s Cop26 chair is seen as the government’s conscience on net zero, telling the Guardian in a December interview, “as people see that the UK has shown great international leadership on climate change, it is important that we keep this focused on the whole of the UK government”.
Unsurprisingly, he is known to be skeptical of fracking and has made it clear publicly that drilling more in the North Sea will do nothing to lower domestic prices. “Ultimately, the price that will be generated will be the international wholesale gas price,” he said.