The public support for more investment in renewables to lower energy bills is overwhelming, even in their own local area – and it’s Conservative voters most in favour.
As I write this blog, Liz Truss has been confirmed as our new Prime Minister, with one of the most difficult in-trays of any new Government before her. With average annual energy bills set to rise to £3,549 this October, there is understandable pressure on the Prime Minister to take new measures in energy policy, which she has promised to outline within a week of taking office
At this crucial time, we’ve commissioned the largest poll in our history – giving us the clearest view of public opinion on renewables and their role in lowering energy bills we’ve ever had – and the message couldn’t be clearer. The public want new investment, across all technologies, to lower energy bills. What’s more, those who voted Conservative in 2019 and are currently undecided on who they’ll vote for next time who are even more supportive.
The message to the new Government is clear – invest in renewables to lower bills.
Our poll found that 77% of the public want the Government to “use wind and solar farms to reduce energy bills”, with only 12% opposed to the measure. This support intensifies when you ask people who voted Conservative in 2019 – 84% of which want to use wind and solar to reduce energy bills with only 9% opposed.
Before the gas crisis, renewables were already the lowest cost way to generate new electricity, with the most recent clean energy auction securing power at a fixed price of £43-50 per megawatt hour. However, now that gas prices have risen so rapidly, sending the wholesale electricity price set by gas up to £280/MWh this winter, the benefits to billpayers of building more renewables at pace, and reducing gas use, have increased even further.
The public want to see more renewable energy investment, not less
68% of voters want the next Conservative leader to increase or maintain their investment plans for renewables, with only 14% wanting to see investment cut. Again, support is even higher with 2019 Conservative voters and swing voters, 71% of which want to see investment maintained or increased.
By re-committing to the Government’s target of 50GW of offshore wind by 2030, including 5GW of floating wind, the Government will be unlocking £155bn in private sector investment into a sector which, by the end of the decade, will be employing over 97,000 people in high-value jobs across the country.
It is interesting that, even at a time in which you would expect the public to be laser focused securing the lowest cost energy at all costs, only 28% of the public have this opinion when it comes to renewables. The majority of people (53%) think that the jobs and investment in renewables is ‘just as important’ as securing its low-cost power, and 11% want to prioritise the industrial/jobs benefits of the sector. Over the years the Government has taken an increasing role in leading an industrial strategy for the sector’s development, with smarter Government power contracting focused on industrial development as well as the cost of energy. It seems the public is very behind this.
Onshore wind –most people support ending the effective ban in England, and the vast majority would be happy to see a renewable energy development in their local area
Earlier this year, in the Energy Security Strategy, the Government announced they would consult on reforms which would enable the development of onshore wind where there is clear local support, in England. We polled the public on this, and there’s clear support for the new Government to push ahead with new proposals.
57% of people think “we should end the block on onshore wind development where there’s local support”, with only 19% supporting the continuation of the current system where onshore wind is effectively banned through the English planning system. Support for ending the block on onshore wind in communities where there’s local support was even higher amongst 2019 Conservative voters, with 64% supporting reform, four times as many as those supporting the block (16%).
Critically, support for enabling local renewable energy development remains high even when you propose the prospect of development nearby. 76% of people would support “a renewable energy project in their local area”, with only 12% opposed. Again, support is even higher amongst 2019 Conservative voters (81%) and those who consider themselves as swing voters (78%).
Support across all renewable energy technologies is far higher than alternatives
If you look across all renewable energy technologies, support remains incredibly high, in absolute and relative terms. The public aren’t solely focused on onshore wind and solar, but are very supportive of emerging technologies like tidal and wave energy. Furthermore, it’s interesting that, unlike other technologies, the strength of strong support is often high, and renewables tend to have very little strong opposition.
Support for renewable energy is also notably higher amongst people who voted Conservative in 2019 and people who are self-declared floating voters.
Support is notably high in swing Parliamentary constituencies and Conservative-held seats
Contrary to some media narratives, if you look at the map of UK Parliamentary Constituencies, it’s largely Conservative-held rural constituencies where support is highest (full tables here).
Of the 100 English, Welsh and Scottish Parliamentary constituencies most in support of:
- Offshore wind - 82 are held by Conservative MPs
- Onshore wind - 85 are held by Conservative MPs
- Solar - 84 are held by Conservative MPs
- Tidal Stream - 80 are held by Conservative MPs
- Wave - 79 are held by Conservative MPs
And given that support is, on average, higher amongst 2019 Conservative voters and people who said they ‘were thinking of voting for a different party at the next election’, it’s unsurprising to see that support is very high in the ‘Red wall’, the ‘Blue wall’ and the 136 ‘marginal constituencies’ in England, Wales and Scotland which were won by less than a 10% margin in 2019.
Investing in renewables to lower bills isn’t just a popular agenda – it’s the right decision for the UK, so what more could Government do?
There are several measures proposed by Liz Truss, and her new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, during the Conservative Party leadership contest, to reduce the burden of energy bills over the winter.
1. The movement of ‘green levies’ into taxation. As outlined by my colleague Luke in this more extensive blog, it is possible for the Government to decide on a different funding model for green levies; moving the costs of funding legacy schemes like the Renewables Obligation away from bills, and instead funding them through general taxation.
2. The creation of a new voluntary scheme whereby existing low carbon generators with contracts under the Renewables Obligation scheme could tie themselves to a fixed-price scheme based on the Contracts for Difference (CfD) system.
We would be happy to work with Government to ensure either, or both, or these proposals are taken forward in a manner which maximises billpayers benefit without impacting investor confidence in the UK.
Beyond these measures, we would strongly advice that Government take forward five priorities in renewables.
1. To recommit to the 50GW of offshore wind and 5GW of floating wind outlined in the Energy Security Strategy, and the enabling measures to make sure we achieve it. Most notably this should include reforming the mandate of the energy regulator Ofgem to include net zero delivery, in turn ensuing the grid is developed at pace to increase the roll out of renewable energy. This reform could be taken forward through amendments to the Energy Bill.
2. To establish a 2030 target for onshore wind and ending the de-facto ban on new developments in England, enabling new onshore wind farms where communities support them. In addition to their low cost, onshore wind farms can be rapidly constructed, delivering large volumes of clean power at a time when the UK needs to grow its own clean power supply as quickly as possible.
3. Setting a 1GW target for marine energy, to be delivered by the 2030s. This would significantly increase investor confidence in the UK’s world-leading tidal stream and wave sectors, whilst providing the UK with a complimentary source of predicable clean power.
4. Reform the Government’s system of clean power (CfD) auctions so that they better support the development of the UK’s supply chain. As established, the current system exclusively values the cost of renewable energy projects, to the neglect of the UK jobs and investment supported by them, and the innovation and cost reduction they may seek to drive. Not only is in it our economic self-interest to ensure we have a flourishing renewable energy supply chain, it is also in the interests of our energy security – we must ensure we have the supply chain capability able to ramp up the pace of development in the years ahead.
5. Recommitting to the green hydrogen ambition set out in the Energy Security Strategy, of at least 5GW of capacity by 2030. We know that green hydrogen, at the very least, will be an important part of our future energy mix – storing clean power and giving us the flexibility to use it whenever we like. The case for green hydrogen development was already strong, but the recent gas price rise has only further clarified the value of developing an alternative to gas for peaking and flexibility in the coming years
Although the Government will have to make a great number of tough decisions in the coming months decreasing investment in renewables should not be one of them. New renewables are reducing our energy bills, lowering our CO2 emissions, and expediting our move away from a dependence on gas which leaves billpayers exposed to the deplorable agendas of foreign actors like Putin. It’s time to make the most of the opportunity wind, solar and marine energy offers the UK.
Head of Public Affairs