The one-time 200/1 outsider, Jeremy Corbyn stormed through the steeplechase of politics to take up his maiden position on the front-bench… in the opposition’s most powerful role.
Love or loathe his politics, the left-wing Labour leader is sure to bring a very different and determined angle to the Commons debates – but what could a Corbyn-led opposition mean for the energy sector?
As a man with very traditional Labour views, he expressed an early desire to bring the gas and electricity networks under public control.
We know Corbyn opposes fracking, isn’t too keen on nuclear and has spoken out against fossil fuels. His Protecting our Planet manifesto states: “We must take action now to keep fossil fuels in the ground – end dirty energy handouts, ban fracking and set a target date to end new fossil fuel extraction and begin to phase out high polluting coal power stations with support for workers to re-train.
“Britain should scrap the Capacity Market which subsidises coal, gas and nuclear power at greater expense.”
However, almost in direct conflict with this statement, Corbyn has also spoken out in favour of re-opening the Welsh coal mines.
Taking a pure economic stance, there is an argument that as global coal price rises it makes sense for high quality British anthracite to still be accessible. As carbon capture technology improves, the emanation of evil emissions is more easily impeded and the promise of employment could be an effective vote-winner for communities.
A Nationalised Grid?
Fracking companies are not the only ones to meet with scorn in the Corbyn policy document, with energy suppliers also denounced: “In the three decades since privatisation, the big energy companies have failed to invest in the energy infrastructure we need…”
The word nationalisation is not mentioned in the manifesto however statements such as that above do suggest Corbyn would be keen to see the infrastructure, if not the retail side of energy supply, brought under public control.
He backtracked on his initial stance of buying up shares in the Big Six until the government held majority control after a report costed this at up to £185 billion. The manifesto references the German-style energy market, where the major energy companies own just 5% of the market; in the UK this is closer to 95%.
Corbyn also expresses significant enthusiasm for renewable energy technologies, pointing out that in addition to the environmental benefits, “renewable energy supports more jobs than fossil fuels”.
It aspires to a time when Britain becomes a net exporter of energy, achieved through harnessing the wind, tidal and wave power potential that batters our green and pleasant land. This is in stark contrast to the ‘solarcoaster’ ride that has formed the first six months of the current government.
Add to this mix his concern for fuel poverty and desire for zero carbon homes to become the norm – not the exception – and the picture painted of renewable energy infrastructure providing revenue for the taxpayer supported by well-insulated, cheap to run homes seems like a utopian dream.
It’s easy to be idealistic when you’re in opposition; even more so when the election is a purely internal one fought on principles, charisma or leadership rather than a workable investment strategy. The new Shadow Energy Secretary has nearly four years to put together proposals that will support Corbyn’s claims the UK can reduce the cost of energy bills whilst also reducing our carbon emissions. In the meantime, I look forward to some interesting energy debates coming out of the House of Commons.
Georgina Penfold is the Category Manager for Energy Solutions at YPO, a not-for-profit procurement company that helps public sector organisations benefit from cost and efficiency savings.