New energy minister faces challenging six months

With the general election fast approaching, Justin Tomlinson faces multiple challenges as the new Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero. As mentioned in our bulletin, we have a particular interest in his success, as one of our two local MPs in Swindon.

Mr Tomlinson confronted many of the issues in his first parliamentary questions as minister on April 16, exposing him to a wide range of positions on energy policies and actions from within his own party, as well the opposition.

One of the standout issues highlighted by MPs was delays in connecting renewable resources to the grid, with one citing a report by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, claiming that 44% of investors in solar power say they are experiencing connection problems.

Other members demanded a halt to developing large new solar farms on good agricultural land. Still more directed Mr Tomlinson to a Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) report, urging that the focus of solar development should be shifted from farmland to rooftops on existing buildings. Concerns were also raised about the siting of transmission infrastructure for offshore and onshore wind farms.

The minister replied that his department was actively driving initiatives to attract £billions more investment in solar from the private sector. Policies were being rolled out to cut grid connection delays, he said. But under his watch, planning for solar projects would be directed towards previously developed and non-greenfield land.

One member quoted National Grid figures predicting UK electricity demand growing by 64% in the next 10 years, with £58 billion of investment needed to modernise the grid and meet 2035 carbon targets.

Mr Tomlinson replied that £85 billion had been unlocked since the last autumn statement for new grid connections and modernisation of transmission infrastructure.

The minister’s overall stance was that government has the investment strategies, policies and programmes in place to meet 2035 carbon objectives. But one member cited a recent survey by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association, stating that eight out of 10 large energy companies believe the UK is falling behind in the race to become the most investable market for low carbon technologies.