Starmer pledges faster transition from fossil-fuel electricity

The UK would have a fully zero-carbon electricity system five years earlier under a Labor government, party leader Keir Starmer announced on Sunday.

Starmer also pledged that, unlike the current Conservative government, he would “put an end” to new long-term exploration for oil and gas in the North Sea.

The Labor leader said that if elected Prime Minister he would set himself the goal of a fossil-free electricity system by 2030 to make Britain a net exporter of clean energy. That would require faster deployment of renewable energy systems like wind farms and solar panels, as well as new nuclear power plants.

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This target is comparable to the Conservative government’s goal of achieving the same goal by 2035 and generating 95% of electricity from carbon-free sources by 2030.

“The British people are fed up with skyrocketing energy costs and exposing our energy system to dictators,” Starmer said. “They want long-term solutions to bring the bills down for good. That is why I am proud to announce that a key mission of my Labor Government will be to transform the UK into a clean energy superpower.”

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Jonathan Reynolds, Starmer’s shadow business secretary, claimed that meeting the clean energy target would save UK households £93 billion over the rest of the decade – given sky-high wholesale gas prices.

However, decarbonizing the power system is only part of the journey to meeting the government’s existing Net Zero 2050 goal, which also requires the conversion of transportation and heating systems from gas to electricity.

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Labor said it would meet the 2030 electricity target by quadrupling offshore wind power, accelerating the use of floating offshore wind farms, tripling solar power and doubling onshore wind capacity.

On Friday, Conservatives quietly gave the green light to new onshore wind turbines in England after a long moratorium imposed by former Prime Minister David Cameron.

The work plan also calls for the completion of new nuclear power plants at Hinkley Point and Sizewell and support for new “small modular reactors”.

Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds © REUTERS

But Starmer said a Labor government would maintain a “strategic reserve” of back-up gas-fired power stations to ensure security of supply. He added that it would invest in hydrogen and in carbon capture and storage systems to ensure there is emission-free backup power when there is no wind or sun.

The Labor leader said he would end new oil and gas licenses and oppose fracking, arguing Britain’s dependence on fossil fuels had made the country “vulnerable to Putin’s manipulation of international markets”.

However, one consultant clarified that production from existing oil fields in the North Sea should continue to play an important role. “New long-term exploration is not the right option for price and climate reasons,” the person explained.

Labor’s plans for a new industrial strategy are due to be outlined by Reynolds at Monday’s party conference.

He will criticize the Conservative government for chopping and changing its approach to industrial policy over the past decade.

Under the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, Cameron approved a new industrial strategy, only to have it dropped after the 2015 election. Then his successor, Theresa May, approved a new industrial strategy that was jettisoned by the next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

Labor will not only pass its own new industrial policy but also create an Industrial Strategy Council, which would be put on a statutory basis, Reynolds told the Financial Times. “This would help end the farce of long-term plans that don’t survive the political cycle,” he said.

Reynolds promised that a Labor government under Starmer would not return to the 1970s approach of identifying industrial winners by supporting individual companies or sectors.

Instead, he said Labor strategy will be forced by the new council to do four jobs: deliver clean energy; use of data for the public good; “Care for the future”; and building an economy that is more resilient to supply-side shocks.

As part of Labor’s industrial strategy, there would be “a clear case for government intervention” to accelerate new clean energy technologies with uncertain long-term payoffs. Last year the party put forward plans to borrow £28bn a year for capital investment in the transition to a green economy.

Reynolds said the second mission of a Labor government is to use data to transform the economy – citing the example of how artificial intelligence is already being used to prevent fraud and to develop vaccines and medicines.

The third element of the strategy would be the creation of a National Care Service to deal with the funding crisis in UK social services. “If our care sector struggles, other parts of our economy will falter and collapse,” Reynolds argued.

The final part of the strategy is to build supply chain resilience in key sectors to protect against geopolitical shocks – particularly the recent surge in energy prices.

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