Armitt: ‘No significant gap’ between Labour and Tory grid decarbonisation timelines

The gap between government and opposition timelines for decarbonising the grid is not “significant”, the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has said.

Speaking at the launch of the NIC’s latest annual progress review, Sir John Armitt was quizzed on Labour and government targets to decarbonise the grid by 2030 and 2035 respectively.

Energy secretary Claire Coutinho has recently tried to create a political dividing line between the Conservatives and Labour over the latter’s pledge to achieve net zero electricity generation five years ahead of the government’s target.

The NIC chair said that while it is not within his organisation’s remit to comment on opposition proposals, he doesn’t think that the difference between the objectives is “that significant for 2030”.

“The current government has very ambitious targets for 2030. Either way, what we’re trying to achieve is challenging.

“2030, 2035, either way, it’s a big challenge and we would like to see the maximum impetus being given particularly to the investment which is going to be required for the private sector to achieve this.

“It will only be met by the right policy implementation on a consistent basis, which gives people the confidence to make their own domestic decisions or indeed commercial investment decisions.”

The review warns that the window is closing on the UK’s ability to catch up in terms of delivering its infrastructure needs and that failure to go further and faster over the next five years could constrain economic growth and threaten the country’s ability to meet its climate targets.

The statutory infrastructure advisor raises particular concerns about government plans to freeze overall capital spending in cash terms when the current financial year ends next April.

It says applying this freeze would “not be consistent” with the funding profile set out in the NIC’s second assessment, which was published last year, for inflation-linked increases in infrastructure spending.

The review says there has been progress on electricity generation but the government is not meeting the NIC’s objectives on decarbonising home heating.

It adds recent announcements, such as the decision to delay the implementation of the Clean Heat Market Mechanism weeks before it was due to be implemented in April, have added to “confusion about the long term direction of policy”.

It also adds that waiting until 2026 to make a decision on the role of hydrogen in heating is “creating long term uncertainty for the sector”. Armitt told the launch briefing that “the sooner that is clarified by government, the better”.

Meanwhile, the review states the government must begin planning to decommission or repurpose the gas grid and adds that existing home heating decarbonisation policies are “not sufficient” and rely too heavily on central government funding for initiatives, such as Boiler Upgrade Scheme grants.

In addition, it said that a “small role” for unabated gas generation in 2035, which the government has recently announced, is consistent with the pathway to grid decarbonisation set out in last year’s assessment.

The review also expresses concern that demand for water has “plateaued rather than fallen” and that despite plans by companies to address the issue, leakage is not falling by the rates required to hit industry targets.