Then came the shock weekend resignation of the country’s “fracking Tsar” just six months into her post, claiming she couldn’t do her job because policy was now being dictated by environmental lobbyists.
Being buffeted by competing interest groups is becoming the new normal for energy companies in the transitioning sector.
Stoking the debate was a report from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee calling on the government to give a clear green light to the widespread use of “necessary” carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) technology.
Policies around carbon capture have until now been “so broad as to have been meaningless”, it said. Without more clarity over CCUS deployment, the UK risked doubling the cost of meeting its Climate Change Act obligations, leaving Britain unable to “credibly” adopt emissions targets in line with the Paris Agreement.
And that is before tougher “net zero” carbon targets are factored in. Government advisers should have made recommendations on net zero targets by the time Utility Week goes to press.
Of course, not everyone is convinced about the value and potential of CCUS. Among other things, critics point to its high cost compared with low-carbon electricity generation.
Nonetheless, there has been a hugely positive response to the BEIS report’s findings from many parts of the industry, as well as from scientists who view the capturing of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants as a vital tool in the battle against global warming.
Energy network operators, already campaigning to play a key role in facilitating the UK’s future energy system, were quick to welcome the committee’s stance. The Energy Networks Association (ENA) said CCUS deployment was critical to “tackling our greatest decarbonisation challenges” and providing “a whole-systems approach”.
Others have urged the government to just “hurry up and make its mind up”. CCUS needs strong and consistent support to attract investment and demonstrate that it can be deployed at scale, and the government has long been criticised for its start-stop backing.
Energy has always been a complex decision-making landscape. Now, thanks to the pressing urgency of climate change and relentless pressure from environmentalists, it has also become a highly charged one.