Manifesto report: Labour seriously wants energy market reform

This morning Labour became the first major party to unveil its election manifesto (sorry Plaid) — and it was chock full of energy and climate promises of varying degrees of substance.

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Here’s everything you need to know about Miliband’s energy plans.

1. Energy bills freeze remains party’s pet project

The pledgiest of Labour’s energy pledges is the years-in-the-works energy price freeze.

The policy, which was launched at the 2013 Labour Party conference to much fanfare, came under fire earlier this year when the oil price crisis prompted big energy firms to cut bills — which critics say the freeze would have prevented. It also made the whole thing a bit less relevant.

For the manifesto, Labour adapted the proposal, saying the freeze till 2017 would ensure “bills can fall but not rise.” Vote Labour to fix or lower your bills is essentially the rallying cry.

2. Plans for a superpowered regulator to keep energy bills fair

This is something we’ve known to be in Labour’s plans for several weeks now, but now it’s in writing.

Labour says the energy market is broken, and that to fix its “lack of competition and transparency” it would give a new regulator  the power to cut bills this winter.

That regulator could also strip energy firms of their licences should they repeatedly fail to do right by consumers. We’re sure this will be very popular with the Big Six, and current regulator Ofgem.

Read the Labour Manifesto — in full

3. Break up the Big Six and make switching suppliers easier

Labour has confirmed its intention to separate the generation and supply businesses of the UK’s biggest energy companies — so they can’t switch profit from one side of the business to the other.

The manifesto says: “They will be required to open up their books, and they will have to sell their electricity through an open exchange” — though that doesn’t actually mean they’ll have to split into two different companies.

Labour also say they will make switching providers more straightforward, simplifying tariffs to facilitate price comparisons and ending “automatic roll-overs to more expensive tariffs”.

4. Introduce energy efficiency standards — and offer interest-free loans for improvements 

So far lots on bills, little on climate change (which will suit some). Efficiency is where Labour hopes to link the two.

Labour says energy efficiency is key to both problems and promises to offer a million interest-free loans to make home improvements.

For those without the means, the government would task local authorities and community organisations with fitting insulation to 200,000 homes a year — helping to tackle fuel poverty.

And, to improve energy efficiency for a further three million homes, Labour would introduce a decency standard for which private landlords would be responsible, adding them to the list of the people the party wants to be seen “taking on”.

solar wind UK

5. Decarbonisation of power sector by 2030, and a million new green jobs

More efficiency means less demand for energy which makes it easier to burn less fossil fuels.

Miliband said at his party conference last year that he would cut carbon from the country’s electricity by 2030, and in the manifesto he says most of that will be achieved by a “major drive for energy efficiency”.

Also, to make Britain a low-carbon leader in the next decade, he would create a million green jobs and back substantive carbon reduction targets (though doesn’t say what those would be).

In the past Labour has backed getting coal and gas plants off the system using a mix of renewables, nuclear and carbon capture and storage — the question is how will it be funded (without raising bills).

6. Green Investment Bank gets new powers (eventually)

A “green” bank with powers to borrow billions from the market and lend to clean energy projects – perhaps pursued by communities – would help.

For a while now Labour has said it would immediately grant the Green Investment Bank additional powers to invest in business and technology.

It still says that, but has taken a step back and instead proposes a “timetable” for said powers.

7. Energy Security Board to determine energy mix

But what will the bank invest in? As we’ve mentioned, Labour is a little hazy on what the new, zero carbon, energy mix will look like — but they do suggest creating a new board to ensure it can all be done without the lights going out.

“We will create an Energy Security Board to plan and deliver the energy mix we need, including renewables, nuclear, green gas, carbon capture and storage, and clean coal.”

8. CCS will save offshore oil and gas

See that bit about “clean coal”, that means coal with carbon capture and storage.

Labour hopes CCS, along with “more certainty” on tax rates, will keep the UK producing oil and gas (and keep the tax revenues up) throughout its term.

Note: If you are wondering why carbon dioxide captured from coal plants should be injected into old oil fields to force more oil out, we assure you it’s seen as quite normal

9. Yes to fracking, but no to fracking

Labour didn’t use the word fracking once in its manifesto, but still said the UK should do it — provided the regulations are right.

“For onshore unconventional oil and gas,” the manifesto said, “we will establish a robust environmental and regulatory regime before extraction can take place”.

That kind of caveat suggests a) They don’t think we have a very robust regime b) fracking won’t be high on their energy agenda. But it certainly leaves options open.

Unearthed on ‘Fracking in the UK’

10. Climate change is already happening so here’s some vague promises on floods and air pollution

Unlike fracking, there is quite a bit on climate change.

The party says acting to reduce emissions (see above) and tackle the impacts is “an economic necessity” and “the most important thing we must do for our children”.

It proposes prioritising flood prevention by way of the Infrastructure Commission, and allowing local authorities to address air pollution, backed up by a national framework.

11. Climate change ‘at the heart of our foreign policy’ — so support sustainability in developing world

Labour promised to expand the role of the Department of International Development “to mitigate the risks of a changing climate, and support sustainable livelihoods for the world’s poorest people”.

We’re not clear whether this will mean the UK government will also stop supporting overseas investments in fossil fuels, that may upset some folks.


12. Paris COP is a big deal, let’s end emissions by 2050

The manifesto echoes what we’ve heard from the IPCC: Global emissions need to peak around 2020, decline rapidly after that, and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Labour, the text assures, would push for “an ambitious agreement on climate change” at the UN conference in Paris at year’s end.

It says: “We will make the case for ambitious emissions targets for all countries, strengthened every five years on the basis of a scientific assessment of the progress towards the below two degree goal.

“And we will push for a goal of net zero global emissions in the second half of this century, for transparent and universal rules for measuring, verifying and reporting emissions, and for an equitable deal in which richer countries provide support to poorer nations in combating climate change.”