1 September 2023
Letter from Westminster – September 2023 – Net zero and energy security

In August, I visited Kerry Taste and Nutrition in Burford. As well as being one of the largest employers in South Shropshire, they are also taking real strides in reducing their carbon footprint.  

While there, I was able to see installation of the last row of 750 solar panels on their food processing plant’s roof, which has the power to generate over 300kW - equivalent to over 1 million miles driven in an Electric Vehicle per year. This will help Kerry T&N reduce their operating costs, ensuring they continue to contribute to the local economy. 

The capital cost was funded by a Community energy scheme, Big Solar Co-op, one of the first such schemes in the country, through an innovative funding arranged by Sharenergy in Shrewsbury. Community Energy schemes received a real boost last month when the government announced a new £10m Community Energy Fund. This new fund will help to tackle barriers to entry to the market by providing grants to the community energy sector to help them develop projects for commercial investment. 

Alongside the new Community Energy Fund, the government has announced a consultation on the barriers the community energy sector faces, and an annual report on the community energy sector.  

I have been convinced of the value of community energy schemes to promote renewable energy sources locally for some time. I must declare an interest, as I have been a member of Ludlow Hydro Cooperative for a number of years, also put together by Sharenergy, which generates clean electricity via an Archimedes screw turbine alongside the Horseshoe Weir in Ludlow. I hope we will see more projects in South Shropshire as this funding comes onstream.  

Important as the contribution these schemes can be towards net zero, and as keen as I am to support them, I do acknowledge, as does the Committee on Climate Change, that we will continue to need carbon based fuel sources for decades to come, not least as it will take years for the 29 million petrol and diesel vehicles to be replaced from our roads – which is why I did not leap to the barricades when the government announced last month it was issuing new North Sea oil and gas licences.  

I have called for the Government to set a date to end further exploration and development of fossil fuels in the North Sea, and still believe that is right. But it is worth considering the context that oil and gas production from the UK side of the North Sea is declining at around 8% a year. So the logic behind granting new licences during the transition to wholly renewable energy, is to enable the production profile to decline more gradually so that we can balance our energy security by enabling our reliance on imported additional oil and gas to be reduced. The actions of Putin show how risky it is to rely entirely on imports, or to rely on higher emission fossil fuels from less stable states.    

I do remain an optimist on our ability to meet net zero by 2050. After all, the UK has decarbonised faster than any other country in the G7, cutting emissions by 48% between 1990 and 2021, while the economy grew by 65%. But I have made no secret of how I think the government needs to go further and faster in some areas.  

I shall continue to bang the drum for net zero, and the economic growth that can accompany it, as this latest renewable energy investment in South Shropshire at Kerry T&N shows.