On the 5th April the West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce assembled a small group of local businesses to meet with Andrea Leadsom MP, the Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change to discuss the impact of energy policy on UK business. This meeting was hosted by aql in Leeds and sectors represented included energy, manufacturing, legal and planning.
The Minister outlined her vision for a Northern Energy Powerhouse and a transition from coal dependency, through gas to renewables and a lower carbon future. For statistics and information on energy trends please click here. Attendees shared their views on energy policy and its impact on competitiveness of UK businesses. Views were shared on opportunities for more efficient use of energy resources including surplus heat, as well as barriers to implementation such as planning timescales and public objection to renewable installations and gas extraction.
Concerns were raised over the uncertainty of returns on investments for renewables especially since changes to the UK Feed in Tariff. The Minister highlighted that there has been significant investment in renewables which now contribute 31% of the UK’s energy. The group were invited to comment on shale gas extraction and the potential for this to provide a bridge to a clean energy future. Concerns were highlighted over public perception and the need to provide impartial information to communities so they can develop informed views on potential projects.
Concerns were also raised over the resource the local authority officers have to provide appropriate support to community consultations around planning applications. The group talked about the duration of the planning process for large scale energy generation projects and commented that this duration and the associated complexity is a significant barrier to companies investing in small-scale on-site renewables. The group talked more broadly about planning processes and a view was raised that the public may not be aware that they can register their support (not just objections) for planning applications and that increased awareness around this would be helpful.
The need to improve interconnectivity and transmission of energy was also raised as a priority issue that needs to be addressed if we are to maximise the potential of both renewable energy and surplus energy transmission. A specific opportunity that was highlighted is the potential H21 Leeds Citygate project which would involve the development of a hydrogen network using the existing gas network in Leeds. Another example included plans to install a 6km pipeline to distribute surplus heat from the new Energy from Waste facility in Leeds to 1500 domestic properties. A question was raised about the lack of new plans to invest in carbon capture and storage and the Minister confirmed that this was currently under review with a revised strategy expected by the end of the year.
The commitment of those in attendance to support a transition to a low carbon economy was evident. However, it was noted that in order to achieve this there is a need to develop skills for complex design and innovation, perhaps in conjunction with academia. This issue was connected with shale gas extraction, the loss of jobs in the engineering sector that supports the current oil and gas industry and also the development of onshore and offshore wind.
The transition to a low carbon economy will create an opportunity for both skills development and job creation and the Northern Powerhouse can take on this opportunity. However, we do have barriers to overcome including transport links and skills. Attendees highlighted the need to inspire young people to play their part in the growth of the economy in our northern cities and to support innovation that will help us to transition to a low carbon economy.
Our thanks go to those business representatives who attended this meeting and shared their expertise and views on this topic, to Chamber members AQL who hosted this meeting and also to Andrea Leadsom MP and her team for participating in this round table discussion. The Chamber hosts an annual Eco Fair which supports local businesses to identify opportunities to reduce their environmental impact and use resources wisely. To find out more about this year’s event which will take place on the 15th June in Leeds and to register to attend, please visit www.eco-fair.co.uk.