Johnson warns Truss not to ditch his nuclear and renewable energy plans

Outgoing PM expected to sign off state investment in Sizewell C reactor

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 31 August 2022 22:30 BST
Boris Johnson refuses to rule out returning as prime minister

Boris Johnson is to issue a warning to his expected successor Liz Truss not to back away from his plans to wean the UK off fossil fuels with a massive programme of investment in nuclear and renewables.

The outgoing prime minister is expected to breach his pledge to avoid significant spending commitments on his successor by confirming in a speech on Thursday that he has approved a state stake of 20 per cent in the proposed £30bn Sizewell C nuclear plant in Suffolk.

Mr Johnson will use the speech to make the case for the new PM to continue to take “serious long-term decisions” to deliver energy security for the future and lift the threat from volatile gas and oil prices.

Describing the massive increases in energy costs in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “deeply worrying”, the prime minister will say that the policies set out in his British Energy Security Strategy in April will ensure supplies of “cheap, clean, reliable and plentiful” power produced on UK soil.

Ms Truss’s commitment to renewable energy has been cast into doubt by her promises at leadership hustings to stop “filling fields with paraphernalia like solar farms”.

And her close ally Simon Clarke last week warned Mr Johnson against signing the government up to new reactors at Sizewell, writing in a leaked letter that the cost would be “sufficient to materially affect spending and fiscal choices for an incoming government, especially in the context of wider pressures on the public finances”.

However, Mr Johnson has dropped heavy hints on this week’s farewell tour that he wants the new nuclear plant in Suffolk – slated to be part of a programme of eight reactors opening at a rate of one a year – to form a significant element of his legacy.

He will say on Thursday that he wants the new government to press ahead with plans to go “further and faster” on renewables like wind, solar and hydrogen, to ensure that as much as 95 per cent of electricity comes from low-carbon sources by 2030.

“The situation we face today is deeply worrying, but this government has already stepped in to help with billions of pounds in support,” he will say.

“And our British Energy Security Strategy is not just about meeting demand today but many years hence.

“The big decisions this government has made on our energy future will bequeath a United Kingdom where energy is cheap, clean, reliable, and plentiful, and made right here on British soil.

“A future where families and businesses are never again at the mercy of international markets or foreign despots.”

The PM’s sign-off on a 20 per cent stake in the Sizewell project would send a signal to potential investors that the UK is committed to building a new generation of nuclear power stations, and would be designed to unlock the private cash needed for the bulk of funding.

France’s state-owned EDF power giant, the developer of Sizewell C, is due to take another 20 per cent as part of a deal with ministers to remove a Chinese company from the project, which received planning permission in July.

A final decision on taxpayers’ contribution of around £6bn will not be taken until next year, allowing Ms Truss – or her rival for the Tory leadership, Rishi Sunak – an opportunity to reappraise the project.

As well as plans for investment in nuclear and renewables, the Energy Security Strategy paved the way to step up exploration and extraction of fossil fuel reserves under the North Sea.

But it took a more cautious approach to fracking, which Ms Truss has promised to restore in areas where the controversial technology has local support.

Labour’s shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said: "Boris Johnson’s hollow words are an insult to the millions of families that are facing an energy bills crisis.

"Whilst the oil and gas giants rake in record profits, Boris Johnson and his zombie government put their interests ahead of the British people.

"And one of the reasons bills are so high is the appalling legacy this government has on clean power. They blocked onshore wind, failed to deliver a warm homes plan to cut bills, and delayed on expanding solar and nuclear power.

"Boris Johnson leaves office with energy bills rocketing, our energy security weakened, and having totally failed to confront the climate crisis. Britain cannot afford any more failed Conservative government. It is time for a fresh start."

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