Labour's Energy Policy: a new direction?

What's the difference between democratisation and nationalisation? The new Shadow Energy Secretary sets out to tell us

Energy policy represented a hugely significant line of attack for Labour during the second half of the last Parliament. It was one of few areas where Labour's cost of living messaging struck home and the Consetvative's were put on the back foot and forced to act.

Lisa Nandy therefore has big boots to fill in replacing Caroline Flint who - regardless of whether you supported the policies in question or not - did a sterling job of scrutinising the Government and seizing the agenda.

Nandy's first address as Shadow Energy Secretary to an energy audience came during the SERA and Sustainability Hub reception at conference. She was humble, open about what she needs to learn and keen to do so with the support of industry. She drew particular attention to the inclusion of back bench energy wizard Alan Whitehead into her team - an appointment which has already received significant praise from industry figures, third sector organisations and ordinary members at various fringe events.

We don't yet have a coherent set of energy policies of course, but we've had some teasers. Corbyn's overarching line of nationalisation was well known during the leadership race but Nandy at conference redefined this to democratisation.

Nationalisation of the energy sector was always going to be highly controversial. Her redefinition, no doubt with Corbyn's backing, to energy democratisation however, is much more palatable and offers a plethora of policy options of how that can be achieved.

One such area is energy efficiency. The scrapping of the top down and imperfect Green Deal scheme was lamented by Whitehead at the National Energy Action fringe on fuel poverty. The move created a policy gap in his view with the government now lacking a plan A and B on this key segment of energy policy.

Whitehead floated ideas around devolving energy efficiency schemes in future to the municipal level. Local area plans (not too dissimilar to how Flint was arguing the Green Deal could be revitalised at conference last year) could be the silver bullet in getting resources to exactly where they are needed.

Energy efficiency is certainly an area where this can work. When it comes to power generation and supply however, more detail is required. Nandy pointed to examples of councils setting up local utilities and schools increasingly fitting solar panels but taking these green shoots and developing them into a national strategy will be extremely tough.

Trying to bypass the monopolisation and dependence of the key energy players, in particular the utilities, can only really be a component of an overall strategy and not the crux. In the coming years, the much bigger issue of reliable power at scale will need to be addressed, ultimately by dealing with the utilities. Nandy has done well to create some flex in Corbyn's vision of nationalisation but unanswered questions remain.

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