UK’s Autumn Statement: five net zero talking points
The UK government is betting on investment incentives rather than stimulus to attract net zero investment. We took a look at five key talking points for green investors in this year's Autumn Statement
The UK government has made headlines recently over its apparent backtracking on net zero targets, but in its Autumn Statement earlier this week, UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt made it clear that the country is still keen to attract investments in net zero assets.
Unlike other major economies, the focus will be on providing investment incentives, rather than outright stimulus measures.
The chancellor has said in the past that he does not intend to compete with the US’s $369 billion inflation reduction act or the EU’s ambitious green new deal package. And true to his words, while the budget included a £21 billion in stimulus measures to revive the economy, very little went into direct subsidies to attract investments in renewables.
Indeed, the word “climate” was notably absent from his speech, with the government’s focus now being firmly on energy security.
Nevertheless, there were some key announcements which investors in the UK energy transition might consider.
1) Reforming the planning system / grid connectivity
Connecting renewable energy projects to the grid has long been a key challenge for the UK, with new energy projects often facing delays of more than a decade before they can be connected to the grid.
Hunt announced that the government wants to reform the planning system to speed up approvals and setting out a plan to reduce the time it takes for new projects to connect to the grid.
By easing the planning and application process, the government plans to attract an average of £10 billion per year in new infrastructure investment over the next decade.
Ted Frith, chief operating officer at GLIL Infrastructure, the £3.6bn Local Government Pension Scheme-backed infrastructure investment fund welcomed these measures: “The lack of planning resources has been a source of frustration for infrastructure investment."
He explained: "Many developments have faced long delays, and some even lose their investors, depriving the country of the infrastructure upgrade the UK needs to supercharge economic growth. The government’s proposed changes will hopefully deliver more certainty and stability, and give investors the confidence they need to support investment in the UK.”
2) £4.5 billion subsidies for strategic manufacturing sectors
In terms of outright subsidies, the biggest ticket was a £4.5 billion programme announced to “unlock investment” in strategic manufacturing sectors, including auto, aerospace, life sciences and clean energy.
By introducing these measures, the government hopes to raise £20 billion in business investment per year in a decade’s time.
Dan McGrail, CEO of Renewables UK welcomed the announcement: “The chancellor has been clear that the green industries growth accelerator is for strategic industries, targeted to unlock maximum private investment where the UK can be competitive – and there couldn’t be a better fit for that than offshore wind and renewables. With the right support, the likes of which we’ve seen from government today, industry estimates that the offshore wind supply chain alone could boost the UK’s economy by £92bn by 2040.”
But Green Party MP Caroline Lucas pointed out that none of these subsidies would enter into force until 2025 and that the emphasis had been very much on controversial technofixes such as carbon capture and storage and nuclear energy.
Stuart Lemmon, CEO of EcoAct, seconds this: "The UK’s approach to achieving net-zero remains unconvincing. While the £4.5 billion investment into strategic manufacturing sectors to spur net-zero and the maintenance of the tax break for capital investment are most welcome, there remains an overreliance on unproven technology solutions."
He added that "meanwhile properly addressing domestic high-carbon activities directly has once again been missed, undermining the country’s position as a leader on climate change.”
3) Full expensing of capital allowances
A measure which could indirectly benefit investments in the UK’s energy transition is a new allowance which allows allowing businesses to write off the full cost of qualifying plant and machinery investment.
This has first been introduced in the 2023 Spring Statement and now been made permanent. With investments in the renewable energy transition often being capital intensive, these incentives could in theory benefit investors in UK renewables.
4) No news on energy efficiency
While the government announced a £6 billion investment in making UK homes more energy efficient during its 2023 spring statement, this pledge has now been quietly dropped, to the dismay of campaigners.
Cara Jenkinson, cities manager at climate solutions charity Ashden, said: "With just a few days to go till COP28, the Chancellor has once again missed an opportunity to show leadership on climate action.
After rolling back on net zero targets last month, there has been a stony silence on energy efficiency - leaving people exposed to cold homes and high bills. The energy efficiency industry once again faces an uncertain future, jeopardising the chance to create decent jobs across the country.
For investors in UK real estate, this suggests that they can expect little government backing when it comes to improving the energy efficiency of their portfolios.
5) Abandoning the windfall tax
Another key measure was the government’s scrapping of the “energy profits levy” more commonly known as the windfall tax. The tax, which was introduced in the spring budget, applies a 45% levy on electricity generators who have made excess profits amid high power prices.
The government now announced that it will scrap the additional levy by March 208.
In good news for renewables investors, the UK government has included a clearer distinction between investments in renewables and fossil fuels with low carbon-power generating schemes now being exempt from the windfall tax.
“UK falls short”
In sum, while individual measures in the budget were welcomed by investors, industry representatives warn that it falls short in comparison with ambitious energy transition programmes in the US, Europe and China.
UKSIF chief executive, James Alexander welcomed the measures on easing the planning system but wondered how effective they will be in practice: “The size and scale of commitments made today still fall short of a sufficiently comprehensive response to the U.S Inflation Reduction Act, the EU’s Green Deal Industrial Plan, and similar initiatives in other jurisdictions.
“If the UK is to attract the capital needed to lead the global transition to a more sustainable future, creating jobs and economic prosperity, we must build investor confidence, address greenwashing risks, and tackle more of the UK’s underlying investment barriers. The Chancellor didn’t go far enough,” Alexander said.