UK: Give more power to regulators, says report

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Regulators in the U.K. should be given more powers and responsibilities to ensure that the energy, water and telecoms sectors all work towards achieving net zero by 2050 without sacrificing the resilience of the country’s infrastructure, says a new report published by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

The report, Strategic investment and public confidence, recommends that the government provide regulators with clear long-term guidelines, and impose new duties on them to promote the achievement of net zero and improve the resilience of the UK’s infrastructure.

“The government has committed the UK to net zero by 2050, but if regulators aren’t equipped with a new duty to specifically reach this target, then it is simply unattainable,” said NIC Chair John Armitt. “The regulatory system must adapt to meet the demands of the future – and the great challenge we face to bring down emissions and build resilience against increasingly frequent extreme weather.”

The report notes that these goals can be achieved by adapting, rather than entirely changing, the regulatory system. Alongside the key recommendation of placing a duty on regulators to promote zero emissions, NIC finds that strategic investments in each sector should be open to competition, in order to facilitate innovation, and regulators should be well equipped to prevent price discrimination and activities that don’t provide an overall benefit to customers.

These recommendations were welcomed by the U.K’s Solar Trade Association (STA), noting that energy regulator Ofgem’s recent decisions have not always appeared in line with the sector’s commitment to decarbonization. “We welcome these recommendations as a crucial step which would serve to shift Ofgem’s objectives to tackle modern challenges such as decarbonisation and climate change,” stated STA Chief Executive Chris Hewett. “In recent years, there have been a number of decisions made by Ofgem, on issues such as network charging, that have hindered the rapid deployment of solar and other renewable technologies. This has been partly due to Ofgem’s objectives being out of step with the increasing urgency of tackling climate change.”

STA also expressed optimism regarding a proposal made this week by the U.K. government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to exempt energy storage from the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime, which it says could greatly simplify the planning and deployment of storage projects in the country. “This is a promising step forward for enabling energy storage to be connected more swiftly, and giving local communities a stronger voice in determining which developments are right for them,” said Hewett. “Energy storage is safe, low-impact, and essential for delivering on the UK’s legally binding Net Zero commitments.”