The Government’s first foray into energy legislation will be overseen by new Secretary of State Amber Rudd, with an Energy Bill featuring two main elements – strengthening the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), and empowering local communities in England and Wales to decide on wind farms in their patch.
The Aberdeen-based OGA, accountable to the Department for Energy and Climate Change, was one of the recommendations of the Wood Review into the UK’s offshore oil and gas sector. It is tasked with overseeing the industry’s recovery and will be given extra powers to become a “robust, effective regulator”, as the Government seeks to prolong the life of the UK’s supplies and ensure energy security.
Meanwhile, the Bill will see decisions around onshore wind farms of more than 50 megawatts in England and Wales devolved to local authorities, in line with the Government’s commitment to localism. However, most planned windfarms of this scale are in Scotland, and so will be unaffected. A pledge to end new subsidies for onshore wind will be dealt with at a later date.
The Wales Bill, another feature of today’s speech, will see decisions on energy projects up to 350 megawatts and licensing for onshore shale exploration devolved across the Bristol Channel.
There was no mention of fracking today and the Government will face a fight to deliver its manifesto commitment to expand the UK’s shale gas capacity. Looking ahead, Rudd has also promised to “unleash a new solar revolution”, providing financial incentives for household solar panels.
The energy and agricultural sectors will be amongst the interested parties as we move towards an in/out referendum on the EU by the end of 2017, which will be preceded by the EU Referendum Bill announced today.