The UK's National Infrastructure Strategy was finally published on 25 November 2020, alongside Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Spending Review. The Spending Review, following closely after last week's Ten Point Plan for a Green Economic Recovery, didn't have much more to say on energy, but buried within the National Infrastructure Strategy are some clues on what the Energy White Paper is going to say.
Good news for Ofgem, Ofwat and Ofcom is that the government is committed to maintaining the system of independent economic regulation, as it has delivered significant benefits in the utilities sectors. But it needs to adapt and we can expect an overarching policy statement on economic regulation in 2021. This will create a more transparent strategic framework to help regulators support investments, something that the National Infrastructure Commission recommended in its study of the regulatory model in 2018-9. There is a strong hint that the three regulators could be given a new net zero duty. This is something that the energy networks have been calling for in the RIIO-2 price reviews, which inevitably involve a trade-off between meeting net zero goals and keeping costs for consumers down. (See our recent Green Recovery Report published in association with Utility Week for more on this.) It would also benefit the water companies who have already committed to a routemap to net zero by 2030.
The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution plus the extra detail in the National Infrastructure Strategy and the multi-year funding to deliver the Ten Point Plan confirmed in the Spending Review show that the UK government is starting to take climate change seriously, is committed to making the economic recovery from Covid-19 a green one and that utilities have a key role to play in advancing this.