Sunak vs. Truss: How Do They Feel About Renewable Energy?

Author: Travis Benn Read time: 8 mins
Client type: All Technology: Offshore wind
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Now that the Conservative leadership race is ending, landowners may be wondering how Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss feel about renewable energy and climate policy. Although both candidates have been relatively outspoken about wind and solar power, we’ve made it our mission to dig deeper.

Sunak and Truss have carefully crafted their arguments to sway Conservative voters over the last few months. But how might their policies and beliefs affect landowners with long-term leases? Will the winning candidate make renewable energy projects less attractive for landowners? Is the climate crisis set to worsen under Truss and Sunak?

If you’re looking for answers to all these questions, then simply read ahead. We’ll cover the approaches of both candidates to wind, solar, and general climate policy.

 

Using our expertise, we’ll also discuss how their decisions might affect you.

Sunak

The top line:

Sunak wants to increase offshore wind expansion while banning further onshore wind energy generation. At the beginning of August, Sunak tentatively answered that he was now aiming to scrap the embargo regarding onshore wind in England which was criticised by Truss.

Sunak has been campaigning against onshore wind since the leadership race began. He has made several pledges not to build more onshore wind farms on British soil and instead turn the focus to offshore wind.

Although this is part of his policy to achieve energy independence in the UK by 2045, it seems at odds with the Conservative pledge to reach net-zero limits by 2050.

The decision to ban onshore wind expansion is an interesting one. It’s largely against public opinion, as wind remains among the cheapest and most effective sources of power in the UK. 

With the cost of living and energy crises already hitting families and businesses around the country, this policy is understandably unpopular with three-quarters of Britons.

Truss

The top line:

Truss has not been as outspoken about onshore wind as Sunak. But her plans to suspend green levies don’t bode well for the renewables industry.

Truss hasn’t outwardly spoken about wind energy during her campaign, but she has accused Sunak of flip-flopping on his wind policy in recent weeks. She has previously supported offshore wind as a serving member of parliament, claiming that the Conservatives aim to quadruple the amount of energy supplied this way by 2030.

Despite her criticism of renewables, Truss has ruled out providing any other support for energy bills beyond tax cuts. This policy is unlikely to trickle down to the most vulnerable and will do little to counter rising costs.

Sunak

The top line:

Sunak is against the expansion of solar development on farmland but hasn’t made this a huge focal point of his campaign.

Sunak has hinted several times that he’s looking to restrict solar development on farmland which has been met with fierce criticism. The backlash has primarily come from Solar Energy UK, which has stated that solar offers “cheap, clean power time and time again” and has been “proven to be popular with the public”.

During his time as chancellor, Sunak did announce VAT relief for home solar panels and a rates relief scheme for technologies using rooftop solar and low-carbon technologies. This is admirable, but it’s difficult to say whether Sunak will backtrack on these offers as they are currently set to run from 2022 until 2035. But his stance on solar is overwhelmingly less aggressive than Truss'.

Truss

The top line:

Truss has based a large portion of her campaign on the importance of using arable land for farming. She has repeatedly stated that solar farms are unattractive and a “blight” on the British landscape.

Liz Truss has been adamantly against solar farms since her campaign began. During her time as Environmental Secretary, Truss was criticized for removing large subsidies for solar farms in the UK.

She has claimed that her commitment to boosting agriculture is a two-fold plan that aims to improve the beauty of Britain’s landscapes while reducing the food insecurity that's been triggered by the Ukraine War. But she has also referred to solar farms as mere “paraphernalia”, claiming that the British people want “crops” and “livestock” instead of unsightly panels.

The REA and the general public have expressed deep concerns over Truss’s comments. Mark Somerfield, Head of Power and Flexibility at the REA stated that solar farms work “in conjunction with, not against, agricultural use of land”, proving that Truss is largely out of touch with her strong views on solar.

How Do They Feel About Other Aspects of Energy Policy and Climate Change?

Net-zero emissions

The Conservatives have been committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 since releasing their manifesto in 2019.

Since this announcement, Sunak has allocated £1 billion to the Net-Zero Innovation Fund and has launched the “Pocket Parks” program to transform unused and neglected land into viable green spaces. Truss is similarly committed to achieving net-zero as a member of the Conservative Party, but neither candidate seems to be following policies that align with this plan.

Both candidates have discussed increasing fracking to exploit reserves of oil and gas in the North Sea. Sunak has gone one step further by offering fossil fuel enthusiasts a 90% tax break that will effectively cancel out the windfall tax on the extraction process.

Net-zero emissions must be achieved before the 1.5% temperature threshold is reached. Otherwise, we will have reached a climate emergency where irreversible damage to the planet is expected. The mixed policy proposed by both candidates shows that the party is less than 100% committed to addressing the climate emergency in a meaningful way which is cause for concern.

What Could These Policies Mean For Landowners?

As most renewable energy projects have long lease terms of 20 to 40 years, landowners will naturally be thinking about maximizing their returns while minimizing losses over this period. Sunak and Truss have both announced that onshore renewables will be deprioritized to make room for agriculture, which may concern current leaseholders.

We would still expect demand for renewables to continue due to the current energy crisis. Although landowners may earn more from their renewable energy projects due to the current energy shortage, the continued presence of onshore wind and solar will be crucial for reaching the government’s net-zero limit by 2050.

But there is a downside.

Based on the comments of both candidates, solar and wind farmers are particularly at risk with these policy changes. What was once a stable and predictable source of income for landowners may become more uncertain going forward.

 

There’s also a chance that these harsh views on wind and solar could lead to the stigmatization of landowners who already have projects running. It’s not guaranteed, but there’s always going to be a chance that the government’s outward opposition to these kinds of projects could embolden local communities to criticize existing projects.

 

Would Truss’s agricultural plans benefit landowners?

Although Truss believes that renewable energy projects should be replaced by agriculture, this is unlikely to benefit landowners much.

It’s still more financially viable for many landowners to invest in renewable energy projects than agriculture. This is largely down to the enormous cuts to farming subsidies and low national and international selling prices for produce. A steady rise in costs of production from diesel and fertilizer price hikes has also impacted the sector significantly.

It’s worth noting that most onshore wind farms are currently built on lower-value agricultural land, allowing farmers to capitalize on their earnings by allocating more space to viable energy projects. 

If lower-value agricultural land was reallocated for farming under Truss, this would reduce the overall value of British land. Landowners will simply not be able to earn as much income from their land if renewable energy projects aren’t granted planning permission or are discontinued.

 

It seems that Truss doesn't believe that these goals can exist alongside each other. But most farmers are continuing to graze cattle and grow crops while benefitting from a more diversified income from renewables. If Truss comes to power, this may significantly erode the income of landowners as solar energy now accounts for 28% of the UK’s total renewable energy generation as of 2020.

The takeaway

It’s impossible to predict how Sunak and or Truss’s leadership will actually impact renewable energy projects. Yet, we feel that their commitment to driving down onshore wind and solar power should give landowners a decent idea.

Landowners shouldn’t panic prematurely, as we believe that the demand for renewable energy is set to remain relatively stable as the cost of living crisis worsens. But it certainly never hurts to be prepared by consulting the right people!