UK faces ‘difficult’ conversations with voters about green transition, energy chief Claire Coutinho says

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The government faces “difficult” conversations with local communities about hosting the grid infrastructure needed for the U.K.’s green energy transition, Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho said.

Speaking with POLITICO on Thursday, Coutinho described work to expand and overhaul the grid network as “the most radical plans since the 1950s.”

A government-commissioned review earlier this year warned that tens of billions of pounds worth of new grid infrastructure will be needed by the end of this decade in order to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 — meaning a rush to build new transmission infrastructure like substations, pylons and cables.

“Of course, it’s a difficult conversation when you tell people that things are going to be built near them,” Coutinho told POLITICO, asked whether she had made the case for hosting infrastructure to constituents in her own East Surrey seat.

She pointed to new plans announced by her department this week — unveiled alongside Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement — to expand the grid and hand payments to communities living near new infrastructure, including pylons. 

In its response to the independent review carried out by Electricity Networks Commissioner Nick Winser, the government said it planned to offer homes situated near new infrastructure discounts of £10,000 over ten years on their electricity bills. 

That’s on top of wider lump sum payments to local communities. The government’s new Transmission Acceleration Action Plan says that payments to local areas will be set at £320,000 per mile for overhead lines, £60,000 per mile for underground cables, and £200,000 per substation.

Coutinho said: “I think everybody recognises that the amount of demand for electricity is going to double by 2050. Part of our job is to keep the lights on. We also want to keep peoples’ bills down and make sure that we can meet our climate change ambitions.”

She added: “In order to do that we are going to need energy infrastructure, but the way we do that has got to be just and equitable.”

Coutinho pledged  a “credible approach” which would “hopefully help the conversation” and give people “line of sight on what’s coming down the tracks.”