Sky Election Special in Grimsby: How Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak can turbocharge the Humber - Richard Gwilliam

Today, the Humber is the epicentre of UK politics. Politicians and activists from across the country are travelling to Grimsby for Sky’s Election Special and millions more of us will be tuning in on TV to watch Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer outline their ambitions for running Government.

They are coming here because the Humber is to energy what the City of London is to finance. We provide 20 per cent of all of the UK’s electricity generation, one third of all of its refinery products and we import one fifth of all the natural gas the country needs to keep the lights on. We fuel UK PLC.

But for all the region’s superlatives, we also carry a burden on behalf of the country in that we are the most carbon intensive industrial area of the UK.

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Climate change is an existential threat to all of us and tackling it in the right way will underpin energy security, spur development, and secure and create thousands of jobs, all while supporting a reduction in carbon emissions.

Whichever party takes the reins of power in July must prioritise the delivery of economic growth for the country. One of the clearest routes to long term economic prosperity is through the deployment of large-scale decarbonisation projects.

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The Labour Party has ambitious plans to decarbonise our power system by 2030 and launch a new energy company focused on producing more renewable power, whereas the Conservatives want a zero carbon electricity grid by 2035. Both parties also remain committed to achieving increasingly challenging, legally binding carbon budgets and delivering net zero by 2050.

In the Humber, more carbon dioxide is emitted than from all the country’s other industrial clusters combined. But with challenge comes opportunity. The organisation that I chair, the Humber Energy Board (HEB), has developed a world leading plan, the Humber 2030 Vision, to decarbonise the region’s assets.

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The HEB represents leading UK and international businesses with a presence in the Humber, including electricity generators, energy storage providers, refineries, port operators, major landowners, hydrogen producers, as well as regional higher education institutions, the public sector and wider stakeholders.

Our plan is focused on delivering a sustainable future which will help to preserve regional jobs and create many thousands of new ones. Taking us from a cornerstone of national energy security to an international showcase for decarbonisation.

To get there, Government must support the development of our priority projects and initiatives. These include but are not limited to the project I lead – the transformation of Drax Power Station into the world’s first carbon-negative power station; the construction of the world’s largest offshore wind farm off the Yorkshire coast; one of the country’s first carbon capture and storage (CCS) enabled gas fired power stations near Scunthorpe; the largest hydrogen storage facility in the UK near Easington; the greening of port infrastructure; and the application of CCS at refineries in Immingham.

Providing there is the right support from Government, the HEB calculates that these projects and others along the shores of the estuary would collectively slash our region’s emissions while triggering upward of £15bn of private investment into new technologies and industries.

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That is why the HEB is calling on both the Conservatives and Labour, as well as all other parties, to commit to working with us to make the Humber 2030 Vision a reality.

A central pillar of our proposals is the development of large-scale carbon capture and storage in the region. In previous funding rounds, the Humber was left behind and efforts to deploy this critical climate saving technology focused instead in the North West and Teesside.

This region has continued to make the case for our Vision, but policy progress has been slow. The next Government must act quickly to turbo charge the Humber and ensure that private sector investment into low carbon technologies pours into the region or it risks seeing this capital instead be invested in Houston or Hamburg.

Modelling by the consultancy, Development Economics, shows that in the Humber carbon capture utilisation and storage would create an additional 42,000 jobs and £3.4bn in gross value added per year from 2050 onward. Additionally, it would see the creation of thousands of new, high skilled, productive jobs and training opportunities for young people.

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The next Government needs to prioritise decarbonising this region, support the HEB’s Vision and enable us to realise the Humber’s potential as a world leader in the development of green technology.

In the short term this means launching the Track-1 expansion and Track-2 project selection processes for CCS, making urgent progress on the development of a business model for greenhouse gas removal technology, concluding the selection of hydrogen projects under its hydrogen allocation rounds and promoting the creation of a large scale CCS network to run through the Humber.

From my conversations across the Humber it is clear that we are united in having a clear, credible strategy to keep delivering energy security while decarbonising and creating the thousands of jobs and skills that we need. Tomorrow, the soap boxes will be moved on to the next campaign events around the country, but it is critical that the businesses and people who live in the region continue to make the case to our local candidates that their parties should be backing our ambitions for the region.

Richard Gwilliam is Chair of the Humber Energy Board

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