Great British Energy: what Keir Starmer’s nationalised energy plan could mean for you, bills and green energy

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer made a pledge at the party conference in Liverpool to launch a nationalised energy company within a year of the party coming to power.

Sir Keir Starmer caused waves during his speech at the Labour Party Conference, after announcing that the party would introduce a new publicly-owned energy company within the first year of being in power.

The party leader introduced people to the idea of Great British Energy - a nationalised energy company that would put the power of oil and gas back into the hands of the government. It comes as millions of households across the country face soaring bills for gas and electricity.

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But if Labour do secure the keys to No 10 and implement their plan - what could a nationalised energy company mean for the general public - and what could it mean for a greener future? We spoke to Professor Aimee Ambrose, professor of energy policy and fuel poverty expert at Sheffield Hallam University, to break the situation down.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, with his wife Victoria, leaves the stage after giving his keynote address during the Labour Party Conference at the ACC LiverpoolLabour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, with his wife Victoria, leaves the stage after giving his keynote address during the Labour Party Conference at the ACC Liverpool
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, with his wife Victoria, leaves the stage after giving his keynote address during the Labour Party Conference at the ACC Liverpool

What could a nationalised energy company mean for utility bills?

There is no doubt that the biggest anxiety for people across the UK at the moment is the rapid rise in the price of gas and electric bills. Sir Keir will be hoping to alleviate this worry by introducing the new nationalised service.

“The exact form that a nationalised energy company would vary will vary, the devil will be in the detail to a large extent,” explains Aimee.

“We’ve got six or more large energy companies dominating the market in the UK at the moment, many of which are linked to larger international firms. We would have one default provider, presumably, of gas and electricity, as we did several decades ago.”

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British Gas had been nationalised until it was privatised by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1986.

Aimee said, “We’ve been told over a number of decades now the best way to get the best energy deal is to shop around constantly, change your supplier, compare the deals - this puts pressure on the market to compete for your business.

“We know that doesn’t really work. People don’t have the time or the headspace or don’t always have the energy or financial literacy to be able to navigate those decisions. It’s really hard work at the bottom of the pile in busy life and people don’t get the best deal.”

So would nationalisation actually lower the cost of energy bills for households? Aimee explains that the difference in priority between private and public companies may hold the answer to this.

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“I think it’s going to help with energy bills, partly because of the emphasis not being on profit but on reinvestment. There won’t be as much - I would hope - of an element of profit built into energy prices.

“Our energy bills are made up of two parts, the cost of the energy that we actually consume, and then there are the standing charges which are really quite a significant part of our bills - those guiding charges are what pay for improvements in our energy infrastructure.

“Seeing what a nationalised company would do about those standing charges is going to be crucial in terms of understanding how much cheaper people’s bills will be under that proposal, but as I say, the profit element I would hope would be less and so people would notice the difference quite quickly.”

What could it mean for green infrastructure and jobs?

Not only could a nationalised company mean a reduction in household bills, but there will also be that focus on reinvestment into green energy solutions. During his speech Sir Keir laid out Labour’s green plans alongside announcing the nationalisation plan, promising to invest in the UK’s homegrown green energy supply in order to wean off internationally sourced energy.

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“That’s just going to be crucial to all of this and to making sure that we don’t end up in an energy crisis like we’re experiencing now,” Amiee explains.

“The big problem at the moment is that the fuels that are being used to generate our heating and our electricity are being traded on a volatile international market. It’s not within our control.

“With this plan, we’ll be generating renewable energy on our own. That is within our control. The price of renewable energy or energy generated from renewable sources has remained stable throughout this energy crisis. So we need to have much more of that in our energy mix and much less internationally traded gas and oil.”

Green energy solutions have not only got the benefits of being less volatile on the market and the environmental factor, but the reinvestment into these types of solutions could also create more jobs in the sector. Sir Keir spoke heavily on this topic in his speech at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool.

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During his speech, the party leader spoke about Labour’s ‘Green prosperity Plan’. It would include the doubling Britain’s onshore wind capacity, trebling solar power, quadrupling offshore wind, and investing in tidal, hydrogen and nuclear energy sources.

Aimee explains: “If we’re investing more in developing domestic energy, renewable energy infrastructure for the UK, that’s going to create a lot of jobs.”

She has also broken down the specific need for ‘green jobs’ in the future, saying: “We need jobs that are going to last into the future, you know, in a way that jobs allied to the fossil fuel industries are not secure, they’re not stable. They shouldn’t be because they shouldn’t be a big part of our future.

The blueprint for this is in France. The government partially nationalised the EDF energy company and currently owns an 87% stake in the company. The French Government announced in July 2022 that it was making plans to fully nationalise the company, and strengthen the country’s nuclear output.

“I think it just gives confidence to us here in the UK. It is a realistic step, and one we should take.”