Net Zero Task Force, Meeting Minutes, 29th March 2022

Attendees

Patrick Devine-Wright (Chair) 

Lyndis Cole 

Nik Bowyer 

Ian Bailey  

Gill Westcott 

Tim Jones  

Ian Hutchcroft 

James Shorten 

Olly Frankland 

Harry Bonnell 

Sue Goodfellow 

Laura Cardenas 

Apologies

Conny Guell 

Hannah Lawrie 

Secretariat

Phil Norrey  

Emily Reed  

Doug Eltham  

Emily Widdecombe 

1. Matters arising from previous minutes

Minutes of the previous meeting were accepted as a true record of the meeting.  

2. Progress Report

Emily R invited questions on the Progress Report and drew attention to the latest projects being implemented by the partners.  

No further questions.  

3. Responding to the Citizens’ Assembly

Emily R reported that the consultation is now live. Social media advertising and print advertising is underway. Printed documentation has been distributed to all libraries across Devon, Plymouth and Torbay.  

A webinar was held on the 22nd March introducing the public to the consultation.  

A press release has been issued by the partners. The University of Exeter helped arrange a BBC Radio Devon interview on the 18th March during the breakfast programme.  

Lyndis asked what type of people are responding. Emily W said that most responses are from individuals rather organisations at this stage but that we have had requests for a PDF copy of the questionnaire suggesting that organisations are preparing to respond.  

Ian asked what the general themes are so far. Emily R said she’ll have a look at the responses for the next Task Force meeting. 

Patrick noted that this is a more difficult consultation to get involved in than previous ones. We should take opportunities that may be coming along in the next couple of weeks to link the consultation to the government’s new Energy Strategy for example. 

4. The energy crisis and net-zero – opportunities and challenges 

Olly presented the volatility in the gas markets, which has peaked at prices ten times higher than in March 2021. It’s important to realise that gas prices influence electricity prices due to the prominence of gas in the UK’s electricity generation mix.  

The price cap will cause an average increase from 1st April of 54% on domestic energy costs. There is a £350 energy bill rebate being returned to households through council tax bills.  

Olly noted the renewed focus on energy security which will hopefully lead to a greater focus on renewables and energy efficiency but new nuclear and short-term oil and gas production is likely to be part of government’s solution. The Treasury has sent a note to the UK Infrastructure Bank to encourage more green investments to help with energy security.  

The budget saw some policy changes: 

  • 5% VAT on domestic energy saving materials and renewables from 1st April for 5 years 
  • Business rate exemption for onsite renewable energy generation and storage 
  • 5p reduction on fuel duty 

We’re expecting an energy strategy from government in the coming weeks, which may make a statement about planning changes for onshore wind and reduced energy bills for people living close to them. BEIS may also be undertaking a review of energy and flexibility markets. 

The upshot of this is that the case for domestic renewable energy generation is a lot stronger than it was, including for heat pumps that will benefit from the Boiler Upgrade Scheme in May 2022 (£5,000 contribution). The current situation also means the case for subsidy-free solar and wind is stronger than it was previously, and the electrification of vehicles is likely to be accelerated. Providers of flexibility services have been making good returns in the past few weeks due to the volatility of energy markets. Some renewables projects that are operating under a Contracts for Difference are actually returning money back to suppliers because of the high wholesale prices – this money is yet to be returned to consumers but could be in the future.  

An issue with a change to planning law for onshore wind is that there are very few projects in the pipeline, so it won’t be a quick fix, but there could be opportunities for local partners to help speed things up. Offshore wind also provides a regional opportunity, particularly in the Celtic sea.  

Emily R asked whether fracking is likely to resurface in the UK and whether energy storage is coming online in Devon. Olly said it’s unlikely to see more fracking but more energy storage is being developed in Devon. 

Ian H reinforced the point ‘how many more reasons do we need to decarbonise?’. But of course this doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It makes the actions in the Devon Carbon Plan even more timely and relevant – particularly around the Devon Energy Advice Centre and the skills needed to deliver it.  

Sue added that off-gas households are going to be particularly badly hit as they do not have a price cap, and if they switch to electricity, they’ll be paying four times the price of households on gas.  

Doug reported that the Devon Energy Advice Centre is being setup with the Cosy Devon partners and community energy organisations, alongside skills development from the Retrofit Academy.  

Tim said there could be an opportunity to share what best practice looks like around some of the initiatives we’re discussing – what does a good wind or solar project look like? What does a good hydrogen project look like? This could give confidence to people that if done well there are huge opportunities for Devon. 

Lyndis asked whether commercial rooftops are suitable for solar as it certainly used to be a problem. Tim agreed that it used to be a problem, but new buildings will be designed to take it. New tenancies will include clauses to ensure the occupier and landlord can benefit from rooftop solar as well. Ian H said there are still some legal challenges for leased commercial buildings, but he does share Tim’s optimism. 

Phil updated the Task Force on Devon’s devolution deal with government and noted that this opens up opportunities for conversations with government about co-designing and delivering initiatives with government based on our local knowledge and experience. An initial devolution application was submitted on Friday 25th March, which includes activities around climate change. The existence of the Carbon Plan and the Devon Climate Assembly has been useful to demonstrate alignment of partners and the public behind many of the ideas, which government is looking for.   

Patrick said that, just like the Citizens Assembly, it would be good to bring in university researchers to track any new institution over time and gauge its impacts and outcomes. Could look to submit bids to similar funding programmes supporting collaborative research as used already. Ian Bailey agreed and said that master’s students could be involved in this, too.  

Tim said that climate change is going to impact the south west’s economic reliance on ‘just in time’ deliveries, and this will require a regional response. Phil said the devolution deal is being designed with Cornwall and Somerset.  

Gill asked if parish councils will get an opportunity to influence the devolution conversations. Phil said that the Devon Association for Local Councils has been heavily involved and parts of the conversation will be about double-devolution – i.e. some aspects could be devolved right down to community level. But what that looks like has yet to be developed. 

Gill asked if a directly elected mayor is expected. Phil said no, a combined-authority is proposed but not with a mayor.  

James noted that the Land Use Framework needs to consider the interface between the needs of different systems, such as food and energy if it is to guide planning.  

Laura added that the funding available for research is often ‘stop-start’ but long-term collection of data to monitor how the environment and society is changing in response to climate change is really important – after all, it was long-term data collection that identified the climate crisis.  

Nik reminded the group that whilst devolution is an excellent opportunity for Devon, we must keep moving with local net-zero projects and initiatives. We already have the Peninsular Sub-National Transport Body and so some of the devolution conversations don’t need to reinvent governance structures that are working well. 

Sue said the Devon Wildlife Trust will be keen to help with the natural environment asks of devolution and get involved with testing approaches on its land and contributing to data collection.  

Phil concluded by saying that we don’t yet know what the timeline is for devolution. We’ll keep the Task Force updated with progress.  

5. Progress with the Devon Carbon Plan

Emily explained that the redraft of the Food, Land and Sea chapter has been shared with the Task Force and Tactical Group. Next chapter we’ll be working on is Economy and Resources.  

ACTION: Feedback on the Food, Land and Sea chapter by the 8th April please.

Chapter of Interim Devon Carbon Plan Progress on Redrafting 
Cross Cutting Themes Amended chapter circulated 17th September 2021 
Economy and Resources Still to be circulated  
Energy Supply Amended chapter circulated 17th September 2021 
Built Environment Latest version of amended chapter circulated 16th December 2021 
Transport Amended chapter circulated in July 2021 
Food, Land and Sea Circulated in early March. Feedback by 8th April please.  

6. AOB

Patrick said an IPPC report is due next week, so keep an eye out for publicity around that.  

Patrick also reported a new project he is working on about how we can better communicate social science knowledge to stakeholders who need the information to act on it.  

Patrick suggested an outdoor meeting to mark the transition of the Task Force from its role overseeing the production of the Devon Carbon Plan into future arrangements for scrutinising its delivery.  

ACTION: Emily to arrange a physical meeting of the Task Force. 

Ian Hutchcroft asked whether devolution changes how the implementation of the Devon Carbon Plan is expected to happen. Doug said it doesn’t – we’ll still need an delivery board for each theme and the Climate Change Forum to provide independent scrutiny  – but it does provide an opportunity for the implementation of the Plan to become a statutory function of the devolved Combined Authority – with the Response Group and the Climate Change Forum involved in that.  

ACTION: Emily to schedule agenda time at subsequent meetings to discuss the transition into future governance arrangements.   

Lyndis reported that the Land Use Framework has started to progress but its outcomes are still uncertain.  

Tim said the ownership of natural capital assets has been identified as an issue for getting greater investment in the natural environment within the biosphere but it’s also applicable to other areas such as the national parks. For example, peat bogs under common ownership – how would investment work for these?  Emily suggested this could be a topic for academic assistance.