Here’s why Great British Energy in public ownership is a WIN for our movement! (Even if it’s not full nationalisation)

28 September 2022

Public ownership in Starmer’s keynote speech, as one of Labour’s flagship policies?! This is HUGE.

Great British Energy, a publicly owned renewable energy generation company, would help tackle the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis.

Two months ago, we told the Guardian that Labour was being too cautious on public ownership and asked the question

“Why not set up a publicly owned renewable generation company to drive forward water and wind energy, while creating jobs and boosting the economy?”

Our petition to nationalise energy called for a new state owned renewable energy company as one of the solutions to the crisis. 

We pointed out that 9 out of 10 of the countries leading the way in terms of green transition already have a publicly owned renewable energy company – and so the UK needs to do the same.

Yesterday Keir Starmer announced exactly that! We’re absolutely thrilled.

Here are the answers to some of your questions…

Is Great British Energy the same thing as nationalising energy or bringing it into public ownership?

Not exactly. It’s about developing new public ownership of energy generation which is one part of the energy system.

Great British Energy will be a new publicly owned company returning profits to the UK, generating new renewable energy and creating jobs in this country. Its investment in renewable energy will help us to reach net zero. Private generation companies will still operate but there will be a state owned generation company in the market.

Labour has not proposed having a public energy supplier like EDF in France (something they could easily call for, as the collapse of Bulb offers an easy way to set up a public retail company).

Labour has also not proposed bringing the energy grid - transmission and distribution - into public ownership, although this is another policy that would make sense.

Who owns our renewable energy generation right now?

Common Wealth research shows that 82% of UK offshore wind capacity is foreign owned. 44% of this is public ownership by other countries! Denmark is the biggest player, followed by Norway. 

As Common Wealth says “Remarkably, the UK government owns less of our aggregate offshore wind capacity (0.03 per cent) than the government of Malaysia (0.1%), let alone the governments of Denmark (20%) or Norway (9%). The city of Munich, meanwhile, owns more (0.85%) than any British town or city.”

Our natural resources aren’t being used to directly benefit people in this country the way they could be.

How will this help reduce bills?

TUC analysis shows that the government is missing out on £63 billion - £122 billion of direct income over the coming two years, due to past decisions to privatise our power plants and the resulting lack of UK public ownership of electricity generation.

“If the UK today had a public energy champion similar to EDF in France, EnBW in Baden- Württemberg (Germany), or Vattenfall in Sweden, a significant portion of the excess profits taken by privatised electricity generators due to soaring wholesale prices would be coming instead to the government. Government would be able to use these revenues - equivalent to £2,250-£4,400 per UK household - to reduce bills or accelerate home insulation roll-out.”

How will this tackle climate crisis?

The TUC explains that a publicly owned energy generation company can:

  • Insulate the public from soaring and volatile energy prices by keeping bills down
  • Reinvest profits into communities or return them to the public
  • Boost domestic manufacturing, local supply chains and economies
  • Create and maintain quality skilled jobs with collective bargaining
  • Plan for and invest in the climate transition instead of waiting for the market
  • Speed up the delivery of both an industrial strategy and new energy infrastructure
  • Invent and develop new technology instead of depending on foreign companies

Evidence from the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research shows "a consistent pattern concerning the role of ownership on renewable energy investment among European utilities: state-owned utilities dedicate higher shares of investments to renewables, particularly in countries with stringent climate policies and when the general quality of regulation is high". 

Research from Mariana Mazzucato shows that "public investments not only have a positive but also consistently the largest effect on private investment flows relative to feed-in tariffs, taxes and renewable portfolio standards in general".

As Mathew Lawrence of Common Wealth writes in the Guardian, this would also provide more energy security: 

"Labour’s policy is common sense. Our current energy system is prone to crises because it depends on expensive, volatile imported fossil fuels. By accelerating the transition to clean power, Great British Energy would reduce the UK’s exposure to import shocks driven by fossil fuels."

Is this popular?

Yes, hugely! Public ownership of energy is popular in general.

Our polling (via Survation) shows that 66% of the public want energy in public ownership, including 62% of Conservative voters. 68% of Red Wall voters say energy should be publicly run.

Common Wealth polling shows 72% of Conservative voters support a public clean energy company.

Didn’t this policy come from Corbyn anyway?

Yes, brilliant policies for public ownership of energy were developed under Corbyn. We’re really happy that Labour today is recognising the need for public ownership whoever is in charge of the party. 

We Own It is independent of any political party – it’s our job to push all parties in the direction of public ownership of our public services.

We’re very happy that Labour for a Green New Deal and Momentum are fighting so hard within the Labour Party for full public ownership, and Green New Deal Rising are organising for climate justice. 

Keir Starmer dropped the pledge for public or common ownership of energy - why do you think he’ll stick to this?

That was very disappointing. However, the fact that Starmer was so clear in his keynote speech at conference that Great British Energy would be publicly owned means we are now in new territory. Starmer also said that this policy would be rolled out in the first year of government - again this suggests this is a serious commitment. The next general election could be coming sooner than the Conservatives would like - so with Labour way ahead in the polls, these announcements really matter. 

This isn’t full public ownership of energy? Why do you think this is good enough?

No, it’s not full public ownership but it’s a hugely important first step. Great British Energy will prove that public ownership is a successful way to run a company in the national interest. Of course we already have examples of successful publicly owned companies - like the Met Office, Ordnance Survey, Channel 4 and Scottish Water. But this will be a brand new company spearheading the transition to net zero. 

It’s fantastic that the leader of the opposition has committed to public ownership of this company - this is a really important shift in narrative. Public ownership is the norm in other European countries but in the UK we still need to make the case to politicians that privatisation of our public services and assets was an ideological experiment that failed.

Now we can keep pushing - showing why Bulb should be turned into a new public supply company and why we need to take our energy grid into public hands. 

What can I do?

Read more about public ownership of energy and sign the petition. You can help to build on this victory and make sure Great British Energy is a big success leading to more public ownership in the future.

Do you believe in public services for people not profit?

Win campaigns for public ownership by subscribing to our mailing list! We'll hold your data in accordance with our privacy policy and send you carefully chosen information about current and future campaigns, projects and appeals. You can unsubscribe at any time.


ANTHONY SPERRYN replied on Permalink

Labour is still hankering over marketisation. It should be telling the government to fix energy prices, as the French appear to have done. Windfall taxes are, in fact, baloney, because what is needed is to keep prices down. Obviously the Ofgem price fixing is also rubbish and I recently read a useful analysis (but unfinished business) of that by a professor from UCL. I'll post the link when I find it (sorry, I've forgotten where I saw it)

ANTHONY SPERRYN replied on Permalink

The analysis was published by the Institute for New Economic Thinking on 5 September this year written by Michael Grubb. I posted it on my Facebook on 17th September. It's all quite complicated, because Ofgem uses he most expensively produced electricity as its guide, rather than the average, because it believes in markets (!).

Amanda Midgley replied on Permalink

Please keep fighting for our gas and Electric and to bring the bus and rail prices down because we can’t avoid to pay if they keep putting the price up the bus and rail company will loose their passengers

Cllr Margaret E... replied on Permalink

The Great British Energy Compan owned and funded by Government is a great idea-with our best engineers and researchers developing optimised wind power,all around "British Isles.-wind turbines to generate energy for the Grid, and local populations whatever the wind direction; Solar power with new rechargeable battery technology for domestic and coorporate use so that electricity can be supplied day and night.Solar powered vehicle charging points for public transport (so that nationwide we have County fleets of electric buses and trams).Government funded "re-chargable battrry technology"research, and industrial development to enable longer-distance electric powered vehicles in the UK _

Anne Jones replied on Permalink

Many industries are vital for our survival and therefore should be puplically owned so that service to the public would be the main aim. Never for profit and need able to hold our people to ransom. A vital and necessary chamge.

Anne Jones replied on Permalink

Energy is a vital and u oversaw commodity and therefore should be owned by the people as in the past. Profit is not part of this in any way.

Vivica Parsons replied on Permalink

Of course the energy we depend to live should be in public ownership. Any other way of thinking is actually insane. When you actually think about it.

Sue sullivan replied on Permalink

Let's go fo it

Would be amazing

Michael Franklin replied on Permalink

I have just about to start importing a space age insulation product. The net zero carbon figure will only be achieved if the insulation of the uk housing stock can be done. Quickly ,cost effectively , with low environmental impact.. I know that is achievable as I have the products to do it with . To upgrade an average 3 bed semi could be done in 3days with this system. Getting 20% better

Christine howton replied on Permalink

A change is needed now, that is why France is doing so well.nationalise everything.

julia foster replied on Permalink

I think this is a really good idea and hope that the Labour government when it comes in to power will give it the priority it deserves.

John replied on Permalink

The Skwarkbox has reported this morning that

"Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds has told Utility Week that the company will not supply energy to anyone.

Instead, Reynolds said that the purpose of ‘Great British Energy’ will be the:

' management of the investments, which we believe are essential to unlock these markets and opportunities.'"

So, as usual with politicians, not quite the offer from Labour it appeared to be in the headlines.

Rosemary Zakrzewski replied on Permalink

I heartily approve of a single British Energy Company so that it can assure us of wind turbines wherever we are and wherever the wind blows. Also solar power can be shared by all, if there is one company and no competition between different companies.

Mick Hills replied on Permalink

Can anyone explain why Jonathan Reynolds the business and energy shadow secretary walked back Starmers announcement the very next day saying in effect that all Labour are proposing is a Management Investment Group to mange investment. He did not say who the investment was from. If its private companies then the Conference announcement has been disqualified by Starmers own Shadow secretary for business and energy.This needs thrashing out before we start jumping up and down.

Gary Shead replied on Permalink

Would a British Energy Company not undercut the competition, as they wouldn't be paying dividends to shareholders. This could ultimately close down the privately owned companies, resulting in a single public owned company without the need to nationalise.

Add new comment