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2020 ended in a blizzard of policy. There’s a lot to be stimulated by and optimistic about. Amongst the detailed research on cost of capital, on routes to net zero, on infrastructure and through innovation there’s room for people too. The Energy White Paper, the Committee on Climate Change, Ofgem’s RIIO-2 settlement and the Ten Point Plan all envisage a radically different energy sector. And quickly.

What is an essential good or service? Recent months have seen some heated debates on this point. In Wales, one supermarket got into trouble by classifying period products as non-essential. In Ireland, a dog boutique selling canine accessories was able to stay open as it also sold pet food.

Sustainability First has a long history of working with the essential utility services that are necessary for existence such as energy and water. There is little argument that in meeting our basic needs, these are essentials.

Of all the utilities, water is probably the least prone to radical change. The first water infrastructure – wells and even some disposal of sewage - was developed over 6000 years ago. Water infrastructure in the Roman empire was more sophisticated than other utilities would achieve until well into the industrial revolution (and believe it or not some is still used today).

The underlying principles that policy makers and regulators use to guide their every-day decisions need to be transformed if we are to survive and thrive through Covid-19 and the biodiversity and climate crises.

Price-control design is both complex and 'mission-critical'. At stake is how the £billions of funding allowed by the regulator for DNO investment and operations will be shaped for the coming five years and beyond. Rightly, there is a strong focus on cost-efficiency. But concern about past returns shouldn't wholly dictate the future.

Last week I spoke on a panel at a webinar hosted by Enertechnos, a company which produces low loss cables for the electricity distribution sector and who have just produced a report on how losses impact our ability to meet net zero.

It was great to see the conclusions of the Citizens Climate Assembly published last week, having looked in depth[1] at the French equivalent. As an advocate of citizens assemblies and deliberative engagement more broadly, and given the crucial importance of tackling climate change, I am clear that the report deserves to be taken seriously and read carefully by policy makers and others.

Even before the Covid crisis and the climate emergency movement, the notion that capitalism had to
be about more than simply short-term shareholder returns had been growing worldwide.

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