Speaking to Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said:
Conference, Liberal Democrats entered this Coalition – put aside party politics – for a very good reason. Our country was in a mess. And not any old mess. It wasn’t some sort of short term financial hiccup. No. The morning after polls closed, we faced the most difficult decision in our party’s history. To govern in coalition in the most difficult economic circumstances any British Government had faced in modern times.
And I am proud, immensely proud, that Nick Clegg, our party and you – we didn’t duck that decision. Clearing up the mess is taking time. It was always going to. It was never going to be easy. Not least because clearing up the mess means building a new economy. And Liberal Democrats – from banking to energy, we are rebuilding Britain’s economy withnew foundations.
Our Deputy Prime Minister - delivering on fairer income tax; Vince Cable - driving a new industrial strategy; and my job - fighting for greener growth.
Conference – our Coalition agreement to clear up Britain’s mess, wasn’t an agreement to turn the clock back. For business as usual. To rekindle Thatcherism – or Blair-Brown. It was for a fairer, greener Britain – and we must fight for that. Earlier today, I moved the motion to pledge this party’s backing for a global deal to stop climate change. And Conference, I wasn’t surprised when you backed it.
So this afternoon I want to move on to the green growth opportunity. For it’s much, much bigger than many realise. And bigger than the sceptics want people to know about. Partly, we have Labour to thank – because Labour’s record on energy was so poor. Ageing energy infrastructure, increasing energy imports, and rocketing energy bills.
Even when Labour began to wake up to their mistakes – and with all-party support passed the Climate Change Act – they still lacked ambition for green growth. But Liberal Democrats, we have always known the potential of a green economy for Britain.
So I have no time for the sceptics who say we can’t afford green investment. So it’s good that the Government’s growth push is on building – like railways, like housing. But the green energy opportunity is even greater. For the rest of this decade we need to spend more on investment in our power grid than we do on roads and rail combined.
Replacing our ageing power stations closing over the next decade will attract £110bn of investment. Energy is half, yes half, of all Britain’s planned infrastructure investment. And since this summer’s Olympics was so fabulous – let me get in on the act. Britain’s green growth opportunity is like building 20 Olympic Stadiums every year until 2020. So that’s why British industry wants us to crack on with our energy reforms – the foundation of Britain’s future low carbon economy. Industry knows this will stimulate the investment the economy needs. Our reforms will unlock billions of private investment in energy produced here in the UK: wind, marine, solar hydro, nuclear and carbon capture and storage.
Be clear: our aim is nothing les, nothing less, than the world’s first ever low carbon electricity market. Moving Britain from dirty to clean electricity.
Conference, to deny our green energy revolution is good for growth, is as perverse as denying climate change. Now a few of you may be worried this might break our fiscal rules, So let me calm you. Private investors will fund the vast bulk of what we need. Danny need not worry. Unlike many other projects, green growth need not mean red ink. The energy projects that I want to drive are ready now, they are what the Treasury calls shovel ready.
We can win investment now. Create jobs now. Get green growth now. And not just in London and the South East. Where jobs are really needed. In the last year alone, companies in the North East have invested £700m and created more than 2000 jobs in the green economy. In Scotland, almost £3bn, creating 5000 jobs.
Green growth is the fastest around. And at the heart of rebalancing the British economy. How can the critics ignore this? Why won’t they champion this British growth opportunity? How can they let ideology blind them to what is happening right before their eyes? My message to them is simple: no turning back from tackling climate change; no turning back green jobs; no turning back from green growth.
Conference – the Liberal Democrats are not for turning. Conference, we are putting in place the policies on low carbon energy that will attract the billions of private investment Britain needs. But just like the rest of the global economy, investors crave certainty. Stability. The confidence that Governments will stick to their word. That’s why the Climate Change Act was so important. That’s why there’s a strong case for a carbon limit for Britain’s energy grid for 2030 as I hope you will back tomorrow. Energy is always a long term investment. So if we are to create greater investor confidence in Britain’s low carbon energy future, a long-term target is best.
When I was asked to look after the country’s energy and climate change future, some people called me “a safe pair of hands”. When it comes to gas and electricity, I think that’s a good place to start. Not least because some people want me to play it anything but safe. They want me to risk Britain’s energy policy on one solution – one technology. Bet the economy on nuclear. Gamble UK plc only on renewables. Play Russian roulette with shale gas. Well, these safe hands won’t take those kind of risks with jobs and Britain’s growth.
And just as we must not play fast and loose with people’s jobs, we must not take risks with their pockets and purses. Look at how rocketing world oil and gas prices have led to rocketing energy bills for millions. Green growth must be affordable. And it can be. We will protect energy consumers from the higher prices of climate threatening fossil fuels. Our vision of a green economy can lead to lower energy bills not just in the future – but now. That means putting a cushion between the bills people actually pay and world energy prices. And Conference, the answers aren’t new – but red and blue never makes green.
Saving energy, energy competition will be how we get people’s energy bills down. And we have the new ideas to make these work much harder for people than ever before. Let’s start with energy saving. My vision of the future is one in which houses are so well insulated they cost no more to run in winter than they do in summer. Think about what that would mean: no more arguments about the kids putting on an extra jumper; no more shivering when you make the morning cup of tea; no more anxious calculations at the end of the month when the bills stack up.
That’s why the Green Deal is so different. Different to anything that has gone before. First, everyone is included. Every home in your community – every house, every flat – all can benefit from the Green Deal. Indeed, every business can benefit too. Past schemes were full of red tape. If you didn't qualify for this benefit you weren’t eligible. If you didn't want the work done in a certain way you couldn’t have it done at all. Well, we won’t save energy and keep people warm by wrapping them up in in red tape. And the Green Deal is creating a new market – a competitive market. Open to all, not just the big energy firms. With local builders and plumbers, DIY chains, boiler firms. 60,000 jobs. The energy of liberal free enterprise unleashed to save the energy leaking from our homes.
And we need more enterprise and competition in Britain’s energy markets too. The old way – of door-step selling and door-step misselling – didn’t work – and I’m glad to see it gone. We can’t – like Labour – just urge people to switch and leave the rest to chance. That hasn’t worked. Switching rates are down. Only the well-heeled internet savvy now get the best deals. But we need to give people value for money on their gas and electricity.
In July, we launched ‘Cornwall Together’ – it has brought together the council, the NHS, Unison, voluntary groups and the world famous Eden Project. And St Austell’s Brewery. That really got me interested. Cornwall Together will help Cornish people buy energy together – in a collective switch. To get 20,000 Cornish residents to sign up, aiming to save them an average of nearly £200 a year. So millions of pounds stay in the Cornish economy. That matters. That cash boosts local economic growth and cuts fuel poverty.
Our policy is to encourage exactly such schemes. So today I am announcing a £5m competition and it’s open to local authorities and community groups across England. We want councils and communities to come up with their own schemes. And we will make only one main rule. Winning schemes must include the fuel poor. And Liberal Democrats, armed with this new opportunity to push energy competition, we must campaign to help people cut their energy bills – campaign in our cities, towns and villages – and work with anyone who will work with us. Cooperating for for cheaper, energy. And I want to go further. I want nothing short of a community energy revolution.
Let’s start by buying energy together. But let’s also save it and generate it together. Just look at Germany to see what is possible. 100 councils aiming to be 100% renewable. Nearly 600 energy co-operatives. So next spring I bring forward with a new community energy strategy – so people can and will see the benefits of a green economy for them. But I will do more for families struggling with bills. Now.
We must stand behind households and strengthen their hand – when they deal with their energy company and when they want to switch. So I want simpler bills. With the information you need to switch right there. Easier to get to grips with. Not as bills can seem today just random numbers thrown at a page. Last April, Nick Clegg and I won new commitments from the energy companies. From this autumn, every year they must tell each customer their best available tariff. And we are changing the law – so that when an energy company treats a customer badly, the fine goes straight to that customer – and not to the treasury as now. Because on every issue in this Coalition, the Liberal Democrats must be on the side of people – of fairness.
Take tax. We campaigned and have won a great change to build a fairer new economy. Taking millions out of tax and incentivising work with our £10,000 income tax-free allowance. But we also campaigned for a green tax switch. To incentivise energy saving. Now we need renewed vigour for that smarter tax. I’ll be working with Don Foster to look at council tax discounts for energy efficiency to see if they will encourage people to sign up to the Green Deal. The Budget announced a review of vehicle excise duty, as car tax to you and I. I am interested in an idea that would push the car industry to make more fuel efficient cars, to save motorists money and cut carbon. And to cut motoring costs even more for the greener car drivers. After all, we have a commitment on environmental taxes. There is a coalition commitment. Not more tax, smarter tax. We need to make sure that happens
Liberal Democrats, we can build a new economy from the mess we inherited. From banking reform to employee share ownership and the Green Investment Bank. From new energy infrastructure to railways and electric cars. From the Green Deal to clever green tax and buying energy together. Green growth will mean more jobs and lower bills. And don’t let anyone tell you different.
My vision, our vision is of a new green economy. Of course there will be some with outdated views who don’t want to make the change. Don’t want Britain to move forward. But their ideas got us into this economic and environmental mess in the first place. Our vision of a new green economy has never been needed more than now – from reskilling young people for tomorrow’s low carbon world, to investing in the science to drive innovating firms. That is the new economy liberal democrats want to build.
I joined the party when we were just 4% in the opinion polls because this party, even then, in a green future. They scoffed at us then, but we were right. And it’s the same people trying to sabotage that future now. Our campaigns changed the political agenda so much that we can now become a world green leader. That’s how far Britain has come, that’s how far we have come so let us say loud and clear, on our green future there will be no turning back.