Unease grows over coalition’s energy policies

By Alex Stevenson

The coalition government’s plans for energy security and meeting climate change targets are facing growing concern from environmental groups.

Energy and climate change secretary Chris Huhne outlined the new administration’s approach in the annual energy statement yesterday.

He launched a consultation on the options facing the UK for the next 40 years, during which time Britain must reduce its carbon emissions by 80%.

“At last we have an energy policy with real direction and purpose, and a government willing to take the bold steps necessary,” Mr Huhne told MPs.

He said the government was taking “three big steps forward” by creating a market for energy savings, ensuring a properly functioning electricity market and a strengthened carbon price.

Green groups reacted with caution, however, as they warned it was not yet clear whether ministers were prepared to take the steps necessary to instigate the rapid transition to a low-carbon economy.

“If we keep kicking our heels instead of building a clean energy economy we’ll miss our climate change targets and lose the economic advantage that would result from being a world-leader in green technology,” Greenpeace’s executive director John Sauven said.

“Whatever pathway we choose to a low-carbon future, it’s absolutely clear from the government’s analysis that we have to go beyond oil in our transport system. This means more investment in engine efficiency and electric vehicles.”

Mr Huhne told MPs yesterday that there were potentially 20 billion barrels of oil in the UK continental shelf and that “the low carbon economy must happen but it will not happen tomorrow”.

The Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister is opposed to nuclear power but is bound by the coalition agreement to abstain when the issue comes to a vote in the Commons.

He confronted the issue in yesterday’s statement, saying the government was committed to removing “any unnecessary obstacles” to investment in new nuclear power.

Former Labour MP Alan Simpson, who stood down at the general election and is now Friends of the Earth’s sustainable energy advisor, reacted with concern.

Comment: For Huhne the bell tolls

“Solving one environmental problem by creating another is not the answer – nuclear power will create a centuries-long legacy of toxic waste and divert funds from clean, safe technologies that could put us at the forefront of the green manufacturing revolution,” he commented.

“Ministers should reverse green technology cuts and invest in building a safe and secure low-carbon economy through a green investment bank – saying yes to renewable energy like wind, wave and solar but no to nuclear power.”