In a speech at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham yesterday, the Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, Greg Barker, has hit back at claims that his party has abandoned its ambition to become ‘the greenest Government ever’.
The Conservative’s green agenda has been under question for a long period of time but the issue recently escalated after newly-appointed Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, called into question the suitability of renewables in the countryside, before later promising to make it “as easy as possible” for companies to explore for shale gas in the UK.
Paterson’s endorsement of the controversial fuel follows Osborne’s insistence that unabated gas be recognised by the Department of Energy and Climate Change as “continuing to play an important role in the energy mix well into and beyond 2030...[not] restricted to providing back up to renewables.”
However, Barker took to the stage at the ICC yesterday to refute allegations from the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties that the Conservatives have reneged on their green promises.
The Minister told the conference: “Some people want to suggest that the Conservatives have abandoned its Green Pledges, nothing could be further from the truth.”
Barker pointed to the 13.5 percent reduction in Whitehall’s own energy consumption, the Green Investment Bank, the newly-launched Renewable Heat Incentive, the UK’s first Marine Energy Parks and an ambitious European CCS programme as proof of the Conservative’s commitment to the environment and commitment to foster a green economy.
Commenting on the feed-in tariff scheme, Barker said: “We have reformed Ed Miliband’s feed-in tariff scheme to deliver better value to consumers and more ambition to the scheme. I am passionate about extending the whole decentralised energy agenda, for homes, businesses and communities, and thanks to our prudent reforms, we now have the very real prospect of installing four times as many solar panels as Ed Miliband but at a third of the cost.”
The Minister continued: “On large scale renewables we have ended Labour’s over reliance on onshore wind by supporting a range of new clean energy technologies, and can now proudly claim to be the largest off shore wind producer in the world.
“However, despite our solid progress some people will want you to believe that we have now had a change of heart, that, climate change policy was fine for the good times but that at the first sign of turbulence it must be thrown over. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“Unlike Labour we don't have a blinkered, dogmatic view of this agenda. We reject the false notion that you have to choose between cheap fossil fuels or expensive clean energy. But we do care about costs.
“That's why in tough times we asked the low carbon sector to tighten their belts, do more for less. Commercialise sooner and make subsidy go further.”
Barker spoke of how green growth isn’t just a catchphrase but an integral part of the Conservative’s vision for a prosperous, sustainable economy. The Minister noted that the UK low carbon and environmental sector now employs more people than the traditionally strong automotive and telecoms sector combined.
Barker warned: “Don't let Labour tell you we aren't delivering a greener economy, and don't let the Liberal Democrats hijack this agenda and tell you we don't care; we do.
“But we have a distinct Conservative approach that puts, jobs, growth and value for money at the centre of our green agenda.”
Aside from the political posturing, the Minister’s speech clearly outlines his belief in the UK green economy and its potential for growth. However, many in the solar industry will have trouble believing Barker’s promises after a catastrophic series of feed-in tariff cuts have forced a growing number of UK solar companies to close down and installation levels to plummet.
David Cameron is due to deliver his headline speech later today. Despite making “vote blue, go green” one of his clearest messages in his election campaign, the Prime Minister has been ominously quiet about his party’s commitment to green growth following a backbench revolt over wind farms and a pressure from the Treasury to support gas. Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg’s open support for environmental issues and the green economy may well lead Cameron to move to reassure businesses that the Conservative party still supports low-carbon growth.