DECC ministers contradict each other over subsidy links to fuel poverty

  • Lord Bourne

    Lord Bourne made his comments during this morning's ECC select committee session on home energy efficiency policy.

Lord Bourne has openly contradicted the party line often put forward by the Department of Energy and Climate Change that subsidies paid to renewable technologies leads to fuel poverty.

Speaking to the Energy and Climate Change (ECC) select committee yesterday, the parliamentary under secretary of state claimed he did not see a link between the two issues.

“I don’t see there being a connection there to be honest. I think fuel poverty is linked to poor housing very often and the out of work, whether unemployed or at home due to disability or illness. I think there’s much more of a causal link there,” he said.

This is in direct opposition to statements made by energy minister Andrea Leadsom during the second reading of the Energy Bill that took place in the House of Commons last night. During the session, the energy secretary said: “[The opposition] need to understand that the more we subsidise technologies, the more we add to fuel poverty.”

The opposing nature of these claims was picked up immediately by ECC select committee chair Angus MacNeil during this morning’s session, who claimed that he had found Leadsom’s claims “a bit baffling”.

Lord Bourne’s comments support those made by the solar and renewables industry over recent months following the government’s announced plans to cut the feed-in tariff. While the final decision saw the tariff cut by less than the 87% originally proposed, DECC has always cited a link between subsidy to technologies like solar and higher consumer bills as the key motivation for its efforts to cut support to the industry. The latest comments from Lord Bourne suggest some at DECC have acknowledged this may not be the case.

Alasdair Cameron of Friends of the Earth welcomed Lord Bourne’s comments, telling Solar Power Portal: “'It's great to see the Minister recognise that fuel poverty is caused largely by poor housing, rather than by renewables, although he might want to have a word with some of his colleagues who seem a little confused.

“In the longer terms renewables like wind and solar will help to lower bills, tackle climate and give real power to householders - and the government should get fully behind them.'

Speaking to Solar Power Portal this morning, Leonie Green, head of external affairs at the Solar Trade Association, added: “Lord Bourne confirms what we all know - renewables make only a modest impact on energy bills. That is even more the case if government supports the cheapest ones, namely wind and solar. Fuel poverty in the UK is extremely serious, but the government won't tackle this effectively by scapegoating the cheapest renewables.

James Court, head of policy and external affairs at the Renewable Energy Association, also approved of Lord Bourne's comments, saying: "Its good to see a DECC minister be open and honest about the impact of renewables and the real causes of fuel poverty.

"DECC can't shift the blame of fuel poverty towards renewables, whilst withdrawing ECO funds, Green Deal and Zero Carbon Homes. We are now in the situation where DECC are subsidising nuclear, gas and even diesel, whilst removing support to solar and wind, the most cost effective renewables."

At the time of writing, DECC had failed to clarify its position on the possible link between subsidy and fuel poverty.   

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