Energy minister Andrea Leadsom has insisted that proposed cuts to the feed-in tariff are not a foregone conclusion and claimed alternative support policies are in the pipeline.
Leadsom was giving evidence to a hastily-arranged select committee hearing earlier this afternoon to discuss investor confidence in the UK and job losses in the wake of the government’s summer policy reset.
She was grilled by committee chair Angus Macneil and sought to assure the sector that the proposals did not represent a “foregone conclusion”, but added that there needed to be a “glide path” towards subsidy-free solar.
Leadsom also stressed the importance of not squeezing out other emerging technologies such as marine by diverting the majority of subsidies towards more proven methods of renewable deployment.
And when questioned on a lack of replacement policies for those that have been cut in recent months – a subject broached by Committee on Climate Change chairman Lord Deben in recent weeks – Leadsom said that the department was working “literally flat out” on upcoming policy releases, but that its work had to be set to the context of it being “under the kosh” owing to the looming autumn spending review.
These proposals are to have the “absolute goal” of creating certainty for investors, however Leadsom said she could not attach a timeframe to them.
Leadsom was less assured when grilled by Matthew Pennycook over the extent to which the Conservatives knew of the much-vaunted Levy Control Framework overspend when the party took sole control of DECC in the wake of May’s general election victory.
While the minister said there “were of course” indications that the spend was higher than had been expected, Leadsom did not reveal exactly how much was known despite Pennycook asserting that the department was not solely the responsibility of the Tories’ coalition partners, the Lib Dems.
Last week energy secretary Amber Rudd blamed the lack of control over spending under the LCF, which has contributed towards the current proposals, on her predecessor Ed Davey .
Perhaps most pertinently considering the expected announcement of an agreement over the Hinkley Point C project this week coinciding with Chinese premier Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK, Angus Macneil questioned whether Leadsom agreed with his judgement that the Conservatives had been “miserly with renewables, and profligate on nuclear” with regards to policy support.
Leadsom refuted the session and said it was “absolutely not the case” that the government was moving away from green energy, but her denials have been questioned by Friends of the Earth’s Alasdair Cameron.
“The government cannot continue the pretence that its cuts to renewables are about protecting bills when it continue to throw money at more expensive options, like new nuclear,” Cameron told Solar Power Portal this morning, adding: “The government’s attacks could have a devastating attack on jobs and investment in the renewable sector, and they need to urgently listen to the many voices from the Conservative party to the CBI, who are calling for a rethink.”
Analysis conducted by Greenpeace and released this morning claims that a fleet of three nuclear reactors at Hinkley, Sizewell and Bradwell would add £33 per year to the average household energy bill for more than three decades, far higher than the £6 per year DECC has said would be the cost of the feed-in tariff on household bills if it was left to degress at its current rate.
Barbara Stoll, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said that it appeared there was “one rule for renewables and one rule for nuclear”.
“The energy minister was clear that the subsidies for the nuclear industry can last for 30 years, yet she’s expecting the solar sector to be subsidy free almost immediately. This is despite thousands of jobs and millions in investment being at risk. With the right support, renewables can help keep the lights on at a viable cost and without requiring controversial deals with foreign state-owned energy giants.
“The government must stop pretending these cuts are necessary to save families money. It’s a political choice, not an economic necessity. It looks more and more like George Osborne’s energy policy is based around an outdated collection of his pet projects rather than a 21st century analysis of what makes economic and environmental sense,” she said.