Queen's Speech to combat climate change

Renewable energy industry says wind farm policy contradicts promise to tackle climate change cost effectively
By Jessica Shankleman

The government has confirmed plans to end subsidies for new onshore wind farms while promising to seek an international deal on tackling climate change at a major summit in Paris later this year.

Today's Queen's Speech also paved the way for an EU referendum by 2017 at the latest, which businesses have warned is likely to create a fresh wave of uncertainty for the low carbon economy.

Speaking at the state opening of Parliament, the Queen said that measures will be introduced to increase energy security. A new Energy Bill would change the law in England and Wales to remove the need for the Energy Secretary to approve large wind farms of more than 50MW.

This would devolve planning powers for wind farms to local authorities who would be required to consult with local communities. Other large infrastructure projects would continue to be decided at a ministerial level.

The government also confirmed that it would deliver on a Conservative manifesto pledge to end new subsides for onshore wind farms. Further details will be announced by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) soon, although officials have said they will consult with the Scottish government before applying the policy North of the border. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already demanded a veto on any move to alter wind power subsidies.

The much-anticipated news was met with dismay from the renewable energy industry, which has consistently argued that the move would push up the costs of decarbonising the power sector as onshore wind is currently the cheapest form of renewable energy.

RenewableUK calculates that subsidies for onshore wind added £10 to the average consumer bill last year. They argue that the policy contradicts the government's manifesto commitment to "meet our climate change commitments, cutting carbon emissions as cheaply as possible, to save you money".

"Singling out one of the most popular and lowest cost forms of energy technology for different treatment in the planning system sends a worrying message to investors across the energy sector," said Maria McCaffery, chief executive of RenewableUK.

Ian Marchant, chairman of Infinis Energy and former chief executive of SSE, said the plans would "needlessly add several hundred million pounds every year to energy bills" and pointed out that the government's own polls show onshore wind is backed by 65 per cent of the public, suggesting the policy does not reflect the will of voters.

The Queen's Speech did promise to "seek effective global collaboration to sustain economic recovery and to combat climate change, including at the climate change conference in Paris later this year".

However, Greenpeace UK climate and energy campaigner Louise Hutchins said the government was sending out mixed messages on its plans. Hutchins said ministers "need to be straight" about the economic consequences of its opposition to wind farms.

"Onshore wind is the cheapest source of low-carbon power available. Stopping it whilst cutting carbon emissions is a sure-fire formula for higher energy bills," she said. "And George Osborne will have a hard time explaining how pulling the plug on a dynamic growth sector like green energy is going to help boost the UK's economy in the long term."

In a further disappointment to green groups, the forthcoming Energy Bill will also seek to "maximise the economic recovery of offshore oil and gas reserves".

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, labelled the Queen's speech as a "missed opportunity" and she slammed the government for its failure to take action on climate change.

"If the government is serious about playing a leading role in the climate talks in Paris later this year then it must do more than offer warm words on climate change. Minister must shelve plans for fracking and take action to invest in a renewable energy system fit for the 21st century," she said in a statement.



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