Ed Davey writes: The Politics of Renewables

November 13, 2014 12:50 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Yesterday I was in Manchester speaking at the RenewableUK Annual Conference, and then on to see a fascinating energy efficiency project led by students in Parrs Wood School in John Leech's constituency.

My Manchester speech focused on the politics of renewables - both the good news and the bad.

The good news is that renewables investment is in great shape. Since 2010, an average £7 billion a year has been invested - more than double that under Labour's last term in office. We are now seen as No.1 in the world for attracting investment in offshore wind, wave and tidal.

But this story in not only about investment, it's also about what it delivers. Electricity from renewables has more than doubled since 2010 and that clearly helps us on the path to decarbonisation. But it also bolsters our energy security and a few weeks ago the BBC made the point with this piece highlighting that on one day generation from wind had outstripped nuclear.

Today it was encouraging to hear yet more good news from RenewableUK when they announced an increase in 'green jobs'. In the wind industry alone there has been an 8% increase in just over twelve months meaning there are now more than 15,000 people employed in the sector.

If all this positive news sounds like it's 'job done' then that simply isn't the case. Liberal Democrats should be extremely proud of our record of delivery, but there is much more that needs to be done. We have legally binding renewables and emissions targets to hit, and we have to ensure wind continues to play a major part in our mix of energy generation to bolster energy security.

That leads me to the bad news. We shouldn't assume that the progress we've made will simply continue on a pain free trajectory, and that one day we will wake up having tackled climate change, with no threats to energy security and with thousands more green jobs created.

For this progress to continue we rely on attracting a lot more investment into the UK. So far the record is good, very good. But investors do not have to place their cash in the UK. If they see negative signals from some parts of Government then this creates uncertainty and can lead to boardroom decisions to invest elsewhere.

So where is this uncertainty coming from? In my Conference speech last month, I spoke about the worrying level of onshore wind 'call-ins' from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Let me be clear, I don't for a moment believe every application for onshore wind will be at an appropriate site - it's only right that some are refused on these grounds. But these decisions should be for town halls rather than Whitehall.

To create more uncertainty for investors, the Conservatives have publicly stated they want to cap onshore wind.

So as we move to the election, Conservatives need to answer some important economic questions. Without onshore wind, how do they plug the renewables gap that would be left if they simply dismiss a whole technology on ideological grounds? What will the rise in consumer bills be if that gap is plugged by something more expensive than onshore wind? Will that gap be plugged with something that will allow us to hit our legally binding targets? Will it be plugged with something that will bolster energy security?

I ended my speech by calling for a "coalition for renewables." The level of green progress we've made is thanks to the role Liberal Democrats have played in this Coalition. If this dramatic growth in British renewables power is to continue we must continue to fight for the green corner.