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February 24, 2012

UK highlights – Ed Davey’s first weeks in office

by Anna

Edward Davey, new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has been eager to show he has hit the ground running.  Stressing there will be “no change in direction or ambition” at DECC, Davey has sought to allay concerns from green critics that the loss of Chris Huhne may signal a change in Government policy.  The Secretary of State has underlined the importance of green growth, opened the world’s largest offshore wind-farm, and unveiled a new energy efficiency office in DECC.   Davey has rebuffed criticism of subsidies for wind power and set out reforms for the feed-in tariff scheme.

Davey appointed new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.  Edward Davey MP was appointed Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on February 3, 2012, following Chris Huhne’s resignation.  Davey previously served as a Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and, like Huhne, is a Liberal Democrat MP (representing Kingston and Surbiton).  Announcing the appointment, Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg stressed Davey’s “lifelong commitment to the environment”.  Trained as an economist, the Liberal Democrat MP was an environmental campaigner at Oxford University and has a strong voting record on action to combat climate change.  You can view Davey’s first comments to the press as Secretary of State here and a full biography is available here.   DECC have also published a review to mark Davey’s first week (pdf) as Secretary of State.  A couple of articles from The Guardian and Business Green will give you a taste of some of the issues in the new Secretary of State’s in-tray.

Ambitions for green growth. Davey’s first step as Secretary of State was to underline the importance of green growth to the Coalition’s strategy for economic recovery.  Amid speculation over whether Davey would be prepared to battle with the Treasury as Huhne had reportedly done, Davey has been eager to stress his green credentials and his commitment to the green economy.  In a visit with the Deputy Prime Minister to a green homes testing site near Watford, Davey talked about the need to “marry” economic and environmental agendas.  He said: “My priorities are very simple: green jobs, green growth and getting the best deal for energy bill payers. . . There may have been a change at the helm, but there’ll be no change in direction or ambition.”

Wind-farms present first major test.  On 30 January 2012, a group of MPs including 101 Conservative MPs wrote to the Prime Minister demanding that subsidies to “inefficient” onshore wind turbine industry are “dramatically cut.”  The letter stated “In these financially straitened times, we think it is unwise to make consumers pay, through taxpayer subsidy, for inefficient and intermittent energy production that typifies onshore wind turbines.”  A copy of the letter can be found here.   In response to the letter, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey defended wind power subsidies.   Davey said “I’ve been a lifelong supporter of renewable and wind power and I’m not going to change now”.  Speaking to The Observer, former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell, warned that the new Energy and Climate Change Secretary needed to maintain a tough line on green issues.  Campbell said “things could get very tough” for the Coalition if there is “any rowing back on the green agenda.”   Meanwhile, Shadow Energy and Environment Secretary, Caroline Flint, accused the “Tory right” for breaking the political consensus on climate change. The Prime Minister defended Government policy in a reply to the Conservative backbenchers, saying there are “perfectly hard-headed reasons” for building more onshore wind farms, regardless of the UK’s renewable energy and emissions targets, as part of a “balanced energy mix.”

Energy efficiency a priority.  Davey’s first speech on 8 February 2012 focused on energy efficiency and the Secretary of State unveiled a new Energy Efficiency Deployment Office based in DECC.  The 50-strong team will develop a new energy efficiency strategy and work on the Government’s Green Deal, the rollout of smart meters and the increase in renewable heat.  Davey said energy efficiency has to be “right at the heart of what we do”.  A copy of the speech can be found here.

Davey opens world’s largest offshore wind-farm.  On 9 February 2012, Edward Davey opened the world’s largest offshore wind-farm in Walney, Cumbria.  The site comprises 102 wind turbines and is enough to power 320,000 homes.  Davey said that opening Walney during his first week in office demonstrated his “commitment to continuing the Coalition’s work to make this sector a success story for the British economy.”  Watch Davey’s interview at Walney here

Reforming feed-in-tariffs.  On 8 February 2012, Edward Davey published details of the Government’s reform of the feed-in tariffs scheme.   The Government says it wants to put the scheme on a long-term sustainable footing, to benefit a greater number of people.  The increased number of solar photovoltaic installations has put pressure on the feed-in tariff budget prompting the Government to set new tariff levels, but handling of the issue has drawn criticism from businesses and green groups.  The Government is seeking permission to appeal against a second court ruling which found it acted unlawfully in proposing cuts to feed-in tariffs for solar installations completed after December 12, 2011, before the consultation on proposed changes closed.   An interview with Davey on the feed-in-tariff reform can be viewed here

Energy alliance with France.  On 17 February, the UK and France signed new agreements to cooperate on energy issues and agreed several commercial deals including: a deal worth £400m on nuclear reactors between Rolls Royce and Areva; and a new engineering contract between EDF and Kier/BAM for a new nuclear project at Hinkley Point, Somerset.  Together with the Prime Minister, Edward Davey stressed the importance of attracting jobs and investment in clean energy projects in the UK.

Carbon Capture and Storage.  Edward Davey has reiterated the Coalition Government’s commitment to supporting carbon capture and storage.  On 22 February 2012, Davey said the UK had a chance to lead the world in CCS and the Government is backing its commitment with £1 billion set aside to help develop CCS technology.

UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions Up.  New figures show that UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rose in 2010, up 3.1 per cent compared to 2009.  The increase in emissions has been attributed to the exceptionally cold winter and greater use of fossil fuels, but Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey said “one year won’t knock the UK off meeting its long term emission reduction targets.”

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