Andrea Leadsom is ‘sick and tired’ of green policy critics

Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom is "sick and tired" of the barrage of complaints being fired at the Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) over its punitive cuts to renewable energy subsidies.

Leadsom was yesterday (2 March) grilled by the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECCC) of MPs about the Government’s controversial decision to close the Renewables Obligation (RO) subsidy mechanism for solar installations up to 5MW in size from 1 April, 2016 – a year earlier than originally planned.

In a heated exchange with Committee chair Angus MacNeil about the impact of that policy, Leadsom said: “I’m getting sick and tired of the complete barrage of complaints about a failure to stop subsidising on one day, and then the next week they are complaining about fuel poverty and throwing stones at the Government for not doing enough to reduce bills for consumers. They can’t have it both ways – do they just want subsidies to continue regardless of the impact on bills?”

Earlier in the exchange, MacNeil had lambasted the “costly decisions of DECC”, claiming the Department had a “lack of plan and lack of transparency” and that he is “worried about the direction of travel”.

‘Protecting consumers’

Leadsom responded: “He [MacNeil] really needs to stop pedalling this. The point about this Government’s policy is we are supporting consumers, we are decarbonising at the lowest price, we absolutely support subsidies for renewables and – because their costs have come down so much – we have carefully consulted and drawn conclusions that they no longer need the subsidies at the rate they were receiving them, and the potential impact on consumer bills is too great. That is the end of it. I’m sorry that members opposite want to play politics with that but we are on the side of the consumer.”

The early closure of the RO scheme for solar installations up to 5MW in April 2016 follows the removal of RO subsidies for larger solar farms in April 2015, and coincides with the proposed closure of the scheme for onshore wind projects – also set as of 1 April this year.

Leadsom echoed sentiments previously put forward by Prime Minister David Cameron, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd and Under-Secretary Lord Nick Bourne, that such changes are  necessary to curb consumers’ energy bills and ensure a balanced supply of energy. Leadsom insisted “the Government is on the side of consumers” and that the Conservatives “have done more to promote renewables than any other Government in the UK ever”.

But Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the Solar Trade Association, believes the Government’s approach to UK energy policy is “just not viable” for solar projects above 1MW in size. “Our £1 rescue plan would have added an extra 60p to people’s bills,” Greene told edie. “Of course costs matter, but it’s a false economy to push an industry that the public has invested billions in towards a cliff.”

The STA has previously estimated that up to 27,000 jobs in the solar sector and its supply chain could be at risk following the changes to the RO and feed-in tariff schemes. A number of solar firms have been forced to close as a direct result of the changes.

Investor confidence

Yesterday’s ECCC meeting came less than a day before the release of a major new report from the Committee, which reveals that the Government’s “sudden and numerous” energy policy changes are denting investor confidence in the UK energy market. The Tories are “spooking investors” due to a lack of transparent decision-making, contradictory approaches and a 2020 policy ‘cliff-edge’, that report claims.

“They’ve shocked investor confidence, and that is potentially very costly,” Greene added.  “But we’ve got a bigger problem: this Government does not understand the direction that the power sector needs to go in – if anything, it’s acting as a barrier rather than an enabler.”

Earlier this week, edie reported that Leadsom is going to be voting for Britain to exit the European Union (EU) in the upcoming referendum, putting her in the minority of energy and environment ministers – Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, Energy Minister Matthew Hancock and Environment Secretary Liz Truss have all said they want to remain in the EU, agreeing with the vast majority of edie readers.

The RO Closure Order eventually went to a division, with the ‘ayes’ winning by 10 votes to eight.

Luke Nicholls

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