George Osborne accused of ‘disastrous’ assault on green agenda

Ed Davey, the former energy and climate change secretary, has accused George Osborne of putting tens of billions of pounds' worth of private sector investment at risk with an assault on the green agenda he pioneered.

The Liberal Democrat said the chancellor was pursuing “bonkers economics” and an ill-advised and ideologically driven campaign against renewable energy that risked leaving the UK hopelessly dependent in the longer term on fossil fuels such as gas.

Phasing out aid for zero-carbon homes, onshore windfarms and solar arrays are among a raft of measures introduced by the Tories which represented “disastrous” economics, said Davey in his first interview since losing his seat in parliament.

“What is frightening is that, despite all that success in low-carbon energy infrastructure, [Osborne] is prepared to send those disastrous signals. It was bad enough in the coalition when they were sending mixed signals but now there is no mixed about it. 

“It is ‘we don’t want it’ and [renewable energy investors] will go elsewhere and we will lose out on tens of billions of pounds of private sector investment.

“Canals and railways would not have been built if people had taken this kind of short-term, unimaginative, inward approach. [Osborne] is the opposite of an entrepreneur when it comes to green energy.”

Davey, who lost his parliamentary seat at the last election, revealed that he had been engaged in an almost permanent struggle against leading Tories when he was energy secretary.

“We battled every day. There were some Conservatives who were supportive like Greg Barker and Charles Hendry but they were a minority and the push was against the green agenda. 

“Onshore wind was the one everyone knew about where we were having daily battles sometimes with Eric Pickles and the Treasury, but it was not just onshore wind – it was everything.

“I had to fight like a tiger to stop him [Osborne] slashing the budget on fuel poverty and on renewable energy. We succeeded although he still took a chunk out of the ECO [Energy Company Obligation] energy efficiency programme. It was much less than he originally wanted and that fight went on for two months. It was huge.”

Davey, who was tipped as a potential future Lib Dem leader until his election defeat in May, said the Treasury was endlessly trying to underplay the major advances achieved in the energy field because the department was being run by a Lib Dem who was convinced that energy security and climate change were vital issues.

“It’s frustrating because we [the UK] were doing so well and also alarming for the economy. It was an inconvenient truth for George Osborne that the green economy was doing extraordinarily well and the investment in energy infrastructure – primarily low-carbon energy infrastructure – that happened under the coalition government and is in the pipeline to continue was the infrastructure success story of the government. 

“Not transport that he used to go on about, not telecoms, not water – it was energy.”

A Treasury spokesman said: “The government is committed to cutting carbon emissions while also controlling energy bills and saving consumers money. That’s why we’ve taken urgent action on spending to protect households and businesses from higher than expected costs.

“Government support has already driven down the cost of renewable energy significantly, but it is important that this support is affordable and offers good value for money.”

Amber Rudd, Davey’s successor as energy and climate change secretary, has previously insisted that the government takes global warming seriously and subsidies have only been cut where they are not needed any more.

Davey said he had to battle with some of the top bosses from the big six energy suppliers. A couple of them were happy to lobby the Conservatives against him, he said.

He denied, as the Labour party charged, that he was soft on the big six and said the proposals by Labour leadership contender, Jeremy Corbyn, for nationalising energy companies had no merit. 

“Regulate yes, oblige and pressurise yes, but do we really believe that nationalising the whole industry would be the answer. Does anyone think the Central Electricity Generating Board was efficient?”

Davey is now in talks with various private sector and other employers about potential work and admits it was a major, and relatively unexpected, blow to lose his Kingston and Surbiton seat to the Conservatives. He said he had not lost his enthusiasm for politics and did not rule out standing for parliament again. 

Davey said he missed “the privilege” of being able to exercise power as a minister but claims to be uninterested in any trappings of high office and was proud of his ministerial legacy. 

He said his only regrets were that he carried on a “woefully inadequate” green deal energy efficiency programme that he received from his predecessors.

Davey said he had major fears about Osborne becoming prime minister. “I am not convinced he is a climate change sceptic but he is driven by [short-term] economics and I think if he became leader of the Conservative party he would want to scrap the Climate Change Act. Someone ought to ask him that question.”

Davey said the investment already agreed would take renewable energy on the right course until the end of the decade, but the picture would change after that. 

With a new dependency on gas, and power prices likely to be low, the former energy secretary said the Conservatives could end up having to subside gas-fired power stations to keep them working.

But Davey’s main complaint is that the government is happy to build roads or rail with taxpayer money – but will attack subsidies for renewables. 

“This is another thing I don’t get about Osborne’s economics. They are really bonkers. The vast majority of this investment is private sector. Compare that with roads or railways or flood defences where it’s always the taxpayer.

“Forget climate change, this is disastrous economics. This is not statesmanship. This is not a good chancellor; this is an ideological, ill-advised chancellor.”

Terry Macalister, the Guardian 

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network

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