David Cameron said he wanted to “roll back” green regulations and charges, an approach which has been branded “short-sighted”, with some suggesting it could put green jobs and investment at risk.

During this morning’s Prime Minister’s questions session, Cameron clashed with Labour leader Ed Miliband over what to do about rising energy prices. In recent weeks British Gas and SSE have announced energy price rises of 9.2% and 8.2% respectively.

Cameron said he was keen to help reduce people’s bills, and suggested that green regulations and charges were only adding to the cost of energy. However, earlier this month the Prime Minister defended “necessary” green subsidies on energy bills to fund wind and nuclear power. As edie.net reported at the time, Cameron said green levies to subsidise renewables will not be on bills “for a moment longer than is necessary” but added that the UK needs to have a “balanced energy mix” including nuclear power and wind power. To achieve this “some of those subsidies have been necessary”, he said.

Environmental groups have been quick to criticise the about turn. WWF-UK chief executive David Nussbaum said the call for the rolling back of green regulations could be a false economy.

“Acting now to insulate homes and help people be more energy efficient is the best way to reduce their energy bills immediately,” he said.

“We need to be clear too – from the Committee on Climate Change, to the International Energy Agency and to Lord Stern, the message is the same – delaying action on tackling climate change will cost people more. The Prime Minister’s rhetoric alone could undermine investor confidence, putting jobs and investment at risk.”

UK Green Building Council chief executive Paul King also said the comments are “incredibly short-sighted and potentially very damaging”. He explained: “With the cost of energy bills going up, policies such as ‘Eco’ are essential in ensuring the homes of vulnerable and poorer income people are well insulated and will help to keep their bills down in the longer term. The government’s own analysis shows that without these policies, bills will be much higher in the future.”

The Committee on Climate Change has estimated that energy bills will have to rise by around £10 (1%) to cover the costs of low-carbon policies like the Eco scheme in 2013/14.
The Eco (Energy Company Obligation) scheme was launched in January – and very quietly. The £1.3bn scheme is funded by the big six energy companies and is split into two parts: £540m is for low-income households to ‘green up’ but the rest is available to ‘hard-to-treat’ properties. The committee said the scheme adds around £1.50 to an annual bill.

Cameron’s comments do nothing to detract from criticism that his government is struggling with its environmental and energy policies. Battle lines have been drawn across Whitehall regarding shale gas, nuclear and the role of renewable energy.

Today’s comments chime with the chancellor’s views published in an interview with the Times last month. George Osborne told the paper: “I want to provide for the country the cheapest energy possible, consistent with having it reliable, in other words as a steady supply, and consistent with us playing our part in an international effort to tackle climate change. But I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.”

edie staff

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie