Ed Davey attacks coalition partners over pledge to end wind subsidies
Ed Davey, the energy and climate change secretary, has accused his coalition government partners of "reckless" behaviour for their manifesto commitment to end subsidies for onshore wind.
The Lib Dem MP said Britain needed as many renewable energy technologies as possible but his attack was immediately dismissed as "his view" by one of his own ministers, the Tory MP Amber Rudd.
The war of words broke out at the Energy UK annual conference in London, only days after stormy weather helped wind power to set a new daily record by generating 24% of the country's electricity.
In a speech Davey dismissed fears of the lights going out this winter, attacked Labour over its proposals to freeze domestic prices and insisted his own policies were sucking in much-needed investment.
"In just four years under this coalition, we have surpassed the total electricity investment achieved under the last government in 13 years, with over £45bn invested in electricity generation and networks alone," he said.
Asked from the conference floor to justify current investment priorities, the energy secretary said he wanted to encourage as wide a group of low carbon technologies as possible to make sure Britain benefited. "I think the party that takes wind off the table is reckless," he said, adding: "If we focused on one [technology] we'd be far more exposed in the future."
But Rudd said later that Davey was just expressing his own view and she argued that while diversification of supply was important it should only be done with the support of local communities, indicating this was not the case with onshore wind.
The differences between the Lib Dem energy secretary and his Conservative colleagues was also on show last week when he dismissed as "reckless in the extreme" a call by the former environment secretary Owen Paterson for a suspension of the Climate Change Act.
But Davey and Rudd were united at the energy conference in attacking the Labour party over its promise to introduce a retail energy price freeze should it win the general election next spring.
Davey said it would destroy competition while Rudd went further, arguing: "The price freeze proposal put forward by Labour is already having a detrimental impact on investment - with some reports suggesting a £3bn shortfall in investment in the energy sector over the past year. And a price freeze would ultimately drive up costs for the very consumers Labour say they are trying to help" .
Later she claimed that several chief executives had made clear to her that they were not implementing any price cuts this autumn despite falling wholesale prices because of the freeze. Asked whether it did not suit their interest to say such things, she answered: "You can choose to believe them or not." The Labour party argued she should report anyone artificially inflating prices to the Competition and Markets Authority.
In August Paul Massara, the boss of RWE npower, was the only one who has so far broken cover on the issue. He wrote in a letter to the regulator, Ofgem: "The political and media pressures at the moment make it more difficult to reduce prices and then increase them again next spring."
The Energy UK conference brought messages from consumer champions to the big six suppliers, however, about how hard and long it would be for them to rebuild trust with consumers.
The Federation of Small Businesses was particularly critical, saying many of its members were considering setting up energy projects to beat their own energy problems but also to make money - not by selling electricity into the National Grid but by providing power to other neighbouring businesses. Ian Peters, managing director for residential energy at British Gas, said he industry needed to work hard but said much of the comment on the sector was based on "myth, legend and deception."