Paterson welcomes shale, warns of renewables “unintended” risks

Owen Paterson's first speech as the newly appointed Environment Secretary for the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) contained cautionary comments on renewable energy and a clear endorsement of shale gas.

He did little to alleviate fears from green campaigners that his environmental policies were not the top priority, lauding the benefits shale gas could bring to the UK and warning that renewables could provide “unintended risks” for rural communities.

Environmental lobbyists will be concerned that Paterson did not mention climate change and while he did talk up the prospects of anaerobic digestion, he argued that subsidies for onshore wind farms needed to be used “appropriately”.

Paterson said: “We must ensure the impact of the technology on the rural economy and the environment is taken into account.”

“In my part of the world, local residents – 300 of whom turned up at a public meeting last week – are deeply concerned about the impact of proposed wind farm pylons on their communities.”

He added that anaerobic digestion could also have a negative impact on the countryside:

“Nearby, dairy farmers are being outbid for land by those who want to grow maize specifically for anaerobic digestion. These are the unintended consequences of renewable technology. They risk upsetting the delicate balance of interests that underpins our living, working countryside.”

In an attempt to reassure Greens, Paterson said: “You can have a healthy environment and a healthy economy – the two are not mutually exclusive.”

However the director of policy and campaigns for Friends of the Earth Craig Bennett swiftly tweeted:

“1st big speech from @DefraGovUk Env Secretary Owen Paterson. In short, doesn’t like renewables, badgers, or EU. LOVES shale gas (&broadband)”

Paterson said he “entirely agreed” with the Chancellor’s move to offer shale companies tax breaks yesterday and that his department, Defra, would make it “easy” for companies to obtain developing permits.

His counterpart at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), John Hayes, also praised the potential for shale but issued a cautionary note that “it’s early days in the UK for shale gas” and that it would be approached within a strong regulatory framework.

“The market reforms we put in place must not be a barrier to reaping the benefits if shale gas reaches its potential. The British consumer deserves nothing less,” he said.

Conor McGlone

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