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EU Renewable Energy Target

Volume 602: debated on Thursday 19 November 2015

5. What assessment she has made of the UK’s progress towards meeting its EU renewables target by 2020. (902223)

We are making good progress towards our 15% renewable energy target for 2020, and I am confident that we will meet the next interim target of 5.4%, with provisional figures showing that 6.3% of final energy consumption for 2013 and 2014 came from renewable sources.

With the UN climate change conference just days away, on top of renewables subsidies being removed we have learned that the UK will fall significantly short of its renewable energy target. While Labour led global talks, is the Secretary of State going to Paris to learn about the consequences of her cuts or to apologise to future generations?

I am delighted to say that there will be plenty of opportunities during this Session to talk about Paris, and I look forward to doing so. On the specific question of the renewables target, I repeat to the hon. Lady that we are making good progress at the moment. [Interruption.] There are issues, but we are expecting to exceed our interim target. There is more to do, and I am delighted to say that I am working across Government with the Department for Transport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that we do it.

Does the Secretary of State agree that meeting our renewables target should not just prevent catastrophic climate change but benefit UK workers through the creation of green jobs? Will she commit to ensuring that projects such as the Beatrice offshore wind project, which benefit from public funding, create the sorts of skilled supply chain jobs we need rather than subsidising private companies abroad?

I certainly agree that the direction in which this Government are going in supporting renewables and meeting our low-carbon targets will continue to lead to the growth of the green economy, which is a really important addition to the growth in the economy nationally.

The announcement yesterday to phase out coal with gas is equivalent, in one announcement, to doubling the amount of renewables we have in our system, and it is possibly the biggest reduction in carbon ever announced by a Secretary of State. Does she believe, though, that any of our EU partners will follow us in taking this route?

I thank my hon. Friend for pointing out the announcement that I made yesterday which shows such strong leadership in reducing carbon emissions in Europe and in the world. It is interesting that he asks me whether other European countries will do this. I am not sure they will. We are not ones to lecture our European friends, but I can tell him that I have had a lot of congratulations and comments of a positive nature about it internationally.

Given that the increase in global temperatures over the past two centuries has been minute, that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself has said that most of it is perfectly natural, and that there has been no increase in global temperatures for 16 years, is it not time to simply reject these renewables targets and concentrate on our manufacturing industries and bringing down prices?

I always enjoy hearing from my hon. Friend, but I must say that I do not share his views. I believe that there is a settled view that is supported by science, and it is right that we take action, but I hope that this Government can demonstrate that we can do so while growing the economy. That is the evidence that we are showing people internationally, and that is why we are providing such strong leadership.

Given the leaked letter that indicated the purchase of renewables from abroad, will the right hon. Lady make sure that the Scottish islands are in the mix and that we go there for renewable energy? The wind resource is so great that I did not get off Barra on Monday.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that yesterday I made an announcement continuing our support for offshore wind, which includes a potential application from the highlands and islands project. I hope that that was welcomed by him and by other promoters of offshore wind. I look forward to having further conversations with them, because offshore wind has a strong future in this country, but one that will also drive down prices.

The borough of Kettering is doing more than most in contributing to the national renewables target, with a major wind farm at Burton Wold, another one at Rushton, and lots of applications being received for solar farms. However, one of the big issues is the delay in connecting these new farms with the national grid because of the lack of suitably qualified engineers across the country. What can the Department do, with industry, to solve this problem?

It is good to hear of so much progress being made with renewable energy in my hon. Friend’s borough. We are working closely with industry to make sure that we support the skills and will continue to do so.

There seems to be a difference of opinion between my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and the Secretary of State on progress towards our targets, but let us assume that the Secretary of State is right. If we are making such good progress, and bearing in mind that this is likely to be the warmest year on record, is now not the time to stretch ourselves by going to Paris with even tougher targets, to incentivise more renewables in the system?

“Make them tougher”, he says from a sedentary position. We are well admired internationally, not only for our tough targets, but for our announcement on coal yesterday and for our structure of carbon budgets and constant monitoring. I am proud of that and I wish the hon. Gentleman would be, too.

Progress has been much slower in meeting heat targets. The renewable heat incentive is due to close and as yet we have had no assurances of what will come next. Can the Secretary of State assure us that there will be continued support for decarbonising the heat sector?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. The two areas of renewable energy where we need to make progress are transport and heat. The renewable heat incentive has been a success, helping 50,000 homes. My proposal for continuing it is currently with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so we will have to wait until after the spending review.

Does the Secretary of State agree that subsidising progressively unaffordable fossil fuels, many of which are produced abroad, while cutting off support for renewable energy at home when schemes are on the verge of being self-supporting, mitigates our chances of reaching our targets?

It is not about one or the other. We intend to meet our targets while achieving the balance of supporting renewable energy and having fossil fuels as part of the mix. That is how we deliver secure, efficient and low-cost electricity nationally.

Thousands of jobs have already gone and thousands more are at risk since this Government slashed support for renewables. Ministers have blocked onshore wind developments, slashed support for solar and are chopping and changing energy policy so often that the CBI says they are deterring potential investors. How many more renewable energy companies must go under—how many more jobs must be lost—before this Government will live up to our international commitments and end this assault on Britain’s clean energy industries?

It is disappointing that, when talking about clean energy and low carbon, the hon. Lady failed to mention yesterday’s announcement. We are the first large developed country to announce a date for taking off coal. That is a great achievement and it is important as part of our future low carbon emissions. Our plan is for a green economy. We are continuing to develop jobs as well as support manufacturing and industry. I am proud of the direction we are taking.