The Conservative Party yesterday set out its climate change and energy policies for the forthcoming election, pledging to take "immediate action" to address potential energy shortfalls by approving proposals for new nuclear and "clean coal" power plants, while also increasing incentives for investment in low-carbon technologies.
Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, shadow energy and climate change secretary Greg Clark reiterated his argument that urgent steps were required to limit the risk of power blackouts over the next decade, a charge recently denied by the government.
Clark said a Conservative government would "begin with immediate action to keep Britain's lights on, to cut greenhouse gas emissions and give Britain leadership in a low-carbon world".
He also criticised Labour's procrastination over plans for new nuclear, coal and renewable energy plants, such as the proposed new Kingsnorth coal-fired plant in Kent, arguing that the industry has been hamstrung by the government's failure to appoint a long-term energy minister.
"[In] 12 years there have been no less than 15 energy ministers," he said. " They had an average of nine months each. Enough to make a baby. But, apparently, not to make a decision."
Under Conservative plans, 5GW of new "clean coal" capacity would be immediately authorised and planning guidance that is required for the proposed new fleet of nuclear reactors would be published.
However, Clark insisted that the Tories would also boost the renewable energy industry by mandating National Grid to extend its network out to offshore wind and marine energy sources, authorising new marine energy parks, introducing new incentives for anaerobic digestion, and setting out plans for a smart grid and national roll out of smart meters designed to help curb energy use and provide recharging for electric vehicles.
He also unveiled plans to attempt to tackle the planning barriers that have hampered the development of new onshore wind farms, proposing a scheme that would allow local communities that choose to host wind farms to keep the business rates from any new development for the first six years of operation.
The proposals were welcomed by Nick Medic of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), who said that ring-fencing business rates was an effective way of "ensuring communities benefit in a material way from the expansion of wind power".
However, industry insiders said that while they welcomed the scheme, they were still keen for more clarity on how the Conservatives plan to reform the Independent Planning Commission (IPC), which currently rules on planning applications for large-scale wind farms such as offshore developments.
The Conservatives have hinted that, if elected, the IPC would be one of the bodies to be scaled back or even scrapped as part of its efforts to cut costs by rationalising government quangos.
Clark also set out plans for a "green deal" that would provide homeowners with up to £6,500 to give their home a green makeover.
Under the scheme, which closely mirrors government proposals for a green home-loan scheme, energy firms or charities would undertake work such as installing insulation or double glazing and then recoup the cost through the building's energy bills.
The Conservatives said that under the scheme, the average household could expect savings of £360 per year on energy bills. Over the following 25 years, around £120 of the annual saving would go towards repaying the organisation that undertook the original work, with the loan attached to the property rather than the individual. The homeowner would then be able to keep the additional £240 in savings providing a clear financial incentive for the work to be undertaken.
The Conservatives said the scheme would also provide a £2.5bn a year boost to the building industry while creating up to 70,000 skilled jobs, including 3,500 apprenticeships.
Energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband criticised the Conservative Party's proposals, arguing its green credentials were undermined by an inconsistent approach to renewable energy and a controversial European policy.
"The Tories fail to deliver on renewables, since Tory councils turn down 60 per cent of wind farm applications; they can't tackle climate change through Europe because they hang around with climate change deniers; and they vote against the investment in the green manufacturing jobs of the future," he told The Guardian. "Voters should beware: the Tories may talk green but they act blue."
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