Pro-renewable speech undermined by sceptics

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne’s speech yesterday, in which he talked up sustainable energy’s role in driving the UK economy, has fiercely divided opinion in renewable circles. Pointing to the £1.7billion […]

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By Vicky Ellis

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne’s speech yesterday, in which he talked up sustainable energy’s role in driving the UK economy, has fiercely divided opinion in renewable circles.

Pointing to the £1.7billion in investment and over 9,000 jobs created in the last year, Mr Huhne said: “At a time when closures and cuts dominate the news cycle, next-generation industries are providing jobs and sinking capital into Britain.”

Trade body RenewableUK, which hosted the conference where Chris Huhne gave his speech, said his “emphatic defence” of the renewables industry provided a “timely boost.”

Maria McCaffery, RenewableUK’s chief executive said: “His words reflect the determination of those working in the renewable energy sector to build Britain’s low carbon economy. We remain committed to driving down costs and creating tens of thousands of jobs in the low carbon revolution.”

Campaigners at charity Friends of the Earth echoed the praise. Their executive director Andy Atkins welcomed the challenges Mr Huhne made to Chancellor George Osborne’s recent comments which appeared to prioritise the economy over the Government’s green agenda.

But at Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), others worried that the Energy Secretary’s speech was misleading. The think tank suggested that jobs and investment in the sector were actually signs of “artificial growth” stimulated by government cash.

Dr John Constable, director at REF said: “You can’t create real, organic economic growth in the renewables sector just by snapping your fingers, making an upbeat speech, and spraying investors with subsidies.”

He added: “In fact, corporate welfare on this scale is actually counterproductive, since it provides no incentive for the green industries to grow up, drive down costs and improve technologies. Mr Huhne may mean well, but this is an economic disaster in the making.”