New Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has praised the Tory Government's support for oil and gas set out in the Queen's Speech, insisting the fossil fuels must continue to play an essential part of the UK's energy mix over the coming decades.
Writing in a blog post on the Government website after the official state opening of Parliament today, Rudd said: “The UK is one of the most energy secure countries in the world… However, even as we cut our carbon emissions over the coming decades, we will need oil and gas as part of our energy mix.
“That includes maximising home-grown energy sources rather than relying on imports - and benefitting working people in Britain.”
Rudd praised the newly-announced Energy Bill, which hands some of her powers to the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA). The new OGA will act as an independent regulator, "overseeing domestic oil and gas recovery from the territorial sea and UK continental shelf”.
Rudd wrote: “This new approach to industry collaboration will help drive down costs and improve the sector’s efficiency.
“As well as helping maintain secure supplies, prolonging the life of this mature oil and gas producing basin will sustain its contribution to our economy bringing revenue to our nation and contributing to growth and employment; the industry in the UK already supports around 375,000 jobs.”
Oil and gas
The nascent OGA is a point of contention amongst green groups, who claim it could be delaying a transition to a low carbon economy. WWF Scotland director Lang Banks recently said: "While it's true that the oil and gas industry will continue to be a major contributor to our economy for some time, what we really need to see is a plan to sensibly transition away from dirty fossil fuels.
"We need to see a transition that enables us to harness the engineering skills currently deployed in the oil and gas industry and apply them to supporting a range of cleaner forms of energy production.
"The impacts of climate change will have a detrimental impact on entire economies as well as our environment. One thing we do know is that the planet certainly can't afford to allow all of the oil left in the North Sea to be burned."
Rudd also praised the Energy Bill motion to hand 'consenting powers' on onshore wind to local authorities in England. She said: “It’s right that local people should have the power to decide whether they want a wind farm in their area, so we’re devolving powers out of Whitehall.”
However, it has already been debated as to whether the legislation will have a real-life impact, given that local authorities already have consenting powers for wind farms below 50MW – and there are no wind farms greater than 50MW awaiting approval in England.
Scotland and Northern Ireland are also exempt from the legislation, and Wales’ inclusion is still being considered.
RenewableUK chief executive Maria McCaffery was unhappy with the special treatment being handed out to onshore wind, but confident that it wouldn’t necessarily prevent planning permission for projects. She said: “Singling out one of the most popular and lowest cost forms of energy technology for different treatment in the planning system sends a worrying message to investors across the energy sector.
“Onshore wind is committed to being a good neighbour to the local communities in which it is hosted, providing substantial economic advantages to the region including the ground-breaking community benefits it pays, so we are confident that Local Authorities should recognise the value of these projects.
The new Energy Bill also includes a clause stating: “The [Conservative Party] commitment to end new subsidy for onshore wind farms will be delivered separately.”
This ambiguous statement was met with confusion from the industry. Greenpeace’s Energy Desk asked: “How do you end a new thing?
“If you get rid of subsidies for any new wind turbines then none will be built – anywhere – but if what you mean is ending “new subsidy schemes”, well that could allow quite a lot to get through under, um, existing subsidy schemes.”
Finally, Rudd echoed the climate change stance briefly mentioned in today's Queen's speech, calling it “one of the most serious threats this country and the world faces.”
Rudd added: "The summit in Paris in December is the best opportunity for years to get comprehensive, rules based agreement that keeps the objective of limiting global warming to 2 degrees in reach.
“A global deal is the only way we can deliver the scale of action required – and it is strongly in the UK’s interest. A global deal provides the only credible means to leverage more from others and would further drive down the costs of climate action.”
This part of the Conservative Government’s policy direction has predictably proved the most popular among campaigners. WWF-UK chief executive David Nussbaum said: “The Prime Minister’s commitment to combating climate change shows much-needed leadership from the top. We look forward to seeing David Cameron taking the lead to reach a strong climate deal in Paris."
What wasn’t said...
Neither Rudd nor the Queen’s speech mentioned energy efficiency, which could represent one of the most cost-effective means of reducing UK emissions.
The chief executive of the UK Green Building Council Julie Hirigoyen said: “Tackling climate change on the global stage is an absolute necessity and the Government’s renewed commitment is welcome, but we cannot ignore our responsibility to start the fight at home – beginning with our own homes and buildings.
“The Queen’s Speech represents a missed opportunity for Government to set out how it can reduce emissions from our built environment."