New environment secretary’s views on fracking, runways and windfarms fuel accusations he is a climate change sceptic
The little orphaned badgers Bessie and Baz, one-time pets of the new environment secretary, Owen Paterson, are enjoying a surprising posthumous fame thanks to his new role overseeing the imminent cull in England, which could result in a third of the population being shot dead. “I was perhaps about 10 years old when a local farmer rang us up to say he had found a young badger and would we take it in,” Paterson reminisced in 2004. “So we did; it was a female called Bessy and she lived in the boiler room. She was extremely intelligent, had a very low opinion of cats but loved the dogs. She was pretty well trained, she went in the car. Then we had another badger and as soon as they got together they dug their way out and ran away. It is terribly hard when welfare people see me as anti-badger, having known a badger very well.”
Yet Paterson is standing resolutely behind the cull, dismissing opposition as “sad sentimentality” at this week’s Conservative party conference. It is an issue he knows well having tabled a record 600 parliamentary questions on the problem of TB in cattle while shadow environment minister. That barrage is typical of the man, say those who know him, pointing to similar deep dives by Paterson into fisheries, roads and Northern Ireland. “He is very committed, very diligent, thorough and good on detail and he is incredibly energetic,” said Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP and a fellow member of the rightwing Cornerstone group.
Paterson is Shropshire born-and-bred. The arrival of a true countryman – who derides “metropolitan smartypants” and says “we have to manage the countryside” – at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) might have been expected to please many of those who care about the environment. In what some may call a display of his “good, old-fashioned, Shropshire common sense“, he is said to have forbidden Defra officials from using the phrase “ecosystem services”, a jargon phrase for the benefits bestowed by the natural world.
But the overwhelming reaction from environmentalists – farmers and landowners excepted – was of horror. Instead of a countryman, they saw an apparent climate change sceptic, confirmed Eurosceptic and avowed slasher of red tape. His appointment to the ministry entrusted with enforcing the regulation – much of it from Brussels – that protects the environment was seen as the final confirmation that David Cameron’s pledge to be the “greenest government ever” had gone up in smoke, as the party shifted to the right.
Paterson is certainly a true-blue Tory, railing, for example, against red tape in a recent Spectator interview: “Government can wreck a business by confiscating its money by taxation. But confiscating its time is absolutely critical too.” When officials in his new department were highlighting the difficulty of ignoring European environmental regulation, he is said to have told them: “The French get away with it.”
Paterson voted for John Redwood, Iain Duncan Smith and Liam Fox in successive Tory leadership contests, and was the first member of this cabinet to oppose gay marriage. In short, he is the opposite of a Tory moderniser.
But, given his new post, the most damaging charge is that he is a climate change sceptic. The suggestion is based on his opposition to “ridiculous”, “useless” windfarms, “intensely unpopular” subsidies for renewable energy and his support for new runways and shale gas development, known as fracking. His performances at conference only hardened this view, with rabid denunciations of “Soviet” subsidies and threats to cut them, alongside enthusiasm for the fast tracking of fracking. However, Richard Betts, a meteorologist at the Met Office who heard Paterson’s inaugural speech to staff at Defra, concluded he was no climate change denier.
Nonetheless, Paterson has perplexingly chosen not to scotch the charge. “Climate change is obviously happening and there is obviously a man-made contribution,” he has said more than once. Failing to state that the burning of fossil fuels is by far the greatest contribution is a fudge frequently used by so-called sceptics: hence the greens’ fears.
For them, it gets worse. For a man frequently lauded for his intelligence and grip of detail, he can still peddle myths, stating in September: “My concern is that some measures we take to [reduce carbon emissions] may be doing more damage. I am not convinced that building windfarms is the right way because you have more problems. You have to have gas backup – and that is operating inefficiently. So you have the problems that it’s not reducing carbon emissions and it depends on very heavy public subsidy which is intensely unpopular with the people and businesses it damages.”
The facts are that windfarms unequivocally cut carbon and that poll after poll reveals overwhelming public support for renewable energy. “The notion that wind doesn’t save carbon because of the need for back-up is simply incorrect,” said Professor Robert Gross at Imperial College London.
Paterson’s loathing of windfarms may be out of kilter with national opinion, but it is firmly in step with his North Shropshire constituents. He is well-thought of there, according to Keith Harrison, editor of the Shropshire Star, and has increased his majority at four successive general elections, perhaps because he is the very model of a shires Tory MP.
Brought up on a family farm and described as “county set” rather than grand, he went to Radley College, a public school, and studied history at Cambridge. Two decades followed in the family tannery business, supplying leather to luxury goods makers, and a time as president of the European Tanners Confederation, where he deployed his fluent French and German. “He is no stupid little Englander,” said Phillip Blond, director of the ResPublica thinktank and influential Tory moderniser.
Paterson now lives in a large, 160-year-old, Grade II listed house a stone’s throw from the Welsh border, where he keeps horses, sheep and chickens. He is married to the daughter of Viscount Matthew Ridley, linking him both to eight generations of Tory MPs and the prominent climate change sceptic Matt Ridley, his brother-in-law.
His passion is horses – Betfair gave him and his wife £1,000 of hospitality at Ascot in June – and as with his other interests, Paterson leaps in, having completed a gruelling 620-mile (1,000km) horse race across the deserts of Mongolia this summer. But critics suggest that sometimes his self-confidence, energy and enthusiasm tips him into naivety, perhaps blinded by his own brilliance.
Paterson’s plan for protecting the UK’s seas from overfishing was widely praised by environmentalists as “having its heart in the right place”, but was founded on an impossible unilateral withdrawal from the European Union’s fisheries policy. His first appearance on the BBC’s Farming Today programme as environment secretary revealed an unexpected zeal for closing the UK’s “dessert deficit”. He said: “One thing I have been banging on about, we have a dessert deficit in the UK. We still import a very large proportion of our desserts. I would ask everyone to go out and buy a British dessert.”
His energy showed as shadow Northern Ireland secretary, when he is said to have spent more time in the province than the secretary of state. Yet, despite being seen as a low-profile success when he served as Northern Ireland secretary after the 2010 election, he did propose that Sinn Féin MPs should be allowed to swear a pledge of allegiance not involving the Queen, an “undoubtedly naive” idea, according to seasoned observers.
Coming out of the Northern Ireland post relatively unscathed is an achievement, according to Rees-Mogg: “It is a very difficult brief to have and requires people to be pragmatic and get on with people with different opinions. Going in as a headbanging ideologue would be a very bad idea.”
Blond also defends Paterson: “There has been a rush to judgment on Owen that has not been merited. I know Owen is very keen on community energy, for example.” The official transcript of his conference speech demonstrates the limit of that keeness for renewables though: “We must ensure that the right measures are deployed in the right places” – ie not wind in Shropshire.
Jonathan Porritt, one of the UK’s most prominent environmentalists, greeted his appointment by saying: “Sit back and enjoy the spectacle of Owen Paterson as secretary of state at Defra, who is as close to a latter-day reincarnation of [the Thatcherite environment secretary] Nicholas Ridley as we’re likely to get. It really is astonishing to contemplate what was once a progressive and intelligent [Conservative] party so comprehensively engineering its own destruction.”
Paterson has so far simply ignored such criticism, instead focusing on his government’s central obsession: reviving economic growth. “My absolute priority, with clear instruction from the prime minister, is to do everything I can to improve and help conditions under which people can run businesses and generate wealth and jobs in the rural economy,” said Paterson. “The role of Defra is to make things easier for [rural] people and then to get out of people’s hair.”
David Nussbaum, the head of WWF, whom Paterson phoned within days of taking office, warned: “He has to engage in rural affairs, but his department has national responsibilities and international responsibilities too.”
For greens, this is the key. Improving the daily business of the countryside appears suited to Paterson. But on the broader issues of environment, energy and climate change, both as environment secretary and as a member of a government left distinctly less green after the reshuffle, the more he says, the more sceptical he appears. Greens fear that just as Paterson, an avowed badger-lover, has backed the widespread slaughter of the animals, the avowed lover of the countryside will fail to back the measures most experts say are needed to protect the world from global warming.
Born: 24 June 1956
Career: Paterson is a countryman raised on a farm who, after public school and Cambridge, spent 20 years in the family leather firm before becoming the very model of a true-blue Conservative MP in the shires.
High point: Promotion to secretary of state for the environment, where he can apply his fierce Euroscepticism and loathing of red tape to getting Defra “out of people’s hair”.
Low point: Probably yet to come with the hugely controversial badger cull about to start and flooding on the rise at a time when Defra has cut the spending on flood defences.
What he says: “We always had very well-intentioned Labour ministers at Defra who were completely urban and completely clueless. That’s not going to happen with me. And I eat meat.”
What they say: “He listens and is bright, so he’s easy to brief, but is more gung-ho than his predecessor. The badger cull is his first huge test: when political dogma is confronted by scientific fact and public opinion, that means tough times ahead.” Defra source
4.1GW total from wind turbines is enough to light and heat more than 3m British homes
Britain’s windfarms broke a new record on Friday by providing over four gigawatts of power to the National Grid – enough to light and heat more than 3m British homes.
It beats a previous high of 3.8GW set in May and comes as a further 4GW of wind turbines are being installed, half on land and half offshore.
Just before 10am, wind turbines were supplying 10.8% of the total amount of electricity going into the grid while an additional 2.2GW of “green” power was going directly into local electricity networks.
“This record high shows that wind energy is providing a reliable, secure supply of clean electricity to an ever-greater number of British homes and businesses,” said Maria McCaffery, chief executive at the campaign group RenewableUK. “As our wind energy capacity increases, the need to import expensive fossil fuels starts to diminish. The transition to a low-carbon economy is well under way and harnessing this bountiful, free resource will help us to drive down energy bills for all users in the long term.”
Critics will point out that the 4.1GW total compares with the UK’s largest coal and biomass-fired power station, Drax in North Yorkshire, which produces almost that amount of power on its own.
Onshore wind escapes the worst of mooted cuts, but uncertainty could still threaten green investment, industry figures warn
New subsidy rates have been announced for renewable energy in the UK, with onshore wind escaping the worst of the mooted cuts, but worries about further uncertainty would still threaten green investment, industry figures have warned.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) predicted that the new subsidy deal – with “banding” of different rates for technologies including wind, biomass and tidal energy – would stimulate £20bn-25bn of investment in the green energy sector over the next four years.
Ed Davey, secretary of state for energy and climate change, said: “The support we’re setting out today will unlock investment decisions, help ensure that rapid growth in renewable energy continues and shows the key role of renewables for our energy security. Because value for money is vital, we will bring forward more renewable electricity while reducing the impact on consumer bills between 2013 and 2015, saving £6 off household energy bills next year and £5 the year after.”
The government’s decision came after months of wrangling between Decc and the Treasury, that broke out into open warfare over the weekend. Davey claimed a partial victory when Treasury demands for deeper cuts were blocked, but failed to head off a potentially damaging review of the subsidies and faces a new battle this autumn to ensure the UK takes on carbon targets for 2030.
Renewable power companies and green campaigners warned that government plans for a further review of subsidies next year with the potential for more subsidy cuts from 2014 could cause investors and financial backers to hold off. They were also concerned that some promising technologies – such as geothermal power – have lost out to more mature forms of energy in the “banding” rates, and new rules affecting small and community-scale renewable energy projects could also prove problematic.
Martin Wright, chairman of the Renewable Energy Association, said: “The government has re-affirmed its commitment to the renewables industry, but we are concerned about the further reviews facing many technologies, which is likely to inhibit investment. Business confidence is essential to realise the vast potential of this industry, in which the UK still lags behind the rest of the world. Companies will not invest without stable government policy delivered in a timely manner. At such a critical time for the economy, this country cannot afford any further political wrangling that puts at risk future investment and job creation.”
Energy from waste was another loser. Charlotte Morton, chief executive of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association, which represents 300 businesses, said the industry had been expecting a modest subsidy cut, but instead was faced with proposals that would prevent the vast majority of new plants from receiving the subsidy from next April.
She said: “Making such a change with little more than six months’ notice will hit projects already in development, as well as the business plans of companies looking to develop anaerobic digestion plants in the next few years. A sudden announcement of a policy which was not part of the original consultation is completely contrary to providing certainty and clarity to businesses, which Decc has said that they want their policies to achieve.”
Geothermal energy, which recent research suggested could provide a fifth of the UK’s energy for the future, has also been left out. Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, said: “We are effectively left with no deep geothermal power industry in the UK, and inadequate incentive to capture methane from landfill sites.”
RWE npower, the generator, said that the support for hydroelectricity under the new plans was “not enough” to encourage developers, and would have “a very serious impact” on plans for new medium-sized and large hydropower projects.
However, biomass energy – burning energy crops, waste wood and byproducts such as peanut husks, olive stones and straw to generate electricity – will be boosted by the government’s plans. Dorothy Thompson, chief executive of Drax, the biggest coal-fired power station in the UK, said that the new rules on subsidies could mean that the power station was burning more biomass than coal within five years.
Drax’s proposed £650m-£700m investment in converting its coal-fired boilers biomass had been on hold for months, but Wednesday’s investment was likely to mean that it could go ahead, she said.
“This is all about jobs in the UK,” she said. “The UK is critical to us as part of the supply chain for biomass, but also for imports of biomass – through the port facilities, in storage facilities and transport.”
She was “absolutely confident” of sourcing enough biomass, both from the UK and imported, to meet the power station’s needs affordably.
The company’s share price dipped on the government announcement, which Thompson attributed to a misunderstanding on the part of stock market analysts to do with a technicality in the subsidy system. Previously, it was unclear whether large power stations such as Drax would benefit from the new arrangements, because there were plans to treat the conversion of a whole plant differently to the conversion of smaller sub-units. Thompson said that this issue had been resolved in a way that would preserve subsidies for its plans, but that the markets had not taken this into account. Drax will publish its financial results next week.
Caroline Flint, Labour’s shadow energy and climate change secretary, said green industries had lost out to government infighting: “The government’s shambolic review of support for renewable energy has done huge damage to investors’ confidence in the UK as a place to do business. Davey might try to spin this as a victory for the Liberal Democrats, but UK PLC has lost out because the Tory-led government has the wrong priorities. Ministers would rather fight each other than fight for new jobs in clean energy and cheaper fuel bills for families and businesses.”
Docking Shoal scheme shelved and £10m wasted on the £1.5bn wind power project that could have powered 400,000 homes
A £1.5bn wind farm that could have powered almost 400,000 homes has been rejected by the government because it might kill 90 small birds a year.
Over £10m, and three and a half years of planning, have been wasted on the 540 megawatt Docking Shoal offshore wind farm near the Lincolnshire and north Norfolk coast which was turned down by the Department of Energy and Climate Change on Friday.
“It appears to come down to 94 sandwich terns,” said a spokesman for Centrica, the parent group of British Gas which proposed the scheme. “It’s the cumulative impact of a number of wind farms in the area on birds.”
The rejection of Docking Shoal came as a second Centrica wind farm in the same area was given the go-ahead – the 580MW Race Bank project.
A third 560MW project in the region, known as Dudgeon and operated by Warwick Energy, has also been given the green light by energy minister Charles Hendry.
The RSPB admitted it had opposed the Docking Shoal wind farm but said it supported the other schemes in the area. “We want to see renewable energy projects developed because we recognise that climate change will have a greater impact on wildlife [than wind turbines]. But three farms would have been an unacceptable risk.
“The north Norfolk coast is an important summer site for sandwich terns and we have an international responsibility to protect them.”
The tern colonies at Blakeney Point and Scolt Head Island fall within the North Norfolk Coast Special Protection Area, protected under the EU Birds and Habitats directives.
Hendry said the agreements that two farms could be built showed Britain was “racing ahead of the global field” with 6.6 gigawatts of offshore wind power now operational, under construction or having planning agreement in the UK.
“These two projects will not only bring us considerable amounts of clean energy, but significant investment and jobs too. We have also shown that we are mindful of other consequences, such as the impact on bird populations, in deciding that it would not be appropriate to consent to all three applications.”
The energy department said a decision on Docking Shoal had taken a long time because it was a “complex and sensitive case” but new planning legislation would up the process in the future.
The agreement over the two other projects came as the government wrestles with whether to reduce short-term subsidies to wind farms both offshore and onshore.
A decision has been promised on state aid up to 2017 within the next 10 days, amid threats of legal action by energy firms concerned that onshore subsidies may be cut by more than 10%.
The Guardian revealed this week that another key foreign engineering company, Siemens, was losing faith in the government’s willingness to come up with a long-term offshore wind subsidy scheme, potentially threatening £200m plans to build turbine parts on a dock complex in Hull. Two other international companies, Doosan of Korea and Vestas of Denmark, have already shelved UK turbine-building plans.
Solar power gets more finance than wind as recession fails to dampen faith in low carbon technology
Global investment in renewable energy surged to a new high last year, despite the widespread recession.
But experts warned that the rate of growth was showing signs of slowing, and would need to speed up if the world’s economies are to be transformed on to a low-carbon footing.
Last year, investment in renewable energy reached $257bn (£165bn), a rise of 17% on the previous year. The record investment was a six-fold increase on the 2004 figure and nearly double the total in 2007, the year before the world financial crisis, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21).
However, the rate of growth has fallen year on year – last year’s growth of 17% on the previous year failed to match the 37% increase in investment from 2010 to 2011.
“We need to do more, if we are to combat climate change and use low-carbon technology, said a representative for REN21. “These figures are very good, but there is still a long way to go.”
The US and China were the top investors in renewables last year. US investments continued despite the shale gas boom and obstacles because of uncertainty over policy.
However, the boom – which saw investment of $51bn (£33bn) – may be shortlived as investors are rushing to take advantage of key incentive schemes before they are scrapped.
Wind power, usually the biggest single target for renewable investment, was surpassed by solar power as falling component prices fuelled a surge of interest – the technology received nearly twice the money directed at wind, which has generally been regarded as the most mature technology in the past.
Total investment in solar power jumped 52% to $147bn (£95bn). The authors pointed in particular to rooftop photovoltaic (PV) installations in Italy and Germany, the rapid spread of small-scale PV to other countries from China to the UK, as well as major new investments in solar thermal power (CSP) projects in Spain and the US.
The report, called Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2012, used data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Renewable sources now supply 16.7% of global energy consumption, according to the report, but much of that is biomass used for cooking and heating in developing countries. The authors said the share provided by traditional biomass had declined slightly while the share sourced from modern renewable technologies had risen.
David Cameron believes his pledge has been met: the public strongly disagrees. The reality is the foundations are laid, but the PM’s double-speak is preventing them being completed
David Cameron has met his pledge to lead the greenest government ever, the prime minister confidently stated on Thursday. A recent opinion poll found that a mere 2% of the public agreed with him. Neither are right.
The prime minister’s dilemma is that he knows most people want clean energy and cherish nature, hence his detoxification of the Conservative brand by hugging huskies and urging people to “vote blue, go green” before entering No10. But a significant section of Tory supporters despise action on climate change and environmental problems as expensive nonsense.
Nick Clegg represents the first group, and argues “going green has never made so much sense“, while George Osborne represents the second, railing against “saving the planet by putting our country out of business“.
The result was that Cameron’s long-awaited remarks ended up appealing to both sides at once. He warned sternly how expensive renewables are, like Osborne, but was simultaneously “passionate” about the vital importance of growing renewable energy, like Clegg.
This confusing double-speak is the crux, as it means nervous investors turn away from the UK and plough their money into countries whose green committment is not in doubt.
The case for this being the greenest government ever rests on the coalition’s impressive array of bold, if imperfect, policies. A green investment bank (that can’t borrow), the huge green deal energy efficiency scheme (which risks low take-up), major reform of the energy market (which is too skewed to nuclear power) and the world’s first scheme for low-carbon heating (delayed for homeowners).
But hundreds of billions of pounds of investment are needed to replace the nation’s dirty and ageing infrastructure with clean, sustainable power plants, homes and cars, fit for the 21st century. And the companies being asked to stump up need political certainty.
The case against this being the greenest government ever is this missing political certainty. One senior energy executive told me Osborne’s remarks drove his CEO to ask: “Does this mean we should not be investing in renewables in the UK?”
The CBI offered doubled-edged praise for Cameron’s attempt to address the issue: “It will help to repair investor confidence following recent policy uncertainty”. Virtually all other business and green groups slated it.
The prime minister’s cause was not helped by a baffling, last-minute downgrading of his words from a “major keynote speech” to seven minutes of introductory “remarks” at a clean energy summit. Before the general election he couldn’t stop talking green. After, we had to wait two years for him to break his green silence and if this was a “major” intervention, as one green quipped, I’d hate to see a minor one.
Even more baffling is this. If there is a single thing Cameron, Clegg and Osborne all crave more than anything else it is economic growth. Yet while the UK double-dips into recession, the green economy is expanding at 4% a year and already employs more people than teaching. But the prime minister’s failure to sing its praises with full voice and at every opportunity is stunting those precious green shoots.
This government has put the foundations in place to be the greenest ever, but while Cameron puts the interests of the Tory fringe ahead of the interests of the nation, it will be the greenest government never.
Consumers set to pay the price as electricity companies are forced to import more gas, damaging prospects for green jobs
The UK is set to miss its renewable energy targets by a wide margin – a failure that could result in billions of pounds being added to energy bills as we rely increasingly on imported gas, according to a new study.
Only 3% of the UK’s energy currently comes from renewable sources, such as sun and wind, compared with a European average of 12%, despite a series of high-profile government policies aimed at increasing that percentage.
Britain is committed to producing 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 – but campaigners say that the government currently has no prospect of achieving that target.
The evidence that the UK is falling behind will embarrass David Cameron as he hosts a two-day international meeting on renewables, the Clean Energy Ministerial, beginning in London on Wednesday. Energy ministers from the world’s 20 biggest economies will be at the event, where they will discuss strategies for co-operating on developing low-carbon emission technology and policy.
Imported gas is likely to represent an increasing proportion of the UK’s energy bills, and by 2020 could cost an extra £60bn more than if Britain met the renewable target, according to the study by the Renewable Energy Association (REA). Failing to hit the targets is also damaging the prospects for green jobs – about 110,000 people are employed in the renewable industry today, but a workforce of about 400,000 is estimated to be needed to meet the 2020 goal. At that level, says today’s report, the industry could be worth £50bn a year to the economy. Gaynor Hartnell, the chief executive of the REA, said that the study provided clear evidence that renewables were good for the economy and that ministers should grasp the opportunity. “When it comes to the employment, economic and energy challenges we face, this report gives a clear answer – make it renewable, and make it in Britain,” she said.
Renewables as an industry – including wind, solar power and biomass used for heating and electricity – generate a turnover of about £12.5bn a year, with exports worth about £1.6bn last year.
Greg Barker, the minister of state for energy and climate change, emphasised the importance of the sector: “Renewable energy not only provides us with clean and secure energy that cuts our reliance on imported fossil fuels, it generates billions of pounds of investment and hundreds and thousands of jobs and is a key growth sector for the UK economy. We are determined to seize the momentum and secure maximum benefit for the UK,” he said.
Recent rows over energy policy have cast doubt on the government’s green agenda. Cameron was forced to personally intervene last week to veto proposals for a tightening of regulations that would force households building home extensions to make energy efficiency improvements as they did so. The proposals had prompted an outcry among Tory backbenchers and were dubbed a “conservatory tax”.
In another challenge to the coalition’s green strategy, a letter from 101 Tory MPs called on the prime minister to slash subsidies for onshore wind power, alarming the renewables industry. Some offshore wind companies have now put their expansion plans on hold until government policy on subsidies is clearer.
Solar power companies have also been left reeling by a series of drastic cuts to their subsidies, which they said would particularly affect fuel-poor households, social housing projects and community groups, who had been planning to use solar power to help residents cut their energy bills, but are now struggling to raise the finance needed.
Meanwhile, green campaigners attacked government plans for a new “dash for gas”, which could see a host of gas-fired power stations built across the country that green groups have warned will lock in fossil-fuel infrastructure for decades.
Last week an academic report advising the government to give the green light to plans for gas “fracking” provided a further fillip for the gas industry.