Britain will lobby for a lower national target for renewable energy than the 20 per cent to which European governments agreed earlier this year, John Hutton has indicated.
The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform revealed this apparent about-face to The Observer but denied claims following leaked documents last week that he wanted to do a U-turn on the Europe-wide target for 2020. However, he said that the same target would not ‘automatically apply’ to Britain.
He rejected the idea he would accept a target higher than 20 per cent. ‘We need a balanced energy policy which helps the UK be a low carbon economy as quickly as possible but we have got to do that in a way that’s as cost-effective as possible and brings industry and consumers with us,’ he said.
Hutton also confirmed that nuclear power would not make a significant contribution towards Britain cutting its carbon emissions by 2020. He said that the first new reactor would not be in operation until 2017. It is the first time the government has indicated that any building programme of new reactors will be staggered and will not be completed by the end of the next decade.
‘It’s unlikely nuclear would make a highly significant contribution to the 2020 climate goals,’ he said. ‘But people think that just because it [new nuclear] won’t contribute to 2020 [targets], it won’t contribute at all. No one imagines climate change will be addressed in one generation.’
Hutton denied that the energy bill, due to be unveiled by the end of the year, would ‘fudge’ the nuclear issue, as the 2003 energy white paper did: ‘I’m not deferring nuclear to future generations. I’m not kicking it into the long grass.’
But he acknowledged that the shortage of resources and staff among nuclear companies and UK regulators would jeopardise any building programme: ‘We are aware that there are capacity constraints. There is clearly going to be pressure on capacity on the global nuclear industry to meet growing worldwide demand.’
Robin Webster, climate and energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said the leaked documents suggested the government would want a renewable energy target ‘in single figures’, and warned that the government’s lobbying on the 20 per cent target had already caused a setback at the EU, which has delayed publication of details of how the target will be met until next year. Currently Britain produces 2 per cent of electricity but only 1 per cent of all energy – the criterion for the target – from renewable energy. ‘We have the best renewable energy resources in Europe; wind and wave resource particularly,’ said Webster. ‘Why should other countries pick up our slack?’
· Pressure is mounting on the chief executive of nuclear generator British Energy, Bill Coley, to step down. Last week, the FTSE-100-listed company announced that it had shut down two more of its ageing reactors because of technical problems. Analysts are starting to lose patience with British Energy’s unreliable performance.
By Juliette Jowit and Tim Webb
28 October 2007
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