In a surprise move, Energy Minister Charles Hendry has been axed in the government’s reshuffle to be replaced by Tory MP John Hayes.
Writing on Twitter, Labour Peer Lady Bryony Worthington revealed on Tuesday afternoon that she had “just bumped in to Charles Hendry who is back to being a back bencher”, adding that the demotion was “a real shame.”
Number 10 later confirmed Hendry had been replaced by MP for South Holland and the Deepings, John Hayes, who has moved from his role as Minister for Skills at the Department for Business.
Hayes appointment will cause concern amongst renewable energy firms given his opposition to wind farms in his constituency, having previously describing wind turbines as a “terrible intrusion on our flat fenland landscape”.
He was quoted by the BBC in 2009 as saying, “renewable energy needs to pass the twin tests of environmental and economic sustainability and wind power fails on both counts”.
However, green businesses will be hoping that his stance towards wind energy has shifted over the past five years and that he can bring his experience of skills policy to help boost green skills programmes that have been widely condemned as being underpowered.
Hayes was elected to parliament in 1997 and has served in a host of different shadow roles, although has limited direct experience of energy policy. He is widely regarded as Eurosceptic and being on the right of the Conservative Party.
Stakeholders who had worked with Hendry were united in their dismay at news of his departure.
Jennifer Webber from trade body RenewableUK wrote on Twitter that the news was a major shock, adding that “now’s not the time to get rid of someone with such a superb understanding of energy policy”.
Her concerns were echoed by experts from across the green NGO and renewable energy community, who stressed that Hendry had been tasked with steering the complex and controversial Energy Bill through Parliament.
Commentators warned that Hayes faces a daunting task, addressing concerns about the viability of the government’s electricity market reforms, the balance of the energy mix between clean sources and fossil fuels, and the cost of the transition towards low carbon technologies.
He will also have a front row seat for the on-going battle between Lib Dem Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey and George Osborne over the future direction of the UK’s energy strategy, with the Conservative Chancellor expected to step up calls for increased support for gas capacity in the autumn.
Hendry was almost unique in energy circles in that he secured support from the renewables, fossil fuel, and nuclear lobbies and was well regarded across the energy industry.
Greenpeace’s Doug Parr also suggested the change could put the government at a disadvantage as it prepares to finalise the policy framework for new nuclear power plants. “If true, Hendry departure fm DECC cld cost taxpayers £££ as was knowledgable & abt to oversee negs with EDF on huge Hinkley nuclear contract,” he wrote on Twitter.
In other news, Downing Street this evening confirmed Treasury Minister Chloe Smith, who was responsible for the Treasury’s energy and environmental policy, has been moved to the Cabinet Office.