Labour has vowed to set a decarbonisation target in its election manifesto, claiming that such a move would ultimately help to bring down energy bills, but critics have claimed it would have the opposite effect on consumers.
In one of the Labour Party’s first major policy commitments, Tom Greatrex, the shadow energy minister, said that his party will aim to obtain far more of the country’s energy from green sources by 2030, if the current administration has failed to make a pledge by the next general election.
He told a conference in Manchester that the establishment of a decarbonisation target is vital to ensure that solar panels, windfarms and other major sources of renewable energy are constructed.
“That target is absolutely crucial to sending a long-term signal about government’s intention, not just in relation to our need to reduce emissions, but also to reduce our reliance on the volatility of fossil fuel prices,” he explained.
Mr Greatrex claimed that the rising cost of fossil fuels will continue to hit consumers in the pocket through their energy bills, unless a longer-term method of green energy production is implemented to safeguard both bills and energy security.
“What you will get from a Labour government in 2016 is a relentless, determined, almost obsessive desire that this industry, including offshore energy, flourishes and continues to flourish,” he commented.
“Energy policy touches on almost every other aspect of government policy. It informs what we do industrially, it influences what we do in geo-politics and it affects consumers and the cost of living.”
His comments received the support of shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint, who said that a decarbonisation target is essential if the UK is to tackle the issues of “spiralling energy bills”, uncertain energy security and “dangerous climate change”.
“The government’s failure to back a decarbonisation target will leave households vulnerable to completely unnecessary increases to their energy bills and cause Britain to miss out on vital new clean energy jobs,” she claimed.
Plans for the establishment of a decarbonisation target in the long-awaited Energy Bill were recently vetoed by coalition ministers over fears that the move to green electricity would increase costs for families too significantly when many are struggling to make ends meet and hundreds of thousands are in fuel poverty.
Former Tory energy minister Charles Hendry claimed that committing to greener sources of energy when the cost is unknown would be “wrong”, and could have the side-effect of increasing energy bills and sending even more households into fuel poverty, rather than the intended outcome of lowering costs.
“Some of the emerging renewable technologies, such as offshore wind and tidal, may remain too expensive, and we don’t yet know if their costs will come down to make them affordable for consumers,” he explained to the Telegraph.
“My difficulty with the target, therefore, is that we would be requiring it to be set without knowing that it can be met, and that cannot be a responsible decision for government to make, when the costs of getting it wrong would have to be picked up by consumers for decades to come.”
Despite senior Tories vetoing the establishment of a decarbonisation target now, new laws could pave the way for ministers to do so in 2016 as part of ongoing amendments to the Energy Bill – something that Labour has said it will not scrap if it wins the next election.
Mr Greatrex said he does not think it would be in the interests of the industry, the government or consumers to “tear up the Energy Bill and start again”, but promised that changes would be made, should his party emerge victorious in the election – beginning with the establishment of new renewable targets.