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Former energy minister accused of lobbying for ‘blackout’ warnings

John Hayes alledgedly removed from his post after trying to persuade E.ON to warn public that focus on green energy could lead to energy shortages

John Hayes energy MPIn March, John Hayes was removed from his post at DECC and replaced by incumbent business minister Michael Fallon, though no specific reason was given for the move. Some speculated that it may have been a result of his disparaging remarks about climate campaigners and reluctance to support green energy initiatives.

However, a report published by the Mail on Sunday claimed that the reason behind his removal was a clandestine meeting with E.ON chief executive Dr Tony Cocker, in which the former energy minister supposedly lobbied for the energy giant – a member of the Big Six suppliers – to warn the public that moving away from coal-fired power plants could lead to the lights going out in the UK.

As well as challenging the government’s policy on green energy, Dr Cocker was also reportedly asked to call for a U-turn on the closure of power plants such as Kingsnorth in Kent.

Balancing act

Hayes has long been an open critic of placing too much faith in renewable energy. Sources close to the politician told the Mail that the reason he was appointed energy minister was to balance out the opinion of energy secretary Ed Davey, a long-time advocate of green energy.

After finding out about the supposedly secret meeting, the newspaper said that Davey reportedly “hit the roof” and demanded the removal of  Hayes, just six months after he was appointed energy minister.

Hayes has now been moved to a background role advising the prime minister – another indication that Cameron valued his views and opinions, according to the source.

“John said the prime minister agreed that the energy crisis was getting worse, and Lib Dems are more interested in impractical green policies and not upsetting their friends in Brussels than keeping the lights on,” they told the Mail.

Hayes’ comments went on to receive a degree of credibility when the energy regulator Ofgem revealed that the danger of power shortages in the UK by the middle of the decade has risen. The coalition was reportedly keen to keep the details of Hayes’ removal quiet to avoid straining the relationship with the EU, to which the UK has committed to meet climate change targets.

Twist in the tale

The saga has now taken another twist, after E.ON issued a statement refuting the allegations in the Mail on Sunday.

While acknowledging that the former energy minister did meet Dr Cocker on March 13th, the energy giant claims that this was one of a series of regular meetings that the company holds with ministers, MPs, the DECC and other interested stakeholders about its actions and policies.

“The meeting was not held ‘in secret’ and included Sara Vaughan, E.ON’s director of strategy and regulation, a representative from DECC, as well as a member of John Hayes’ office,” E.ON stated.

According to the company, a “wide range” of topics were discussed during the meeting, including the Large Combustion Plant Directive with regard to the Kingsnorth and Grain plants, but “at no point” did Hayes ask Dr Cocker to challenge energy policy.

Inaccurate and unhelpful

E.ON went on to label the Mail on Sunday article “inaccurate and unhelpful” and said it supports a “balanced range of energy sources”, including renewables and other low carbon generation, while ensuring that power supplies remain “secure and affordable” for consumers.

Though the claims have now been refuted, the story will do little to help the coalition at a time when it is yet to publish the long-awaited Energy Bill, which will set out the country’s future energy policy. Relations with the EU are also likely to feel the strain as the country struggles to meet the directive to encourage cleaner energy.

The latter commitment, which will lead to the closure of the country’s coal-fired power stations, has necessitated a move to renewable forms of energy. However, sceptics warn that green power alone will not be enough to cater for the nation’s needs in the years ahead.

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