Community Energy Projects

Energy and Climate Change – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 7th July 2011.

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Photo of Chris White Chris White Conservative, Warwick and Leamington 10:30 am, 7th July 2011

What steps he is taking to promote community energy projects in co-operation with public sector organisations.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

What recent steps he has taken to support community renewable energy projects.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

The coalition agreement includes a strong commitment to encourage community ownership of renewable energy projects. We have taken a range of steps to deliver on this commitment. These include removing barriers to the development of community energy projects, setting up a website to provide practical support to communities and working directly with local government to promote best practice.

Photo of Chris White Chris White Conservative, Warwick and Leamington

In my constituency, Warwick hospital and Community Energy Warwickshire, a local social enterprise, have teamed up to put solar panels on the hospital’s buildings. Given the amount of property owned by the public sector, does my hon. Friend not agree that we should do everything we can to encourage this kind of partnership? Will he meet members of Community Energy Warwickshire and Warwick hospital to see how we can replicate this kind of project across the country?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and his constituents. This is exactly the kind of project delivered through exactly the kind of partnership that we need to see more of. The coalition is working on a programme including a range of measures to ensure that we drive this forward. I look forward to explaining those in detail to my hon. Friend when I meet him and his constituents.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

How can community energy projects be advanced if the Minister’s Department is collaborating with the nuclear industry to lie about the true effects of Fukushima, as described in leaked e-mails published by The Guardian? Is it true that an official in his Department wrote to EDF and the other companies saying, “We must get in, and we must make sure that the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not fill the space with the truth”?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

I simply do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s comments. I have absolute trust in my Department, and the suggestion that there has been some Fukushima cover-up is absurd nonsense.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

Far from being a champion of community energy projects, the Government seem to be intent on punishing them. In June the Minister cut feed-in tariff funding for schemes generating more than 50 kW. The Secretary of State said a moment ago that he wanted to make feed-in tariffs affordable, but cutting them for medium-scale school, hospital and community projects makes them unviable.

The Minister is aware that we disagree fundamentally with his decision, and our view is shared by the solar industry. Howard Johns, chairman of the Solar Trade Association, has said that the move would cripple the UK’s fledgling solar panel industry, adding:

“Crushing solar makes zero economic sense for UK plc because it will lose us major manufacturing opportunities, jobs and global competitiveness.”

This is yet another example of Government policy damaging our economy and cutting support for industry, rather than generating jobs and growth. Will the Minister admit that he got it wrong, and that he should think again?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

The people who got it wrong were the people in the Labour party who were in government and created this programme. They know full well that the model was fundamentally not fit for purpose. The hon. Lady and her Front-Bench colleague, Meg Hillier, decline to name a figure, but how much more money would they pump into a scheme that would be paid for from people’s bills?

If we had left the scheme unreformed, more than £3 billion would have been added to the cost in the form of high subsidies. We are committed to rolling out solar energy, which is a dynamic technology of the future, but we must do it responsibly. We cannot do it by providing the open-cheque subsidies that would be encouraged by the irresponsible attitude of Opposition Front-Benchers.