Today's Prime Minister's speech on the UK's drive for low-carbon energy has been given a lukewarm reception by campaign groups and industry leaders.
Commenting on David Cameron's address, Friends of the Earth's Executive Director Andy Atkins said he was still waiting to see evidence of the Coalition being the greenest Government ever.
He added: "This falls a long way short of the green speech David Cameron should have given - tipping his hat to the need for a cleaner future and recycling a few announcements just won't measure up.
"While the nation is in recession, the green economy is growing at four per cent - developing clean British energy enjoys huge public support and could provide thousands of new jobs and cut fuel bills.
"Shortly after coming to power the Prime Minister promised to lead the 'greenest Government ever' - almost two years later we're still waiting for him to spell out how he's going to achieve this."
And Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group, an independent, not-for-profit organization, was more scathing in his response to the PM's speech.
He commented: “Yesterday it was confirmed that the UK is now again in recession. The economy isn’t growing. Unemployment is rising. Now, more than ever, we need to support those sectors of the economy that are actually growing and are creating jobs.
“Amidst this gloomy economic outlook, one sector of the economy is indeed growing at a startling rate of 4% per year. It now contributes 7% of the UK’s GDP and employs 900,000 people. It is the green economy sector. Our best hope for sustainable, sustained growth, more jobs and higher energy security – that doesn’t harm the environment and addresses climate change.
“Today’s speech by the Prime Minister could have been a clear message that the UK is open for green business. It should have sent a clear signal to investors. Especially after two years of Prime-Ministerial silence.
“It did not.
“Instead it effectively reiterated the false dichotomy between "non-affordable" renewables and "affordable" fossil fuels, in effect cementing the government's clear preference for the latter. Today the PM sided with those in his government that feel that the green agenda is a "burden". It is a costly, short-sighted error of judgement.
“This is more than a missed opportunity. It is not only a failure of leadership. It is nothing short of neglect of Britain’s economy and future.”
The Renewable Energy Association welcomed the acknowledgement by the Prime Minister that renewables are the fastest growing energy sector in the world. However, the REA says it wants the Government to take more care to understand the many economic benefits of renewable energy investment, including jobs.
REA Chief Executive Gaynor Hartnell said: “Renewables account for 110,000 UK jobs, seven times more than David Cameron thinks. The sector's turnover last year was £12.5 billion. Of the low carbon energy sources that the Government is looking to bring forward under its Electricity Market Reform proposals, renewables are the most likely to succeed. They can be deployed more quickly, they are proven and they will need less subsidy.
“Renewables have extremely low running costs, but capital costs can be higher than other energy technologies. For that reason it is essential that the cost of financing is kept low. Stable policies build investor confidence and make projects more bankable. The ball is in the Government’s court to make that happen.”
The REA points out that International Energy Agency analysis shows that globally fossil fuels receive six times the subsidy that renewable energy receives. UK subsidies for fossil fuels are estimated at £3.6 billion, mostly in the form of tax breaks, of which a fresh round was announced for the oil and gas sectors in this year's Budget.
The UK Government does not routinely cost the benefits of renewable energy generation - a situation the REA has asked to be addressed in its new report ‘Renewable Energy: Made in Britain’.
REA Chairman Martin Wright added: “There is a tendency to focus on the costs of renewables as opposed to the benefits. Renewables give us energy independence, they are totally sustainable, there is no waste, and over the long term they will provide low cost energy and, above all, price stability.
“Essentially, renewables represent a tremendous business opportunity now, and offer long term comparative advantage for the UK economy. In anyone’s books that is a compelling proposition.”
Fellow association RenewableUK also welcomed the commitment by the Prime Minister to renewable energy and pledged to play its part in reducing costs.
Dr Gordon Edge, RenewableUK’s Director of Policy said today: "The Prime Minister’s comments, and the initiatives announced today, including investment from companies like EDF, Balfour Beatty and JDR cables, confirm that the UK is the leading place to do business in offshore wind. The fact that all of the Big Six are now engaged in Round Three shows the importance that international companies attach to offshore wind and the role it will play over the next decade.
“We’re thrilled that 70 of our members have already signed up to our Wind Energy Charter committing to the development of wind power bringing energy security, thousands of jobs and price reductions”.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming companies from across the world to our Global Offshore Wind Conference in June, when we’ll discuss how we can achieve transformation of the electricity supply at the right price.
“Continued support and engagement from Government will be crucial to this as we see the development of the Electricity Market Reform and we look forward to reporting on the Cost Reduction Task Force, and development of Norstec at the Conference.”
Rhian Kelly, CBI Director for Business Environment, said: “The Prime Minister’s intervention, underlining the economic and environmental potential of the green economy, will help to repair investor confidence following recent policy uncertainty.
“Major investment is needed from the private sector to decarbonise our energy infrastructure and create new jobs across the country. What we need now is clear ambition from government, greater consistency and to establish market conditions that will help build momentum.
“The announcement of a new industry partnership in North Sea renewable energy is welcome, as are efforts to help bring down the costs of offshore wind technology. Such costs can fall on both households and businesses and must be managed if we are to make the move to a low-carbon economy a reality.”
Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said: "The Prime Minister says the UK has added more capacity for renewables in the last two years than at any time in the last decade.
“Whilst that may be true it has nothing to do with the current Government, there have been no new policies from the Coalition that have resulted in this increasing capacity – this success is inherited - and he surely knows that.
“The Renewable Obligation was inherited, the Feed-in-Tariff was inherited, no new green energy policies have been introduced, indeed the success of the last two years would have been greater if it were not for the actions of this government - specifically the slashing of FiTs rates and the closure of big solar as an industry, because it looked set to boom.
“Mr Cameron says he passionately believes the rapid growth of renewables is vital to our future – but his words don't match the government's deeds to date. In Britain today we face not only a looming energy gap, but a reality gap - between government rhetoric and actual reality. We can't close one gap without closing the other first.”
However, Nathan Goode, head of Energy, Environment and Sustainability at Grant Thornton, commented: "Cameron has pulled a rabbit out of the hat with his first speech on 'green issues'. We have confirmation that this Government remains committed to a diversified low carbon energy mix which is excellent news. Cameron's speech set the record straight with regards to his commitment to renewable and clean energy, and outlined concrete plans to take this sector forward into commercialisation.
"For the clean energy industry to thrive, it must retain a relentless focus on commercialisation. In a report Grant Thornton issued on Monday, we found that organisations globally are looking to clean technologies not simply for CSR reasons, but to save money and increase profitability. This tells us cleantech is going mainstream with the challenges and opportunities that this entails.
"The renewables sector has experienced some turbulence in policy support over the last few months. However, today, we see the Government recognises the importance of this sector and I hope that this pledge of support will be seen as a turning point in producing a successful and effective clean energy industry in the UK."
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