A cross-party amendment to the Energy Bill could require the Government to set a target for decarbonisation by 2014.
The amendment was put forward by the Conservative MP Tim Yeo who chairs the Energy and Climate Change (ECC) Select Committee, and Labour MP Barry Gardiner, the party’s Climate Change Envoy and a member of the ECC Select Committee.
As it stands the Government has said they will set a decarbonisation target for 2030 by 2016, though the commitment is not binding, but if passed the amendment would force them to set a target by April 1 next year.
The amendment would also require the Government to take the advice of the Clmat Change Committee (CCC), the independent body set up to advise the UK Government on setting carbon budgets.
This includes a requirement that the CCC’s advice is made public and that if the Secretary of State for Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change fails to heed the advice, he must explain why.
Mr Gardiner explained that the key driver for the amendment is the need for certainty over energy supply.
He said: “In 2017 to 2018 there is going to be a constriction of energy supply as older stations go off line. We have a European directive taking the older more polluting power stations out of the system and that means there is a chance the lights will go out in that period.
“It is the closest we have come in a long time to having not enough energy to meet our needs so it’s important we get new generating capacity in the system as quickly as possible.”
He said that by delaying the decision on decarbonisation until 2016 the Government was not giving the industry the certainty it needed to plan the building of new stations and therefore increasing the risk that new stations would not be completed by 2017.
He said: “It is a reasonable amendment. It’s an amendment which not only the renewable energy industry supports but many within the fossil fuel industry. They have said we need this target because we need clarity, we need certainty.”
The amendment does not go as far as one submitted by Labour MP Alan Whitehead last month, which demanded the Government limit aggregate electricity emissions across the industry to no more than 50 grams per kWh.
But the requirement to take the advice of the CCC may well result in such a target being set as the organisation has said this is their ideal target, a view echoed in research by the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC).
Mr Gardiner said: “The DECC’s modelling says that 50 g per kWh in operation would be the best for consumers, the best for the fuel poor and the cheapest way of achieving carbon emission reductions.”
The Government is standing by its decision to delay setting the target until 2016, but with Deputy Prime Minister Nick saying recently that he wanted a concrete target on the face of the bill Mr Gardiner is hopeful about the amendment’s chances when it goes to a vote in a few weeks’ time.
“Given that the Deputy Prime Minister is in favour of these targets, we are actually less radical than he is being on this. So I’m hoping he will give the signal to Lib Dem MPs that this is something they should support,” he said.
“I believe a number of Conservative MPs realise this is a moderate, sensible amendment and it’s helping us get over what is potentially a crisis in energy supply in 2017 to 2018.
“I hope a number of them sign up and if that happens it’s certainly possible that the amendment would be carried.”
Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton hailed the amendment as a “green jobs amendment” that would “put the UK at the heart of the green energy revolution”.
He said: “The Lib Dems are now firmly in the spotlight. Will they honour their recent party conference pledge to support a decarbonisation target, or back George Osborne’s reckless dash for gas?
“The Energy Bill will shape the future of our energy system for a generation – MPs must act decisively to cut carbon, protect us from spiralling fossil fuel costs and create a thriving green economy.”
RenewableUK, which represents the renewable energy industry, also welcomed the amendment.
Director of External Affairs, Jennifer Webber, said: “We welcome the fact that this crucial amendment has been put forward by two senior figures, from both Conservative and Labour sides. Setting a decarbonisation target for 2030 as early as possible is vital if we are to attract long term investment into the UK’s energy sector. This will secure more than 76,000 jobs in the wind industry by 2021, transforming UK manufacturing.
“This far-reaching proposal provides Government with a clear opportunity to send a strong signal that it is committed to the transition to a low-carbon economy beyond 2020 – we would urge all those working on the Energy Bill to ensure that that this opportunity will not be missed”.
But a DECC spokesman said: “We have already proposed that an amendment is made to the Energy Bill to enable us to set a 2030 target for the electricity sector in 2016. This is being laid today.
“It is right to wait until 2016 as this will ensure that the target is set at the same time as the fifth carbon budget, which covers the corresponding period (i.e. 2028-32), and that it fits within the overall framework of the Climate Change Act.
“This means that a target would not be set in isolation but in the context of considering the pathway of the whole economy towards our 2050 target, and making sure we do that in a way that minimises costs both to the economy as a whole and to bill payers.
“The UK Government is fully committed to decarbonising the economy and achieving our long term carbon reduction targets”.