A proposal to make Britain's electricity supply almost entirely green by 2030 was narrowly defeated by MPs today, a result critics say will make it much more difficult for low-carbon energy generators to raise much-needed finance.
Some 267 MPs voted in favour of the amendment to the Energy Bill, which was opposed by 290 MPs, giving a majority of 23.
Advocates of the amendment said the government's lack of commitment to low-carbon energy generation would put off potential backers of wind farms and nuclear power stations and would increase energy bills in the longer term.
Elizabeth Ziga, of Fuel Poverty Action, said: "In failing to set a target on clean energy, the government has yet again let down hard-up UK households," pointing out that the government's Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recently found that a clean power target could save households up to £1,600 on our bills between 2020 and 2050, as the cost of fledgling low-carbon technologies came down.
"Instead, the door has been opened for a new generation of gas power stations, which will mean sky-rocketing fuel bills and more extreme weather due to climate change," she added.
Tim Yeo, the green Tory MP who tabled the amendment, said he was disappointed by the result but added that the high level of support it received would make it harder for the coalition to "water down" its targets on renewable energy generation and carbon emissions in the future.
"This vote has shown that a significant number of coalition supporters are willing to rebel on this issue. There was all-party support for taking this amendment forward and that creates a mood. The government will know that a large number of people will be distressed if they attempt to water down the fourth carbon budget," Mr Yeo said.
George Osborne sent a strong signal in December that he intends to water down Britain's commitment to cutting carbon dioxide emissions between 2023 and 2027 - the period covered by the so-called fourth carbon budget.
If Britain is to meet its legally binding target of reducing emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels, it needs to have cut its carbon footprint by about 55 per cent by 2027, the CCC has advised the government in relation to the fourth in a series of five-year carbon budgets designed to keep the country on track. Although the fourth carbon had been agreed, Mr Osborne won a concession to review it next year, prompting fears that he would seek to set a lower emissions reduction target than recommended by the CCC.