The government split over George Osborne's dash-for-gas power strategy is set to reopen after an MP at the heart of the debate promised to table an amendment to the Energy Bill in order to make electricity generation almost entirely green by 2030.
Launching a blistering attack on the Chancellor and his pro-gas allies, Tim Yeo, a former Conservative environment minister who now chairs the cross-party Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, said he will table an amendment to the bill to reinstate the legally binding 2030 decarbonisation target.
The target was initially included in the Bill and had the support of Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary. However, it was dropped at the last minute after pressure from Mr Osborne, who feared that it would deter investment in new gas generators, the central power source in his energy vision, which produce fewer emissions than coal and oil-fired stations but more than low-carbon sources such as wind and nuclear.
"I will not stand by and watch the wrong decisions being made on energy policy," said Mr Yeo, who will push for power plants to be made to produce less than 100g of carbon dioxide per kWh of electricity by 2030, compared with about 490g now.
"Lumbering the economy with a centralised power system largely reliant on gas would be like running an office using a fax machine in the age of the iPad," Mr Yeo said, ahead of the first parliamentary debate of the energy Bill today.
Mr Yeo said a compromise agreement between the Tories and Lib Dems to reconsider the decarbonisation target in 2016 is too late because it comes after a key related target on carbon emissions is set to be finalised in 2014. He acknowledged that his proposed amendment paves the way for a potential backbench rebellion against the Government, saying there was a "realistic chance" it would be passed. Labour has said it would support a decarbonisation target, while the Liberal Democrats' party conference backed the original proposal. A number of fellow green-minded Tories may also join Mr Yeo.
Caroline Flint, Labour's shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said: "If Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs are prepared to support Labour's position, there is no reason why we cannot amend the Energy Bill to include a target to decarbonise the power sector by 2030."
Mr Yeo said that gas should certainly form part of Britain's energy mix, but that it should contribute a smaller portion than Mr Osborne envisages. He added that he was in favour of exploiting the country's shale gas reserves. However, he warned that with the huge uncertainty surrounding both the scale of recoverable shale reserves and the viability of the carbon capture and storage technologies – which could reduce CO2 emissions by siphoning them off and storing them underground – it would be "extremely risky" to stake too much of Britain's energy future on gas.