Environmentalists warned yesterday that Britain could be denied 30,000 new jobs and jeopardise efforts to cut greenhouse gases if ministers backed away from the pledge to generate 10 per cent of all electricity from renewable sources.
Both in opposition and soon after the election, Labour vowed to put "clean and green" energy sources such as wind farms and wave and solar power at the heart of electricity generation. However, The Independent has learnt that conflicts between the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) and the Treasury have stymied progress on the issue.
To pacify the different departments, the DTI has taken the unusual step of producing two versions of its long-awaited consultation paper on pollution- free energy, one that includes a strong commitment to the 10 per cent target and one that does not. The paper, which has already been delayed by 22 months, was due out this Thursday but now will not be published until next month at the earliest.
It is understood that while John Battle, the Energy minister, is pushing for the target, other ministers and civil servants in the DETR and the Treasury want to water down the pledge. Mr Battle's opponents claim that the 10 per cent figure would mean high levies on business and consumers.
John Prescott, Secretary of State in the department, has already blocked several planning applications for wind farms and is believed to have made his objections - largely relating to the impact on the landscape - clear to the DTI. But if the target is dropped, Mr Battle faces severe embarrassment as he has repeatedly said he wants a "new and strong drive to develop renewable energy".
If the Government did commit itself to a target, it would then be able to place regular orders with the renewable energy industry, providing companies with the stability they claim they need to invest. Green groups claim that the contracts to build wind and wave turbines could breathe life back into Britain's traditional precision engineering base.
Nick Goodall, chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association, said the prospect of the Government backing away from the 10 per cent target was "plain scary. We've got to get it right now or we'll be the poor man of Europe with a laughably small renewables industry. The irony is we can supply all the pollution-free electricity they want if only they'd show a bit more courage," he said.
Ian Taylor, of the environmental campaign group Greenpeace, said that the delays would send a signal to investors that Britain was not the place to come to develop world-beating technology. "The DTI is supposed to be the champion of British industry but this would mean selling our firms down the river... If this is a turf war between departments, then it is appalling... Jobs will be lost while at the same time our environmental future will be forfeited. It's the worst of all worlds."