The Government faces a cross-party rebellion that could see MPs back a plan to make electricity generation almost entirely green by 2030.
The Conservative chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, Tim Yeo, has tabled an amendment to the Government’s Bill that would significantly limit the amount of carbon that can be emitted from power stations over the next 20 years.
The dramatic move, which would require ministers to introduce a decarbonisation target for the power sector by April next year, is being officially opposed by the Government, which wants the freedom to build up to 40 new gas power stations to provide for Britain’s energy needs. But significantly the carbon cut target is Liberal Democrat policy and many of the party’s backbench MPs are expected to defy the Government whip to support the amendment. Labour will also back the move as will some pro-green Conservative MPs – potentially enough to defeat the Government.
The Energy Secretary Ed Davey is known to have argued for the target in the run-up to the bill’s publication but lost out in the Whitehall battle with the Chancellor George Osborne.
Last night one Westminster source said Mr Davey would not be “distraught” if backbench Lib Dems defied the Government whip to back the amendment.
If passed, the amendment would undermine Mr Osborne’s dash-for-gas strategy and widen the rift between the Chancellor and Mr Davey. Gas plants produce more than four times as much carbon dioxide per unit of electricity generated than the average minimum likely to be allowed under the 2030 target.
Barry Gardiner, Ed Miliband’s climate change envoy, said he would be “very surprised” if any Labour MPs voted against the amendment.
Furthermore, he aims to “maximise Conservative support” by putting the amendment into secondary legislation and by leaving the Energy and Climate Change Committee to give guidance on the precise decarbonisation target at a later date. “There is a very real possibility that we could win this,” Mr Gardiner said.
Mr Yeo said that a target would remove doubt in the minds of potential investors in low-carbon energy projects. He also suggested that his amendment could be supported by a number of Conservative MPs:
“The key for them I suspect will be the reaction of the business community. If they say this will support investment and jobs then that is the kind of argument that will sway my party colleagues.”