Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey is facing a time-consuming “guerrilla war”, driven by Tory party climate sceptics who are determined to undermine his attempts to green Britain’s electricity supply.
In the latest outbreak of hostilities, sources close to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson briefed journalists that he was being blocked from publishing a joint report with Mr Davey’s department which allegedly undermined the case for on-shore wind farms.
But sources close to Mr Davey rubbished the allegations, saying that Mr Davey had never even seen the document in question, which was at a very early stage. “The idea that anyone here is trying to block its publication is complete nonsense. Ed has not even seen this paper and neither has anyone senior in the department,” one source said.
By contrast, in an interview with his local paper today, Mr Paterson failed to knock down reports of Mr Davey’s attempt to block the research. He told the Shropshire Star that he did not wish to comment, in a move that is likely to further inflame the tensions with Mr Davey.
A senior Liberal Democrat source added that the wind farm report allegation was the latest in a string of aggressive actions by Conservative ministers seeking to water down the Government’s green energy policies.
“Every day there is some sort of attempt to slip something by us and hope we don’t notice. It’s basically a guerrilla war and it’s taking up a lot of time,” said the Lib Dem source.
“It’s certainly not all the Tories but we do have problems with the Treasury and the Environment Department – they seem to be working to their own agenda,” they added.
The biggest tension Mr Davey faces is thought to be his conflict with the Chancellor, who forced the removal of a clause in the Energy Bill, passing through parliament, that would have required the electricity supply to have become almost entirely green by 2030.
That clause has been replaced by one that is considerably weaker – granting the government the power, from 2016, to require Britain’s electricity supply to become almost entirely green at some point in the future, should it vote to do so.
A series of key DECC staff, including senior Energy Bill advisors Ravi Gurumurthy and Jonathan Brearley, have left the department in recent months. It is understood that they had become demoralised by interference from the Treasury.
The Prime Minister has also played a role in undermining Mr Davey. Earlier this month he said there is now “limited potential” for more wind turbines in the UK despite Mr Davey’s strategy that calls for much more.
Last September, Mr Cameron removed energy minister Charles Hendry – who was well respected by the renewable power industry – and installed John Hayes, a well-known opponent to wind power. He was removed from office in March following disagreements with Mr Davey and having alienated many in the energy industry. Mr Davey has fought off recent attempts by the Treasury to water down recently-published commitments to companies thinking of investing in renewable energy. He also had to fight to ensure that stringent safeguards were put in place for fracking in the face of unbridled enthusiasm for shale gas among some of his Tory colleagues.
The latest attack on Mr Davey came in an article in The Daily Telegraph today. This quotes anonymous sources in wind-sceptic Owen Paterson’s Defra as saying Mr Davey was more concerned about “ideology” than scientific evidence.
“They [DECC] don’t want information out there that would allow people to challenge the energy solution that they are going after,” a Defra source told the newspaper.
A Defra spokesman declined to comment on the allegation that DECC was seeking to prevent the publication of windfarm report. Instead, he insisted that the report will be published and peer-reviewed. “DECC and Defra are working together on this report, which is not yet complete, to ensure that it meets the usual standards and quality assurances that you would expect from any government publication,” the Defra spokesman said.