We can no longer ignore the problems facing the global environment and the security of Britain's energy supply. People in Britain are waking up to this, and the recent spat over gas supplies between Russia and Ukraine, together with the knock-on effect in Europe, is a timely reminder of the need for action. The UK's energy supply must be self-sufficient, secure and green.
The basic architecture governing the generation and consumption of electricity in the UK has not changed much since the 1930s, when coal was king, and large, heavily polluting power plants supplied the electricity behind almost every light switch and kettle. But as reported on page 4, Britain now wants energy-hungry devices such as plasma televisions, while still depending on this technology, and they are neither sustainable nor secure. If the UK is going to be competitive economically, it will be on green terms, and tomorrow's problem cannot be solved with yesterday's technology.
The Green Energy Bill, which I am introducing, aims to ensure that tomorrow's technologies will be accessible to all. It will be a major step towards decentralised energy, bringing power, literally, to the people.
People must be able to create their own energy and profit from it, or we will not be able to shift from the model of centralised power that ruins the environment and makes homes and businesses dependent on foreign fossil fuels. The Bill aims to introduce a "feed-in" tariff. It's a way of paying people and businesses for the power they produce. The Conservatives successfully fought for this mechanism in last year's Energy Act, against government opposition, and we will soon be launching a Green Paper on a realistic strategy for achieving a low-carbon economy. My Bill requires the Government to put it in place. If renewable energy is going to be widespread, it has to be economical and easy to install.
This is why the Bill aims to cut bureaucratic blockages in the planning system, making it easier for people, farms and businesses to install renewable energy. Red tape has meant that Britain is miles behind Germany, for example, in creating jobs and improving energy security by installing small-scale renewable technologies.
We start from a weak position. Renewable energy still accounts for only about 5 per cent of the UK's supply. Rooftop wind turbines and air-source heatpumps hardly exist in Britain, where only 1,250 of either of these technologies are installed. All of the microgeneration in the UK put together only reduces emissions by less than 100th of 1 per cent of the total. Yet the potential is huge: homes account for 27 per cent of the country's emissions.
Just as important is the task of making our homes less wasteful. An ambitious programme of small-scale renewable energy could make a major contribution to the fight against the growing problem of fuel poverty.
For many, the hassle and the cost of going green are too great. But reforming the planning system and paying people for the energy they produce will change this. It will mean cheaper bills and more investment in green technologies. And it will give individuals more control over the costs of running a home or businesses.
Peter Ainsworth is opposition spokesman on the environment