Labour MP Challenges Grant Shapps To Justify "Insane" Onshore Wind Ban
The government maintained the effective ban on onshore wind farms in its energy and net zero strategy this year (Alamy)
Labour MP Barry Gardiner has said the government's decision to keep the effective moratorium on building new onshore wind farms is “insane” and is keen for the chance to challenge the Energy Security and Net Zero secretary to justify the government's Net Zero plans to MPs.
Gardiner, who sits on the new cross-party select committee formed to scrutinise the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), criticised the government for failing to use “the cheapest form of energy we can get”.
He told PoliticsHome: “There's local opposition in certain places to it, but there was local opposition, I assume, to coal mines in their day. Did it stop anybody living close to a coal mine? No."
The government has maintained the effective ban on onshore wind farms, which has been in place since David Cameron was PM, in its energy and net zero strategy published earlier this year, despite indications Sunak was looking to ditch it. Labour leader Keir Starmer has said he would scrap the ban if his party was in government.
Gardiner was keen to highlight the economic as well as environmental benefits of wind-power, such as greating jobs to maintain it.
"We have to look at this as a huge win for our economy, it's not just erecting wind turbines, it’s about creating an industry behind it in this country where we're not reliant on foreign energy companies," he explained.
"I want us to be creating the jobs and the clusters here in the UK, where we are manufacturing this for ourselves, we're actually creating that industry and growing the jobs.”
This issue will be top of Gardiner's agenda if he gets the opportunity to grill DESNZ secretary Grant Shapps about the government's Net Zero plans, and the committee is keen for Shapps to face MPs as soon as possible.
He said they will prioritise getting the Cabinet minister to set out “benchmarks” on the 'road to net zero' emissions, after criticism the UK could miss its targets to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030 and fully decarbonise by 2050.
Gardiner, who served in former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow Cabinet, said he wants to know what Shapps’ ambitions are for his new department, which was split out from the old Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department (BEIS), in Rishi Sunak's last Cabinet reshuffle.
Gardiner said the committee held a private meeting last week with Jonathan Brearley, chair of energy regulator Ofgem, which has come under fire for the way it has handled the energy crisis of the past 18 months, and was labelled “incompetent” by the old BEIS committee last year.
“We will want to know what Grant Shapps thinks and whether he's now confident that Ofgem is fit for purpose,” he said.
“We will want to ask him about his priorities for upskilling the workforce, we will want to ask him about the whole energy efficiency programme, and I've no doubt at some stage we'll want to find out how he sees the progress towards net zero.
“So I think what we'll need from him is to get him to set a series of benchmarks in the ground that we can then hold them to, and the skill of our questioning will need to be in getting them nailed down.”
Beyond holding the government to account on Net Zero he said the 11-person committee, chaired by longstanding SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil, has not decided where else it will focus its enquiries.
“We're delaying putting in place our forward programme until we have met with stakeholders, which is what we're doing this week,” Gardiner explained.
“I hope it'll be a bit of a ‘Dragon's Den’, and stakeholders will come and pitch ideas on what they think we ought to be looking at, and then we can then come to some conclusions in a private session.
“My own view is that this is going to be quite a difficult committee to chair because there will be very divergent views on some things, and there will be quite similar views on others.”
While he did feel the committee would be likely to find common ground on issues such as improving the electric vehicle charging network, Gardiner said he feared the cross-party committee are not all on the same page on an increase in nuclear power capacity – something Gardiner is sceptical of, but many Tories favour.
Pointing out the decommissioning programme of existing nuclear power stations that have reached the end of their lifespan has already cost “hundreds of billions of pounds”, he added: “I think the talk of ‘small modular reactors’ is that ‘well, we’ve had submarines for a long time and that doesn't seem to cause a problem’.
"But the fact is that this is dangerous material, and because it's small, doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to go away any quicker, and you do have to dispose of it, ultimately.
“But this is, from an environmentalist point of view, where we've gone wrong for so long, we’ve considered all those costs as externalities, that we don't need to take those into account, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
“And if you're really serious about the environment, you can't do that.”
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