Minister says Yorkshire ‘can be thankful’ for Lib Dem influence

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hey say politics can be a lonely place. It must certainly feel that way sometimes for Ed Davey.

Since taking up what he calls his “dream job” as Energy and Climate Change Secretary in February, following the enforced resignation of Liberal Democrat colleague Chris Huhne, Mr Davey has faced a fairly relentless battle against the dark forces of the Treasury.

For all the Prime Minister’s distant promise of creating the “greenest Government ever”, the reality is that every effort to squeeze out extra money for green energy policies – be they subsidies for wind or solar power, or investment in ‘clean coal’ technology – has been met with fierce resistance from elements within the Conservative party.

Even against that backdrop, Mr Davey must have watched this month’s Government reshuffle unfold with a vague sense of horror, as allies were weeded out one by one by David Cameron and replaced with new Ministers of a more sceptical hue.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman was the most high-profile victim, her brief handed to a politician, Owen Paterson, who thinks wind farms are “ineffective” and human activity merely an “element” of global warming.

The key job of Planning Minister was given to Nick Boles, who describes countryside campaigners as “hysterical, scaremongering latter-day luddites”.

Even wthin his own department, Mr Davey saw the pro-renewables Charles Hendry pushed out in favour of another wind farm opponent, John Hayes.

Friendly faces, for a man who has been a passionate green activist since his university days, are few and far between.

But it seems the Tory frontbench shake-up merely stiffened Lib Dem resolve to maintain control over the vital energy brief.

“We have a Liberal Democrat Minister running this department because Liberal Democrats have for many years made it a top priority for us,” Mr Davey said, speaking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of his party’s autumn conference, which gets underway in Brighton this morning.

“One of the reasons I got into politics was I believed we needed to ‘green’ our economy. I’m delighted to be at the centre of creating the policies that do that.”

Despite the obvious difficulties, he is reluctant to criticise the more enviro-sceptic members of the new-look Government team.

In public, at least, he insists the coalition is working well together on the daunting task of transforming Britain’s energy infrastructure.

“Although Liberal Democrats have for many years been the trailblazers in this area, I think other parties have had to move on to this because they can see the economic logic as well as the environmental logic,” Mr Davey said.

“We actually have very good working relationships across the coalition. Obviously I get huge support from (fellow Lib Dem cabinet members) Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander and Vince Cable, but there are a lot of Conservative colleagues who really understand that we have to do this both to promote growth – because energy is at the centre of our growth strategy – and also because we need to do it to make Britain’s contribution to tackling climate change.”

His insistence that energy policy be at the heart of Britain’s economic revival should be music to the ears ofstrategists in Yorkshire, who increasingly pit their hopes on an industrial revival for the region based around the manufacture of offshore wind turbines on the Humber and the creation of a massive carbon capture and storage (CCS) network across the south and west ridings.

It is a vision the Lib Dems say they share.

“Green energy is powering growth across the country, but particularly in areas like Yorkshire,” Mr Davey said. “There is huge potential which we are only beginning to untap.

“I think Yorkshire can be thankful that Liberal Democrats have spearheaded the push for green growth.”

CCS is currently top of Mr Davey’s inbox, with the Government’s long-delayed £1bn funding competition for the best ‘clean coal’ project in the country now nearing its conclusion.

Three of the seven proposed projects left on the table are based in the Yorkshire region – ‘clean coal’ power stations at Hatfield, Selby and North Killingholme.

All are desperate for Government funding to get off the ground. And after years of delay at DECC, Mr Davey said a decision is finally about to be made.

“There are some very good projects there,” Mr Davey said. “I expect us to be making announcements in October or November.”

The previous government had pledged to part-fund four CCS schemes with the £1bn. Intriguingly, however, it is possible Mr Davey may prefer to pour all the money into a single project, to ensure at least one demonstrator scheme gets off the ground.

“That is the six million dollar question,” Mr Davey said. “I’m afraid I can’t answer that.”

In the months that follow he will have controversial decisions to make about onshore wind subsidies and shale gas drilling, the launch of the Government’s flagship Green Deal programme and a new wave of nuclear power stations to oversee – a challenging list of tasks indeed.

He insists he is up to the task.

“This is my dream job and I am determined to do it with every power that I’ve got,” he said.