Bloomberg News

U.K.’s Huhne Defends Renewables From ‘Armchair Engineers’

October 26, 2011

(Updates with Huhne comments from third paragraph)

Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said renewable technologies could trigger a third industrial revolution and attacked climate skeptics who say they’re “uneconomic, unreliable and unwanted.”

Huhne targeted “armchair engineers” who deny renewable energy can meet Britain’s future electricity demand, in a speech today in Manchester.

His comments come as governments across Europe cut renewable subsidies to bolster public funds in the wake of the growing sovereign debt crisis. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said this month the U.K., which makes up less than 2 percent of global carbon emissions compared with 25 percent for China and 18 percent for the U.S., won’t cut carbon emissions faster than its European counterparts.

There was “a lot of overblown exaggeration” of the differences between Osborne’s comments and the government’s carbon emissions-cutting targets, Huhne later told reporters. “We are working on a package to help energy-intensive industries and I am as committed to that as any other minister of the government.”

The U.K. must cut its carbon emissions by 34 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Osborne said Oct. 3 that a “decade of environmental laws” was piling costs on energy bills of households and companies.

‘Providing Jobs’

“At a time when closures and cuts dominate the news cycle, next-generation industries are providing jobs just as in the recovery after the last deep depression in 1929 to 1931,” Huhne told the conference organized by RenewableUK, a wind and marine industry lobby group.

The minister also defended subsidies for renewable energy that garnered criticism as the government tackles austerity measures. Subsidies for fossil fuels outstrip those for renewables worldwide by a factor of five, according to Huhne.

“We subsidize renewables to bring on deployment and reduce costs. And we’ve seen some remarkable successes: the cost of solar energy just keeps on tumbling,” he said.

That pressure on public finances “means we cannot support everything at the level we otherwise would,” Huhne said. The government this month announced proposals for new levels at which clean power technologies are supported with an incentive known as the renewables obligation. It included planned cuts in support for onshore wind farms.

Huhne was “very confident” that funds allocated under a contest to pay for the first trial carbon capture and storage plant will go to another project after the government canceled plans to finance a program to trap and store emissions from power generation planned by Iberdrola SA.

“We’ve already had an expression of interest from SSE Plc to put forward Peterhead as a carbon capture and storage gas project,” he told reporters. SSE, the Perth, Scotland-based utility, is planning a CCS project at its gas-fired station in Peterhead.

--Editors: Stephen Cunningham, Reed Landberg.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sally Bakewell in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at

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