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UK's new Secretary of State for Energy supports green energy, fracking

19 May 2015

Prime Minister David Cameron has appointed Amber Rudd MP as the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The former Climate Change Minister was recently re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Hastings & Rye in Sussex. Rudd was appointed the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in 2012. Before parliament, she pursued a career in investment banking and venture capital.

Rudd replaces Ed Davey, a member of the Liberal Democrat Party that was previously in a coalition government with Cameron's Conservatives. Davey lost his seat during the UK General Election on May 7.

Rudd has a track record as a campaigner for green issues and against climate change, but will be bound by Conservative Party policy. In an interview with the Sunday Times on May 17, she said an immediate priority would be ending onshore wind farm subsidies and ensuring future onshore wind farms had local community support.

Large-scale onshore wind farms must currently be approved by the Planning Inspectorate, but the government intends to hand the decision to local authorities, which will have to consult with local residents first. The legislation will also end subsidies to operators of new onshore wind farms, making it extremely unlikely that any new wind farms will be proposed during this parliament.

Rudd's comments suggest legislation is now likely to appear in the Queen's Speech on 27 May, with the new measures likely to come into effect in May 2016.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, last year suggested the public is "basically fed up" with onshore wind farms, arguing the amount of capacity already in the planning system would be sufficient to deliver on the UK's 2020 renewable power targets. "Enough is enough and I am very clear about that," he said.

However, the party's stance has faced criticism from green groups and the renewable energy industry, which has repeatedly argued that the government's own surveys show 60 to 70% per cent of the British public consistently support onshore wind.

Rudd also said she was keen to fast-track fracking for shale gas and oil, and wanted to revisit legislation passed earlier this year that banned fracking under National Parks.

The previous coalition government agreed to close 13 loopholes in the Infrastructure Bill that could increase the environmental impact of any fracking activity, including a ban on fracking near aquifers or in National Parks, a block on projects that drill at depths of less than 1,000 metres, and new rules governing the measurement and disclosure of methane emissions from fracking operations.

Rudd suggested the government could pass secondary legislation that would effectively allow shale gas to be extracted from National Parks as long as the drilling took place outside the conservation zone.

Another problem she will face is the much-delayed EDF nuclear power station planned for Hinkley Point in Somerset. Although she has expressed support for the £24.6bn project, it is still not finalised, there are questions over the safety of the reactor technology to be used, and further cost escalation could well lead to its cancellation.

Just before the election Rudd said: “We will continue to take action to protect the environment as part of our long-term economic plan for green jobs and growth. However, we will do it in a way that represents the lowest possible cost to consumers - through bearing down on the costs of green energy, driving greater innovation and working with business to deliver solutions.”

Greenpeace said Rudd’s appointment was "hopeful", while Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “The appointment of Rudd is significant in that it shows that the Conservative Party leadership retains its commitment to policies based on sound climate science.”

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