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Q&A With Charles Hendry
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Q&A With Charles Hendry

In May 2010 Charles Hendry was appointed as Minister of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and now presides over the biggest decisions that affect the renewable energy sector. Finn Langley talks to him about conflicting manifestos, coalition’s plans for renewable energy and his personal motivations.   

Q. Has a sense of morality played a part in your decision to take up politics? If so, how does this affect your decision making process on policy?

A. One thing that really does spur me on in my role as a Minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change is the fact that what we do now will have a profound effect on our children and our children’s children. Our part in this is to create a legacy of environmental stewardship by doing things like tackling climate change, and using low-carbon energy sources.

Q. What is your view on Climate Change? What sort of priority should government give to addressing this?

A.  We need to act now to tackle climate change. We’re doing this by finding ways to reduce the carbon intensity of our energy use, becoming more energy efficient and pushing for more ambition on climate change internationally. This will also bring economic opportunity too.

David Cameron said he wants this to be the greenest government ever, so I think that really underlines the importance attached to the work of my Department.

Q. On a personal level, have you and your family taken measures to cut down your carbon footprint? If so, what?

A. I walk to work in the mornings and I’ve planted trees at home in my constituency.

In the home I am conscious of cutting back on wasting energy so I try to follow the Energy Saving Trust’s advice. Things like not leaving the TV on standby, turning the thermostat down and switching lights off. I have also replaced all the bulbs in my home with energy saving ones.

Q. You worked closely with all of the leaders of the Conservative Party for the last three decades, who would you say had the greatest commitment to developing renewable energy as a secure, safe and cost-effective method of addressing the potential UK energy crisis?

A. Well I think all the Party leaders I’ve worked for have believed that tackling climate change needs to happen, and part of doing that is - of course - getting more energy from renewables. The current Prime Minister wants this to be the greenest government ever, so I think his commitment to decarbonising our energy mix is strong.

Q. The Liberal Democrats were against the development of new nuclear facilities in their pre-election manifesto. What changes has the appointment of Chris Huhne as the DECC SoS made to the Department?

A. Let us be clear, there is a coalition agreement in place and the Secretary of State and I are in absolute agreement that new nuclear can be part of our energy mix, as long as there is no public subsidy. Since the coalition took office, the Office for Nuclear Development has continued its sterling work in removing the barriers to investment in new nuclear.

Q. Which of the energy policies that you inherited from the Labour government have you found most frustrating?

A. One thing from the legacy of the last government that we’re determined to improve on is our performance on renewable energy. In the EU, only Luxembourg and Malta source less energy from renewables than us, and that is a travesty considering the plentiful wind and wave resources we have in the UK.

Q. There are lots of renewable energy harvesting formats and given the ROC banding it seems surprising that there has been such a large take-up of offshore wind. Why do you think this is the case? Is this set to continue?

A. It doesn’t surprise me a great deal actually. The UK has one of the best offshore wind profiles in the world and we’re determined to keep our place as a world leader in this field.

Q. A frequent criticism of the renewable energy sector is the level of government subsidy it receives.  How do you justify these subsidies during this period of austerity?

A. Wind energy – particularly offshore – is still a relatively infant industry and that’s why we need to help it along. We may be in a difficult financial climate but areas like offshore wind are growth sectors, and the kind of areas which will bring us green jobs and economic prosperity as we get the country back on its feet.

Q. The Thanet off shore wind farm was built by a Swedish firm that received £1.2bn in UK subsidies. Only 30% of the man hours worked on the project were by British workers. Can you put in place measures to ensure British industry receives the benefit of future investment?

A. It is a reality that some of the investment in the UK’s energy infrastructure will come from abroad, but we of course want the UK to benefit as much as possible. Improving the UK skills base and our manufacturing capability will help do that.

Q. Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, recently described the Thanet farm as “just the beginning” calling it the start of the “third industrial revolution”. What proportion of GDP do you think that renewables could potentially generate in the future?

A. Ofgem have estimated that we need around £200bn of investment in energy infrastructure over the next decade or so, and this will amount to something of a revolution. We have a target for 15% of all our energy from renewables, and this will present lucrative opportunities for investors.

Q. What would be your ideal achievement be in office as Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change be that would make you think ‘my work here is done’?

A. I’m not sure that on energy and climate change we will ever be able to simply pack up and go home thinking the work is done! Having said that I will be a happy man when we have secured investment we need in our energy infrastructure.

Q. What is the government policy on establishing a price for carbon?

A. We want to set a floor price. However, a wide range of options are under consideration in our work on Electricity Market Reform, not just a carbon price floor. A consultation setting out these different options will be published in November.

Q. What do you believe is the minimum ‘price of carbon’ that is needed to make utilities invest in new nuclear plant?

A. This is what our consultation will attempt to discover, but of course the higher the carbon price, the more attractive investment in low carbon energy becomes.

Q. Over half of DECC’s budget goes towards decommissioning and clean up of legacy nuclear facilities. Is this set to continue during the lifetime of this government?

A. It does take up a large share of our budget – but it is necessary work. I cannot give you specific numbers on how much will be spent in this area at this stage but dealing with our nuclear legacy safely and securely is vital and we are well aware of this.

Q. Are plans for the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process likely to be affected by cuts, or is this a ring-fenced policy with guaranteed funding?

A. It is a long-term process and we will work closely with potential host communities on this. As with all Government spending, we must give it the appropriate scrutiny, but we are committed to a long term geological disposal solution.


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