Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne and Conservative MP Caroline Spelman have been appointed Energy and Environment Secretaries following the formation of a Conservative and Lib-Dem coalition.
Chris Huhne, who will hold the portfolio for Energy and Climate Change, is one of five Liberal Democrats to be awarded cabinet positions, including Vince Cable as Business Secretary. Caroline Spelman has been appointed secretary for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Caroline Spelman said: “I am delighted to have been appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The department is responsible for many of the things that are vital to our quality of life - the food we eat, the air we breathe and how we manage the land we live on and the seas that surround our shores. I will work across government and beyond to respond to the challenges of increasing food production, adapting to climate change, protecting our natural environment and ensuring we live sustainably.”
The two parties have agreed a ‘coalition agreement’, with a new programme of measures designed to accelerate the UK towards a low-carbon and environmentally friendly economy. Of particular significance are pledges for the new department to promote energy-from-waste using anaerobic digestion technology – a key Lib-Dem manifesto commitment, and something that the Conservatives have campaigned for while in opposition.
The coalition agreement also sees the two parties combining manifesto commitments to establish a feed-in tariff system, as well as the maintenance of banded Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs). Maintaining the ROC banding system demonstrates a shift in Conservative policy away from the replacement of ROCs with an advanced feed-in tariff system as outlined in its energy manifesto. This will be seen as welcome news by industry experts, who feared that some renewables projects may not reach financial close if the ROC system was disbanded.
Elsewhere, the joint agreement includes the creation of a green investment bank, a policy much promoted by the Liberal Democrats in the run up to the election, measures to make the import or possession of illegal timber a criminal offence and the provision of a floor price for carbon, as well as efforts to persuade the EU to move towards full auctioning of ETS permits.
The news that the former Liberal Democrat environment spokesman could be taking the post has been warmly welcomed by the Renewable Energy Association (REA).
REA head of external affairs Leonie Greene said: “I don’t think anyone can suggest that this is anything other than good news, but he is going to have to get his head around things very quickly. We are all on tenterhooks for further details.”
The new government will need to submit its Action Plan on the UK Renewable Energy Strategy to the European Commission on June 30, leaving little time for Huhne to finalise policy on renewables.