Comment: Does Ed Davey have what it takes to replace Chris Huhne?

Huhne was respected by green campaigners. What can Ed Davey do to earn the same reputation?

By Andy Atkins

A week is a long time in politics. And new energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey has certainly made a significant impression since his sudden promotion.

He says his political career was sparked by green concerns and on his first day in the job he was quick to set out his stall, acknowledging the impact of expensive fossil fuel imports on our soaring fuel bills and enthusing about the potential of renewable power.

And on Thursday he was in Cumbria opening the world’s biggest offshore wind farm.

But the first real test of his commitment to a clean energy future came with the government’s response to its disastrous proposals to reform subsidy payments for solar energy schemes.

The initial plans, announced late last year, pulled the rug from under a booming clean industry and put 30,000 jobs in jeopardy – rightly triggering loud protest from the solar industry, green groups and business bodies.

It also turned legal firepower on to Davey’s future department. The proposal to introduce the lower payments in December, before the official consultation into the move had even closed, was declared illegal by the high court and then the court of appeal following legal challenges by Friends of the Earth and two solar firms, Solarcentury and HomeSun.

On Thursday Mr Davey’s department took the first real steps to sorting out the solar mess it has created by making a number of welcome amendments to its solar subsidy plans.

More cash was found to secure the scheme and the government promised its support for a huge increase in solar power by the end of the decade. This was very welcome news – although the government’s insistence that it plans to appeal against our successful legal challenge in the supreme court was disappointing.

But much remains to be done.

Schools, hospitals and housing associations can play a key role in developing a clean energy future, and current plans must be altered to enable them to plug into solar power. Community energy has long been championed by the Liberal Democrats – including Ed Davey – so hopes are high that this is on the new energy secretary’s to do list.

However, the key challenge for Mr Davey is fixing the UK’s broken energy system – by taking decisive action to wean the economy off its expensive reliance on gas and coal and support clean British energy.

To do this he must take on the power of the big six energy firms. These companies have been controlling our energy system for far too long and keeping the nation hooked on fossil fuels.

It's scandalous that shareholders are raking in bumper profits while cash-strapped families struggle to pay soaring fuel bills. A public inquiry into the power and influence of the energy giants is long overdue.

Despite the anti-green spin coming from the Treasury it’s clear that a clean energy future makes economic sense too. High fossil fuel prices are here to stay, so investing now in clean energy will secure our energy supplies and lay firm foundations for an affordable future.

Of course it’s still early days. But if Ed Davey can play his part in persuading David Cameron to face down the Treasury and keep his now rather threadbare pledge to lead the greenest government ever he will find a strong ally in Friends of the Earth.

Andy Atkins is executive director of Friends of the Earth

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