Influential UK peer calls for new emphasis on renewables

Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency in the UK, is to warn against downgrading of renewable energy as economic woes continue, and has also thrown his weight behind support for nuclear power.

The Financial Times reports that the former Labour culture secretary is to make a rare intervention (through a Royal Society of Arts speech), and call on the government to “acknowledge and respect” that environmental policy is essential and not an optional extra.

The speech is to be made as the coalition is shedding several green commitments in order to focus on economic growth. “We can’t abandon either green or growth,” the peer is quoted as saying in the FT.

Lord Smith will cite the example of Britain’s failure to be a market leader in wind turbine production, despite having done pioneering work in the sector 20 years ago. “Let’s not make the same mistake with the development of wave and tidal power,” he will say.

Britain is leading the technology in wave power, with seven out of the eight full-scale prototypes anywhere in the world. Lord Smith, who is a crossbench peer – despite his Labour background – will say that the global market for wave power could be huge “but we need to get our skates on”.

George Osborne, the chancellor, has shifted away from the green agenda to an extent, emphasizing that environmental measure not come at the expense of the economy.

However Lord Smith says that this is not the correct approach despite it being inevitable that during a recession the green agenda would sometimes overtaken by more bread-and-butter issues.

The peer is also set to admit support for both fracking (to exploit natural gas) and nuclear power.

“If you had asked me 20 years ago about nuclear power, I would have take the traditional green view and said something like ‘over my dead body’,” he will say. “To achieve decarbonisation of our power, nuclear has to be part of the answer.”

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