November 19, 2012 9:36 pm

Cameron refuses to muzzle energy minister

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Wind turbines of German alternative energy producer Energiequelle©Getty

David Cameron has rejected a Liberal Democrat demand that he strip his energy minister of green energy responsibilities, in a sign of escalating coalition tensions over Britain’s future power strategy.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat energy secretary, wrote to the prime minister urging him to take action against John Hayes after the Conservative energy minister seemed to challenge coalition support for building more onshore wind farms.

But in a move certain to delight Conservative rightwingers, Mr Cameron has made clear he has no intention of shifting Mr Hayes, who is responsible for renewable energy deployment.

“The prime minister is in charge and John Hayes is staying in his current role,” said a Tory official. “The prime minister is determined that he should stay exactly where he is.”

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron’s team say the prime minister has also got his way over his controversial declaration last month that Britain’s hard-pressed energy consumers should be put on the lowest tariff by their power company.

Mr Davey is expected to tell MPs on Tuesday that he will hold a consultation to ensure that companies use the information they have about customers to put them on the lowest appropriate tariff.

Energy companies are worried ministers may also decide they will have to write to their most vulnerable customers telling them about rivals’ tariffs if they are cheaper.

In depth

Climate change

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When the prime minister made his announcement last month, Downing Street officials were unable to explain what Mr Cameron meant or how his objective would be achieved. However one aide to the prime minister said: “This is [an] absolute win for him: what he said is what will be carried out.”

Mr Davey’s team refused to comment on his letter to Mr Cameron, but Tory officials say the Lib Dem energy secretary wanted Mr Cameron to either muzzle or move Mr Hayes. Asked whether Mr Cameron had replied, one ally of the prime minister said: “I don’t think so.”

Mr Hayes, a well-known wind power sceptic whose appointment in the September reshuffle raised eyebrows, told reporters a month after taking office it was no longer possible to “have wind turbines imposed on communities” and “peppered” throughout the country.

Mr Davey publicly repudiated him, but this did not stop Mr Hayes telling Channel 4 last week that there were already enough wind farms being built or developed to meet green energy targets.

The row comes amid a coalition stand-off over an energy bill designed to spur billions of pounds of investment in low carbon generation that Mr Davey is due to present to parliament before the end of the month.

The divisions prompted the WWF environmental group to take out full page newspaper advertisements on Tuesday urging Mr Cameron to take control and prove he still believes in climate change policies.

WWF took Mr Cameron on a trip to the Arctic in 2006 in what became known as the “hug-a-husky” trip that helped burnish his green credentials.

“There is now a complete breakdown in government energy and climate change policy, sending mixed signals to investors and undermining job creation,” said WWF’s David Nussbaum. “David Cameron’s continued silence would be a betrayal not just of the prime minister’s election promises, but of the UK national interest.”

Additional reporting by Sylvia Pfeifer

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