Environmental groups have given a sceptical response to comments made by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne at the Liberal Democrats' party conference today (21 September).
Huhne reiterated the coalition's pledge to be the "greenest government ever".
He promised to create 250,000 jobs in green industries, including many employed to insulate 26 million homes.
“We use more energy to heat our homes than Sweden, where it's seven degrees colder in January,” said Huhne, “We might as well be standing outside burning £50 notes”.
He announced a “green deal” under which companies will pay upfront to insulate homes, with householders paying back from the resulting energy savings.
Despite the Liberal Democrats' previous opposition to nuclear power, Huhne said he would “deliver” on the coalition's agreement “that there is an important place for new nuclear stations in our energy mix as long as there is no public subsidy”.
He justified this by saying that Conservative ministers are themselves delivering on Liberal Democrat policies which made it into the coalition agreement.
Martyn Williams of Friends of the Earth said, "Chris Huhne is right to say that being the greenest government ever is a necessity - but the real challenge is whether he can deliver these ambitious plans when his coalition partners are poised to slash his budget in next month's spending review”.
Williams suggested that the coalition's cuts could hit existing policies to support renewable energy.
He added, “How green this government truly is will be put to the test in the imminent spending review and Energy Bill."
The Labour Party's Ed Miliband accused Chris Huhne of being insufficiently committed to the nuclear industry. But the Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, said that he was putting too much trust in nuclear power.
Lucas described Huhne's speech as “a combination of half-hearted measures and bad policy”.
She said, “He’s wrong about nuclear. It won’t deliver emissions cuts fast enough or big enough”.
She dismissed his claims that there would be no public subsidies for nuclear power, suggesting that the nuclear industry's failure to pay its full waste and decommissioning costs, is itself a subsidy.
“Instead of weasel words, the Lib Dems should be offering robust and ambitious policy change – yet this was clearly lacking” insisted Lucas.