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Go-ahead for green energy projects
Eight new renewable energy projects have been given Government contracts in a move that will increase household bills by 2%, Energy Secretary Ed Davey has said.
But Mr Davey insisted that the increase should not be seen in isolation and the overall impact of Government policy would bring energy bills down.
The renewable projects will create 8,500 jobs, attract £12 billion in private investment, and prove "critical" in securing Britain's clean energy supply, he said.
Mr Davey told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "You've got, for example, energy efficiency, product standards, which are all reducing the amounts of energy that people need and therefore cutting their bills.
"If you see something in isolation, yes, you can say 'Well, that's putting up costs a bit' but actually, if you take the whole package, not only are we reducing people's bills overall but we're getting the secure, clean energy that we need to make sure our consumers and our businesses get the energy they need."
The Liberal Democrat minister also confirmed that the Government was looking at changing trespass laws to give companies the right to carry out fracking under private land.
Asked whether such a provision could be included in June's Queen's Speech, Mr Davey told the programme: "The real issue is the fracking process. It's something we are looking at. It is possible already under existing law to go to the courts to get permission.
"We are looking at the what are called access rights, not just for shale gas fracking but also for geothermal, because if you are going deep down in the ground, these are very deep depths, a mile underground in some cases, and you're then going horizontally under a number of landowners' land.
"The question for both geothermal and shale gas is what is the way to make sure those landowners are compensated and those projects can go ahead?"
The projects will each be awarded one of the Government's Contracts for Difference, which will effectively guarantee prices at which suppliers sell energy.
Mr Davey said the contracts will help ease fears over energy security in light of the crisis in Ukraine.
"What you're getting, actually, is secure energy, because this is home-grown energy, particularly with the large five offshore wind farms," he said.
"We know with the situation in Ukraine, the concerns about energy security.
"You are also getting clean energy because we've seen, with the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, the costs of climate change could be huge if we don't tackle our carbon emissions.
RenewableUK, the trade association for wind, wave and tidal power, welcomed the news but said Britain needs far more wind farms if it wants to secure its energy supply.
Deputy chief executive Maf Smith said: "We could see over 100,000 people working in the wind and marine energy sector over the next decade, and Government backing here will give the supply chain confidence to invest in the UK, with costs falling as the clean energy industry develops and scales up.
"However, we need far more onshore and offshore wind projects over the next decade if we're not to find our energy security threatened, and the UK further exposed to price shocks from imported fossil fuels, so it's important that the Contracts for Difference regime works for all renewable energy projects, not just those that have secured early contracts."
The projects will power more than three million homes by producing 4.5GW of electricity.
Here is a list of the schemes handed the Government contracts:
:: Beatrice offshore wind in Outer Moray Firth, Scotland.
:: Burbo bank extension offshore wind in Liverpool Bay.
:: Biomass conversion of Drax power station in North Yorkshire.
:: Dudgeon offshore wind in the Wash, north of Cromer in Norfolk.
:: Hornsea 1 offshore wind in the North Sea off the Yorkshire coast.
:: Biomass conversion of Lynemouth power station in Ashington, Northumberland.
:: Teesside biomass power station with combined heat and power in Middlesbrough.
:: Walney extension offshore wind in the Irish Sea.
Shadow energy minister Julie Elliott said: "This is a case of too little, too late.
"Investment in renewables has halved under the Tories, putting jobs and our climate-change commitments at risk.
"The news that the Government is moving forward with eight projects is welcome, but does not make up for four years of wasted opportunities.
"Only Labour has plans to freeze energy bills to 2017 and to reset the failing energy market, reintroducing the fairness and transparency that is vital for investors and consumers alike."
Green Party energy spokesman Andrew Cooper said: "While positive, the UK is still way behind other EU countries in terms of the percentage of our energy sourced from renewables.
"Only Malta and Luxembourg produce a smaller percentage of their energy from renewable sources.
"The most cost-effective way to increase the proportion of our energy that is sourced from renewables is by addressing energy demand.
"We need a large-scale national programme to improve the energy efficiency of buildings through mass area-based insulation projects.
"By cutting the Energy Company Obligation the Government has significantly reduced investment in these sort of energy efficiency programmes."
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Alasdair Cameron said: "With the crisis in Ukraine focusing minds on UK energy security it's good that the Government recognises renewable energy to be our best, and most available, solution.
"These projects will attract billions of pounds of investment and provide thousands of new jobs, but the potential is huge and there's a lot more to play for - we've got some of the best wind, wave and tidal resources worldwide.
"The Government must prioritise cutting energy waste and further increasing renewable power, and abandon its reckless pursuit of fracking, which is dirty, unpopular and will not deliver for years.
"But we need to be wary of false solutions. Burning some kinds of biomass on an industrial scale risks destroying forests and could be even worse for the climate than coal."