Big climate shoes to fill say solar supporters as UK reshuffles Cabinet

Yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle of the U.K.’s coalition government saw former energy and climate change minister Greg Barker resign from his post as British Prime Minister David Cameron sought to reposition his closest cabinet members ahead of next May’s general election.

Joining Barker out the door was environment secretary Owen Paterson, but it was Barker’s removal from office that drew the most sympathy from the U.K.’s renewable energy industry.

The chief executive for the Renewable Energy Assocation (REA), Nina Skorupska, issued a statement thanking Greg Barker for his leadership on green energy. "Greg Barker was the only DECC [Department of Energy and Climate Change] minister to have been in post since the last election. Not only did he bring stability to the department, he also brought passion and enthusiasm," said the statement.

"Although during his stewardship he had to make tough decisions we didn’t agree with, there is no doubt that Greg was a champion for green business."

Howard Johns, former head of the Solar Trade Association (STA) and founder of Southern Solar, told pv magazine that although the British solar landscape had endured some real struggles under Barker’s tenure, he did understand the realities of climate change and was a keen supporter of solar in the U.K.

"He has appeared at time to be anti-ground mount, but both that and rooftop solar have grown dramatically during his time in office," said Johns. "From the time I spent with him it seems he genuinely wants to see a low carbon transition, so it is a shame that he has been moved on."

New faces receive mixed response

The REA said that it is looking forward to working with the new energy, environment, communities and transport ministers Matt Hancock, Amber Rudd, Liz Truss, Penny Mordaunt, Claire Perry and John Hayes, adding: "We hope they seize the opportunities for new investments and jobs in renewable power, heating and transport fuels."

However, Howard Johns warned that there would be no soft landing for the new faces. "They have an early test in that there is both an open consultation on the future of large-scale solar in the U.K. underway, as well as a damages claim in the high court following illegal cuts to the feed-in tariff (FIT).

"It seems that Matt Hancock has a mixed records in his feelings towards renewable energy, so we will have to wait and see whether he is supportive of the sector."

During a screening yesterday of environmental documentary Years of Living Dangerously, hosted by Barker, the former minister told the audience that he was to leave politics altogether after next year’s election. "Although I’m leaving politics, climate change and care for our planet is the cause of my life," he said. "I’m not going to wander off and leave it behind. My role might change […] but I want to ensure you that this is something I care passionately about and that passion is undimmed after four years in government."

Accepting Barker’s "resignation" (which, during a typical U.K. cabinet reshuffle, is anything but), Prime Minister David Cameron said: "You have served continuously on the Conservative front bench for over a decade, and I hope you can be enormously proud of all you have achieved over the years, covering the related briefs of environment and, more recently, climate change."

As incoming energy minister, Matt Hancock walked straight into a barrage of negative headlines, not least from the Guardian, who accused the Conservative of being an opponent of renewable energy. Liz Truss, new environment minister, was also accused of being opposed to the sector, having called renewable energy "extremely expensive" and damaging during a TV debate last October.