[UNITED KINGDOM] Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Survives backbench revolt over renewable energy policy

Prime Minister Gordon Brown last night suffered his biggest Commons rebellion since taking over as prime minister when 35 Labour MPs - half the government's majority - voted against the government in favour of an amendment to the energy bill that would have encouraged the take up of renewable energy technologies.

Although the amendment was ultimately defeated, the introduction of a so-called feed-in tariff, which rewards renewable generators of electricity with a fixed price for electricity they feed into the grid, has drawn widespread support from MPs and organisations.

Alan Simpson MP, who had proposed the amendment with strong crossparty support, said: "This is an important message for Gordon Brown. On the eve of the local government elections he had the biggest Labour rebellion of his premiership.

"What drove the Labour MPs to vote against the government was the certainty that we have very little time to get serious about climate change. Britain's current programme is not fit for purpose. We need measures that bring us into the 21st century and feed-in tariffs are the way to do it."

Friends of the Earth's economics campaigner, Dave Timms, added: "This vote clearly shows that Labour MPs are unhappy with the government's appalling record on renewable energy.

"Feed-in tariffs could provide a real financial incentive for homes, businesses and communities to install green energy systems and help tackle climate change.

Philip Wolfe, head of the Renewable Energy Association said: "The UK renewables industry is heartened to have received such strong backing from MPs of all parties and from such an impressive array of organisations. Obviously, it is hugely disappointing that the government did not welcome the clause, however we remain convinced of our case and intend to pursue this campaign even more vigorously in the Lords."

Feed-in tariffs have been successfully introduced in many European Union countries and have led to rapid increases in the deployment of renewable technologies such as solar and wind power.

Britain languishes behind all its main EU neighbours in only generating 2% of its energy from renewables, a number that has not changed for seven years in spite of a succession of energy bills. The bill currently going through parliament only envisages renewables use rising to 5% by 2020 whereas Brussels has handed the UK a target of 15%. The energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, repeated last night that the government would begin a consultation on a feed-in tariff this summer.

Alan Duncan, shadow business secretary said: "With around 30 Labour MPs rebelling against their frontbench, the government has been given a clear signal that they are well behind the curve on this issue. The government is not showing the hunger for renewables. This is a huge missed opportunity - we will not be letting this matter rest."

Miguel Mendonca, research coordinator for the World Future Council, which actively campaigns for feed-in tariffs, said that the mixture of reasons given by the government for opposing the "world's lowest-cost, highest-deployment renewables support scheme" did not stand up to scrutiny.

"Naked vested interests are of course the real reason: the current system rewards large corporates, and locks off the market from new entrants. The excuses of the world's utilities are generally borrowed from one another, and endlessly circulated. We need to find new ways of structuring their business model if it is in their interest to oppose the best measures for protecting the climate, and valuable fossil fuel resources."

Source: The Guardian|by Ashley Seager

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