Friday was a brave day for Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls to hug a solar panel. Britain had awoken to the - albeit sensationalist and misleading - headline news that households could be paying £170 a year by 2020 to fund renewable energy projects. (The reality being nearly half that cost and overall savings if we get our act together on energy efficiency). But Ed Balls, MP for Morley and Outwood, pulled up to renewable installation company Eclipse Energy in Leeds enthusiastic, engaged and ready to – literally - embrace clean energy.
It was the first ever joint visit between Ed and Greenpeace; the purpose was to show the resilience of green businesses in his constituency. There are now more green jobs in Yorkshire and Humber than the motor and telecommunications industries combined. Nearly £3bn of renewable energy investment was made in the region last year, and over 5,500 green jobs created.
Ed Balls: “It’s great to see local companies like Eclipse doing well and providing much needed jobs. Times are tough for many companies, the economic recovery is still fragile and companies tell me they’re cautious about future prospects. What we need is a proper plan for jobs and growth that can create new jobs across all sectors, including the green economy.”
The previous day, his boss, Labour Leader Ed Miliband, had launched a blistering attack on the coalition’s green record. Ed was very complimentary of Milliband's intervention. As for where the Conservative-led government actually stood on green energy, given all the scrapping and infighting, Balls said “I have to admit I’m confused”. He also criticised the Treasury for “returning to a very old fashioned view of the economy” – one heavily reliant on fossil fuels.
Ed Balls said that while in Government, his Treasury had done a lot of work in the clean energy field, but “not enough”. He made all the right sounds about engaging more with the issues as we get closer to the next election.
Nationally, the green economy contributed one third of all growth in the last year. How senior Conservatives like George Osborne can pledge their allegiance to growth while simultaneously knee capping a sector that is adding that much to GDP defies belief.
Eclipse’s Managing Director Chris Cash said despite the Conservative-led Government’s controversial cuts to solar subsidies last year, he was positive about the future. “If the Government provides some certainty, we could employ more people and easily see a £2million turnover.” Chris was particularly keen to take on young people and get them off the dole.
He spoke of energy efficiency and solar power as “no brainers”, especially with energy costs continuing to rise. He estimates an investment in a domestic solar power system can pay itself off in just seven years. Ed Balls looked impressed.