We can cut our bills and carbon, Suffolk MP and minister Matthew Hancock claims

Skills Minister and West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock speaking at the Suffolk Chamber business leaders

Skills Minister and West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock speaking at the Suffolk Chamber business leaders' event in Newmarket. - Credit: Archant

Matthew Hancock will set out his vision for how we can power our homes and address climate change in a keynote speech as an energy minister today. The Suffolk MP told Annabelle Dickson how our region fits into that picture and why he thinks carbon cutting is not mutually exclusive with cutting our energy bills.

Matthew Hancock talks with delight about his new gadget, a Google Nest, which allows him to turn up (and down) the off-grid oil at his home in Thurlow.

The West Suffolk MP’s energy bills have come down, he claims, to the extent that he has already paid off the £200 cost of the gadget.

This high praise is not because he is being sponsored by the company, but citing it as an example of why he believes that technological advances, and the more widespread availability of broadband and smart phones, will mean we can cut carbon and our bills.

The Conservatives have been accused of running away from their much lauded green credentials and this time last year David Cameron was at the centre of a political storm over whether he ordered aides to “get rid of all the green crap” from energy bills in a drive to bring down costs.

The language, attributed to Cameron in a national newspaper by a senior Tory source, sparked a furious reaction from campaigners who accused the prime minister of abandoning his promise to run the greenest government ever.

With the economy still fragile and Labour on the attack over the size of our energy bills, how we power our cars, homes and phones is a contentious issue.

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So Mr Hancock will, it seems, try to appeal to the green lobby and business leaders (to who he is addressing the speech), saying: “The best way to tackle carbon emissions and deal with climate change is to do it in a way that also cuts costs.”

He will say that it can be done through “innovation and efficiency” and that it was a case of having a clear goal of reducing carbon, “but doing so in the cheapest way possible.”

He says Suffolk is already doing this, with its “increasing amount of renewable energy”.

“More and more people have solar panels on their roofs and obviously there is offshore wind.”

But conspicuous in its absence is mention of onshore wind. When asked he makes it clear that he is happy to support communities opposed to onshore windfarms if it will blight the landscape.

His outspoken opposition to the Clare windfarm, near Sudbury, raised the eyebrows of green campaigners when he was appointed to an energy brief in the summer.

But Mr Hancock is sticking to his guns, saying: “I strongly oppose wind farms in some of the most beautiful parts of Suffolk. Low carbon energy has to be done in a way that protects out beautiful countryside, and there is a way to do this.”

That, it seems, could be solar.

His 2010 intake peer across the border in Norfolk, now environment secretary Elizabeth Truss, recently voiced concerns about the impact solar farms could have on agricultural land, but on our homes and work buildings he believes there is huge potential.

“In terms of solar, the potential for solar on industrial roofs, on household roofs, on things like schools and hospitals, that potential is enormous.”

Nationally around one million people have solar panels, he says, and that leaves many more who could install them.

But what about the cost? When it comes to the thorny issue of subsidies, he is optimistic the taxpayer will not have to foot the bill.

“Some renewables like solar on people’s roofs is increasingly competitive as an energy source and will soon be competitive without subsidy.

“As the cost of solar powers fall, eventually solar will be cheaper than other forms of electricity, as well as zero carbon,” he said.

And, of course, there is the next generation of nuclear power station.

In his new job he has been involved in the tail end of negotiations over Hinkley and while he continues to hold the job, which allows him a seat at the cabinet table, if not a secretary of state brief, he will start the negotiations over Sizewell.

He is optimistic it will happen, but keen to point out that these things “don’t happen quickly” and firm he needs to get value for money.

The Suffolk energy minister has a stake in our energy future.

Will his optimism that we can reduce our carbon and our bills simultaneously be founded? Time will tell in years to come as the dreaded letter arrives on our doormats.