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UK policy back in spotlight over finance minister's gas love

The UK government was again accused of showing an incoherent approach to low-carbon policy after signalling that gas – including controversial shale gas – will play a major role in its energy strategy.

The government’s Gas Strategy foresees 26GW of new capacity being required by 2030 – and admits more could be needed – and may offer tax breaks for shale gas exploration.

It also announced a new Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil, leading to immediate speculation that fracking is set for a significant role in the UK.

The country’s Conservative finance minister, chancellor George Osborne, is a high-profile supporter of gas and has fought several behind-the-scenes battles with those more sympathetic to renewable energy within the UK’s coalition government – not least its Liberal Democrat energy secretary Ed Davey.

Although the announcement of the gas strategy came from Davey’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), few doubt that Osborne – who referred to the issue today in his Autumn Statement on the UK's finances – is the architect of the so-called "dash for gas".

The UK’s Renewable Energy Association said ahead of the statement: “It is significant that last week the Energy Bill was announced by DECC, whereas it is the Chancellor who is announcing the Gas Strategy.

“When taken with the failure to set a carbon reduction target in the Bill, and an Emissions Performance Standard for gas that fails to bite until 2045, it appears that central Government is prioritising fossil fuels over renewables.”

Mark Kenber, chief executive of think-tank The Carbon Group says: “The only role gas should play in the UK’s energy policy is to facilitate a mid-term transition to a decarbonised energy sector.

"Instead of that, the Chancellor today placed gas at the very centre of our future energy-mix. It misses the central point, namely the urgent need to decarbonise our economy and does little to support the UK’s energy sector to be globally competitive in the fast-growing international clean energy market.”