David Cameron has been challenged to shelve the Climate Change Act and adopt “common sense” energy policies by Tory former environment secretary Owen Paterson.
He said scrapping policies focused on renewable energy targets would be a “glorious opportunity” for the Conservatives and a chance to address the threat posed by the rise of Ukip.
Mr Paterson said his plans, which included the exploitation of shale gas, the development of small-scale nuclear plants and use of technology to moderate demand by temporarily switching off appliances such as fridges, were “true Conservative policies”.
The North Shropshire MP said there was “extraordinarily strong opposition” in rural areas to existing Government policies and claimed he was acting as a “candid friend” in urging Mr Cameron follow a different path.
He said: “I was a loyal member of the shadow cabinet and the Cabinet. But I did really pick up extraordinarily strong opposition from my own constituents, counties all around – if you go to Northamptonshire, if you go to Yorkshire, if you go to Northumberland, you go to the West Country and there is this extraordinarily strong opposition to what people see as subsidised and ineffective forms of renewable energy, and that’s wind or it’s solar.”
He called for the suspension of the Climate Change Act, which imposes binding targets on the Government to reduce emissions, until it could be seen how the rest of the world including developing countries such as China were responding.
“It is unwise for us to be way out in front with this legally binding Act imposing conditions on this country,” he said.
Mr Paterson said his four policies to “keep the lights on” were to push for shale gas, encourage combined heat and power plants, modular nuclear and “much more intelligent demand management”.
“You could have quite cheap electronic gadgets on every one of our millions of fridges which knock off the fridges at a critical moment, just for 20 or 30 minutes,” he said.
“That would knock the peaks out and a mixture of all those things, that would be a sensible, common sense policy, but none of them are possible at the moment within the confines of the Climate Change Act because everything … has got to be decarbonised.”
Mr Paterson said he had spent “quite a lot of time” examining the issue since he lost his Cabinet post and “I really was quite shocked at how this policy will fail”.
He said that following his plan would present an opportunity for the Tories to set itself apart from the other parties – including the Conservatives’ coalition partners the Liberal Democrats.
“So we are six months out from an election, it’s a glorious opportunity for the Conservative Party to mark out a different path.
“If they followed the path I propose … we would deliver our emissions reductions quicker and we would keep the lights on, by very, very Conservative policies – using existing technology and by energy saving.
“I think those are true Conservative policies, they are common sense policies and I would be really pleased if my party took them up.”
He added: “I’m very much acting as a candid friend. On parts of this the Prime Minister has been absolutely staunch, he and the Chancellor have been emphatic about the importance of shale and have pushed it as hard as they can.
“What we desperately need is a Conservative government with a Conservative majority to deliver this sort of policy.”
Mr Paterson said he was “very happy to see emissions come down, what I am saying is the policies currently being put into practice to deliver the targets of the Climate Change Act will not reduce emissions and they will not keep the lights on”.
He added: “If we had my common sense policies, the four of them – and others I hope would be adopted, because what you want is for a thousand flowers to bloom and let the hidden hand take part – then you would see a whole lot of new technologies come forward, and money we are spending on renewable technologies that don’t work could be spent on development of technologies that do work.”