Conor Burns responds to article in Private Eye about Navitus Bay ‘bias’

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MP Conor Burns has responded to an article implying he has opposed the Navitus Bay wind farm for personal gain.

The article, which appeared in fortnightly journal Private Eye, notes that the Bournemouth West MP “receives regular payments” from Trant Construction Ltd, an engineering firm connected with the oil and gas industry – including Wytch Farm oil field in Poole Harbour.

The company is listed in Mr Burns’ register of interests.

The article says Navitus is proposed for beds “thought suitable for oil and gas drilling”, and that despite opposing the wind farm partly on the grounds of its potential impact on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, Mr Burns has not “spoken up” against plans by Infrastrata to drill for oil and gas in Swanage.

Responding to the article, Mr Burns said: “I have seen a mischievous article related to my position on Navitus.

“Any financial interest any Member of Parliament has is openly registered and made public. The only interest I have to declare on Navitus is the interest of my constituents who are overwhelmingly opposed to it.

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All About The Benjamins: Coal, Pollution & Mine Inspectors In Appalachia

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In June 2013, mine operator and Kentucky state representative Keith Hall went to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet with a complaint.

Kelly Shortridge, a mine inspector with the Division of Mine Enforcement and Reclamation in Pikeville, had been soliciting Hall for bribes to ignore violations on Hall’s Pike County surface mines.

Hall told two cabinet officials that he had already paid Shortridge “a small fortune,” and that the mine inspector “liked the Benjamins.” A report was drawn up, forwarded to the cabinet’s investigator general and Secretary Len Peters, and went nowhere.

The FBI began investigating the matter when the Lexington Herald-Leader published Hall’s complaint report through an open records request. In June, Hall was found guilty of bribing Shortridge to ignore Hall’s safety and environmental violations.

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During the trial, the bureau submitted evidence that strongly suggests Keith Hall was not the only operator paying Kelly Shortridge. Shortridge himself has admitted to taking bribes from other Pike County operators.

So how deep does the conspiracy go? That’s the question many are asking in the wake of Hall’s trial. The Herald-Leader published a recent editorial that pointed out the familiar territory here:

This is not the first time questions have arisen about the Pikeville office of the Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement where Shortridge, an inspector for 24 years, worked.

Other Pikeville-based inspectors allowed a surface mine (not owned by Hall) to operate without a permit for 18 months, until July 2010, when rain dislodged the unreclaimed mountain and flooded out about 80 families. One of the inspectors retired a month later.

Remember, too, that the division went years without penalizing coal companies for filing bogus water pollution reports by copying and pasting the same data, month after month.

This falsified water pollution data was only discovered after a coalition of environmental and citizen groups including Appalachian Voices discovered water monitoring reports that the department had neglected to review for over three years. The fact that the FBI had to find out about Hall’s allegations by reading the newspaper – and not through the cabinet itself – reveals a similar pattern of negligence.

How committed is the cabinet to enforcing Kentucky’s environmental and safety regulations around mining? The answer may lie in the phenomenally small salary that the state was paying Shortridge at the time of his 2014 resignation: $45,160 a year.

This may seem like an insignificant detail, but it speaks volumes about how our regulatory systems function, what they prioritize, and what motivates the individuals who operate within them. Shortridge was using his small salary, in addition to the bribes he was taking from Hall and others, to pay for his wife’s medical bills. It’s impossible to speculate about his personal character, but it does seem clear that he was responding to a specific set of material conditions in a way that most individuals on that kind of salary – and in that kind of position – very likely would.

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Without much incentive to enforce existing regulations, and knowing that it pays more to cozy up to the industry than to fight it, we really must ask: how many other Kelly Shortridges are out there? This doesn’t seem like an unreasonable question to ask of a regulatory system that, at best, lacks the political capital and material resources to enforce violations, and, at worst, is overseen by the very mine operators it’s supposed to be regulating. (Before being voted out of office in 2014, Keith Hall was the vice chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.)

Finally, Keith Hall’s remark that Kelly Shortridge “liked the Benjamins” – an incredibly condescending statement from a man who once appropriated his own county’s coal severance tax to the benefit of one of his companies – is revelatory. It hints that there are boundaries to what is and what isn’t acceptable within relationships between the coal industry and the state: Shortridge was getting ambitious; his greed was somehow different than Hall’s. Keep in mind that this was confessed to two cabinet officials, mob-style, as if Shortridge was breaking a set of established rules. Hall needed Shortridge until he didn’t, and then sold him down the river when he became an annoyance.

Now that they’re both paying for breaking the rules, will Governor Steve Beshear’s administration adequately investigate further possible corruption? It unfortunately doesn’t look likely.

As the Herald-Leader editorial notes, “This should be a moment of truth, but history tells us not to expect an aggressive self-examination of the state agency’s love affair with the coal industry.”

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– See more at: http://appvoices.org/2015/07/30/a-moment-of-truth-for-kentuckys-coal-regulators/#sthash.oVZYbSbu.dpuf

Worms found in neighbourhood’s drinking water in Texas

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HOUSTON – If there’s one thing that can get a whole neighbourhood in the street in 100 degree heat, it’s this: “That’s worms! That is so worms!” said neighbour Tammy Early. “That’s just gross. Oh my God, I’m freaking out right now.”

Tiny worms clogged Early’s sprinkler and it was even worse for Tara Miles.

“This water was coming out of the bathroom faucet,” said Miles, holding up a bottle of water with several worms floating inside.

About 30 neighbours in the Woodland Acres subdivision of Old River-Winfree came out to the water facility Wednesday afternoon with their own samples to show. They all said the worms are flowing out with their tap water.

“There’s these red ones, there’s these black ones, almost look like tad poles,” said Andrea Devault. “Which is the grossest?” asked KHOU 11 News Reporter Alice Barr. Devault answered, “All of them. I do not like bugs in my water.”

It’s been going on for a couple of days now. The private company, J&S Water, says it did have a power outage this weekend and some equipment broke, so it flushed the system and on Tuesday asked folks to start boiling their water.

But the company says it’s tested the water multiple times with the state environmental agency and found no sign of worms. They’re blaming some other source, like the pipes.

“For the record, we have replaced our pipes over and over again and it is PVC pipe. There’s nothing coming from our pipes,” said Miles.

Neighbors came to the water facility hoping to talk to someone from the company but the spokesman is out of town.

The mayor came out and offered free bottled water and showers at a city facility. He says state environmental crews won’t make it out until Friday to take a look.

“It’s not good enough but what can you do,” said Old River-Winfree Mayor Joe Landry.

For now, neighbours plan to do their washing somewhere else and keep their eyes out for any slimy intruders.

A J&S Water spokesman says the company is following every step of protocol and working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to address the problem.

Seven remaining residents: The town of Centralia the real inspiration for Silent Hill….

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The Centralia area has grown to be a tourist attraction. Visitors come to see the smoke on Centralia’s empty streets and the abandoned portion of PA Route 61 where it detours around the former site of Byrnesville. But this was not always the case, once upon a time Centralia was a functioning town with a population of 2,761 nowadays it’s population numbers seven. The rest of the town was compulsorily purchased by the state as a means of obliging people to move out of a town that had become subject to dangerously high levels of Carbon Monoxide.

Well, you may say, what type of disaster could possibly have forced all the residents of Centralia to pack up their bags and leave? The answer to that appears to be incredibly simple and yet incredibly complex. Joan Quigley argues in her 2007 book The Day the Earth Caved In that the fire had in fact started the previous day, when a trash hauler dumped hot ash discarded from coal burners into the open trash pit.

She noted that borough council minutes from June 4, 1962, referred to two fires at the dump, and that five firefighters had submitted bills for “fighting the fire at the landfill area”. The borough, by law, was responsible for installing a fire-resistant clay barrier between each layer,but fell behind schedule, leaving the barrier incomplete.

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This allowed the hot coals to penetrate the vein of coal underneath the pit and light the subsequent subterranean fire. In addition to the council minutes, Quigley cites “interviews with volunteer firemen, the former fire chief, borough officials, and several eyewitnesses” as her sources.

In short, negligence in fireproofing two landfill sites led to hot coal ash being tipped onto a coal seam, and this triggered off a subterranean coal-mine fire that has continued to burn from 27 May 1962 until the present day.

One would have thought that the residents could have sued Centralia Borough for its negligence. But the minute disaster hit, it became apparent that the borough had covered its own ass, minutes were produced proving that the council had voted to close down the landfill site, although the minutes did not describe the proposed procedure. Nonetheless, the Centralia council had set a date and hired five members of the volunteer firefighter company to clean up the landfill, according to the minutes.

Subsequent action that was taken to put out the mine fire was insufficient because to all intents & purposes officials were far too concerned with covering up the extent of the problem.

Until that is 1984, when, with the help of congress, families still residing in this carbon-monoxide-bound hell where able to accept a buyout offer and move to the nearby communities of Mount Carmel and Ashland. 

So there the town of Centralia, with its seven residents, abides, along with the town of Byrnesville, a few miles to the south, which has also had to be abandoned and levelled due to the spread of the subterranean mine fire.

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Two whole towns have lain deserted for decades, just because of gaping holes in the sides and base of a landfill site that could easily have been filled in and safely lined at very little cost. When you have examples like this to hand, you have to wonder why mountain- top removals have been permitted, and why Shale Oil Fracking has been given pride of place in Pennsylvania.

India’s annual solar investments to surpass those in coal by 2020-Deutsche Bank report

 solar-panels_2597461bIndia, which has raised its solar power capacity target five-fold, could see annual investments in solar surpassing those in coal by 2019-20 with commitments worth about $35 billion from global companies already in hand, a Deutsche Bank report said.
With its increased focus on solar power, India could become one of the largest renewable energy producers in the world, matching China’s target of 100GW (gigawatt) or 100,000MW (megawatts) capacity by 2020, the report released on Sunday said.
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 India has raised its 2022 solar energy target to 100GW from 20GW as part of Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s efforts to lower dependence on coal-fuelled electricity. The country needs to invest about $200 billion to meet this target and to set up around 60,000MW of wind power capacity by 2022.
Global companies, including the US renewable energy firm SunEdison Inc, Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank Corp, Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology, and China’s photovoltaic module maker Trina Solar Ltd, have announced multi-billion dollar investments in Indian companies to set up solar power projects.
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 Russia’s OAO Rosneft, the world’s largest publicly-traded oil company, is exploring a huge investment in India’s solar energy sector with capacity ranging between 10,000MW to 20,000MW, Mint reported last week.
Indian power companies such as Adani Power Ltd, Reliance Power Ltd and State-run NTPC Ltd have already made inroads with their solar energy projects. Aditya Birla Nuvo Ltd has also announced plans to bid for solar power projects.
“Private sector interest is decisively moving towards solar from coal power, and we foresee numerous opportunities of fund-raising, yieldco structuring and M&A activity,” Deutsche Bank analyst Abhishek Puri wrote in his report.
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 Falling tariffs would also help in aiding growth of solar power adoption. Tariffs have dropped about 60% over last four years, from Rs.14.90 per kWh (kilowatt-hour) in 2010 to almost Rs.5.75 per kWh in 2015, rivaling with prices of conventional power sources.
India’s per capita electricity consumption reached 1010 kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2014-15, compared with 957 kWh in 2013-14, according to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), but continues to among the lowest in the world with several households in the interiors of the country having little or no access to electricity.
India plans to award solar contracts for the supply of 15,000MW this year. In 2014-15, the cumulative solar power capacity in India was about 3,744 MW, accounting for about 10.5% of the total renewable energy generated in the country.
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Texas’ drinking water shortage has gotten so bad, one city is turning to toilets

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As three years of ongoing drought take their toll, Wichita Falls, Texas, is on the verge of becoming the first city in the country where half of the drinking water is recycled from wastewater — including the water flushed down toilets.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. “You can take any water and turn it into drinking water,” says Joseph Cotruvo, a Washington, D.C., water consultant who wrote clean water standards during his time at the EPA. Cotruvo recently told Businessweek, “There is the technology out there to take out everything.”

NPR reports on how the city’s adapting to its new, drier reality: The plan to recycle the water became necessary after three years of extreme drought, which has also imposed some harsh restrictions on Wichita Falls residents, says Mayor Glenn Barham.

“No outside irrigation whatsoever with potable water,” he says. “Car washes are closed, for instance, one day a week. If you drain your pool to do maintenance you’re not allowed to fill it.”

Barham says citizens have cut water use by more than a third, but water supplies are still expected to run out in two years.

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So the city has built a 13-mile pipeline that connects its wastewater plant directly to the plant where water is purified for drinking. That means the waste that residents flush down their toilets will be part of what’s cleaned up and sent back to them through the tap.

“The vast majority of water that enters a waste water plant did not come from a toilet,” adds Daniel Nix, the city official overseeing the process. “They come from sinks, and bathtubs, and washing machines and dishwashers.”

But will that be enough to get people to drink it? Professor Carol Nemeroff of the University of Southern Maine, who has studied reactions to reclaimed water, thinks it can be done: “If you’re desperate,” she told CNN, ”you’ll override anything for survival.”

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

Water – A View from the Goldman Sachs Bridge…

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‘Water is a critical economic issue in the United States.  In the face of growing demand for water, coupled with extreme weather conditions, our nation’s water infrastructure system is failing.’

So said a Goldman Sach’s Spoke person at a 2013 SUmmit.

A disturbing trend in the water sector is accelerating worldwide. The new “water barons” — the Wall Street banks and elitist multibillionaires — are buying up water all over the world at unprecedented pace.

Familiar mega-banks and investing powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, Macquarie Bank, Barclays Bank, the Blackstone Group, Allianz, and HSBC Bank, among others, are consolidating their control over water.

Wealthy tycoons such as T. Boone Pickens, former President George H.W. Bush and his family, Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, Philippines’ Manuel V. Pangilinan and other Filipino billionaires, and others are also buying thousands of acres of land with aquifers, lakes, water rights, water utilities, and shares in water engineering and technology companies all over the world.

The second disturbing trend is that while the new water barons are buying up water all over the world, governments are moving fast to limit citizens’ ability to become water self-sufficient (as evidenced by the well-publicized Gary Harrington’s case in Oregon, in which the state criminalized the collection of rainwater in three ponds located on his private land, by convicting him on nine counts and sentencing him for 30 days in jail). Let’s put this criminalization in perspective:

Billionaire T. Boone Pickens owned more water rights than any other individuals in America, with rights over enough of the Ogallala Aquifer to drain approximately 200,000 acre-feet (or 65 billion gallons of water) a year. But ordinary citizen Gary Harrington cannot collect rainwater runoff on 170 acres of his private land.

It’s a strange New World Order in which multibillionaires and elitist banks can own aquifers and lakes, but ordinary citizens cannot even collect rainwater and snow runoff in their own backyards and private lands.

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Hillary Clinton’s Biggest Campaign Bundlers Are Fossil Fuel Lobbyists

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WASHINGTON — Nearly all of the lobbyists bundling contributions for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign have at one time or another worked for the fossil fuel industry.

A list of 40 registered lobbyists that the Clinton camp disclosed to the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday revealed a number of Democratic Party lobbyists who have worked against regulations to curb climate change, advocated for offshore drilling, or sought government approval for natural gas exports.

Clinton, the former secretary of state, has called climate change the most “consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world” and says it would be a major focus of her administration if she wins the White House. But having so many supporters who have sold their services to fossil fuel companies may complicate her emphasis on pro-environment policies.

Scott Parven and Brian Pomper, lobbyists at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, have been registered to lobby for the Southern California-based oil giant Chevron since 2006, with contracts totaling more than $3 million. The two bundled Clinton contributions of $24,700 and $29,700, respectively. They have helped Chevron over the years resist efforts to eliminate oil and gas tax breaks and to impose regulations to reduce carbon emissions.

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The two Clinton bundlers also were part of a much-criticized campaign by Chevron to manipulate Congress into inserting language into the Andean Trade Preferences Act that would require Ecuador to dismiss a longstanding lawsuit against the company for polluting the Amazon jungle. Democratic lawmakers pushed back against the campaign and the lawsuit is continuing. 

One prominent lobbying topic embraced by Clinton bundlers is the expansion of liquefied natural gas exports and federal approval of new LNG terminals.

Ankit Desai, vice president for government relations at top LNG exporter Cheniere Energy, bundled $82,000 to the Clinton camp, with much of it coming from Cheniere Energy executives. Cheniere executives, including Desai, have donated $38,800 to Clinton’s campaign.

The company has lobbied hard in Washington and maintains close ties to the Obama administration. The company won the first approval to export gas to countries outside of U.S. free-trade agreements. The company is seeking approval to open additional terminals to export LNG, and will likely need a friend in the White House come 2017.

ML Strategies’ David Leiter lobbied in 2014 on behalf of Sempra Energy when the company received approval for its LNG export facility in Hackberry, Louisiana. Leiter, who bundled $36,550 for Clinton’s campaign, also is a lobbyist for ExxonMobil. Steve Coll noted in a New Yorker article derived from his book on the oil giant, Private Empire, that Leiter, an ex-staffer to former Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), was retained, along with a host of others, to increase the company’s reach into the Democratic Party it had ignored for years.

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ExxonMobil’s top lobbyist in Washington, Theresa Fariello, may not be a bundler for Clinton’s campaign, but she is a donor. Fariello, who was a Department of Energy official in President Bill Clinton’s administration, gave $2,700 to Clinton’s campaign. Another Washington-based Exxon lawyer, Judith Batty, donated $2,700.

Clinton also got contributions from others involved in the fossil fuel business. Her campaign received $2,700 from BP America’s Mary Streett, formerly the top lobbyist for the nuclear power utility Exelon. Anadarko Petroleum lawyers Amanda McMillan and Richard Lapin each gave $2,700. Sarah Venuto and Martin Durbin, both lobbyists for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the top gas industry lobbying group, gave $2,910 and $1,000, respectively. Celia Fischer, an America’s Natural Gas Alliance representative who is not a lobbyist, gave $2,700.

Aside from lobbyists currently working to advance fossil fuel interests, there is one Hillblazer bundler — the name for Clinton boosters raising more than $100,000 — who stands out.

Bundler Gordon Giffin is a former lobbyist for TransCanada, the company working to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Giffin sits on the board of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, an investor in the pipeline. The Canadian bank paid Clinton $990,000 for speeches in the months leading up to her presidential announcement. Another Canadian financial institution with an interest in Keystone XL, TD Bank, paid her $651,000 for speaking engagements.

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Clinton’s position on Keystone XL — or lack thereof — may prove the biggest challenge for her in gaining support from progressive activists. Whether to grant a permit for the leg of the pipeline that crosses the Canadian border into the U.S. is up to the State Department, which has been considering it since Clinton’s time as secretary of state. In October 2010 remarks, Clinton said the department was “inclined” to sign off on the pipeline, a statement that enraged environmental groups working to stop it. On the campaign trail, Clinton has largely evaded questions about the pipeline.

But the issue has dogged Clinton. The speaking fees from Canadian banks came to light in May. In June, Clinton’s campaign announced the hiring of former TransCanada lobbyist Jeff Berman as a consultant. 

The issue of campaign donations from fossil fuel interests has become a topic in the Democratic Party primary, as both Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley have pledged they will not accept contributions from oil, gas or coal companies. Clinton has not signed that pledge.

Fossil fuel campaign contributions came up at a town hall event Clinton hosted in New Hampshire on Thursday.

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“I’m disappointed about the answer you gave to climate change,” Giselle Hart, an activist with 350 Action, told Clinton.  I’m wondering if your answer … is due to contributions from the fossil fuel industry to your campaign.”

Activists unfurled banners and demanded that Clinton support a ban on fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Clinton responded that she would phase out extraction over time, though not immediately. “We still have to run our economy, we still have to turn on the lights,” she said.

Reached for comment, a representative for the campaign simply pointed HuffPost to Clinton’s remarks at the Thursday’s town hall. 

California Just Issued Its First Fine for Using Too Much Water

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California’s Water Resources Control Board proposed a $1.5 million fine today for a farming district’s unauthorized use of water—the first such fine in the state’s four-year drought. The Board alleged that the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District, a region serving 160 farmers just east of San Francisco, illegally diverted nearly 700 million gallons of water over the course of two weeks in June.

Byron-Bethany is one of about 5,000 water-rights holders notified this year that there isn’t enough water to pump from lakes and rivers, and it’s illegal to divert water after receiving such notifications. In response, several water users, including Byron-Bethany, have sued the state for cutting off its water supply.

“We will vigorously defend our rights,” said Rick Gilmore, general manager of the district, to the San Jose Mercury News last month. “All our sweet corn and tomatoes—they won’t make it to harvest. Almonds and cherries will suffer damage,” he said. “They’ll lose the water they need for July and August.”

The proposed fine, which the district will likely contest in a coming hearing, is the first fine sought by the Board under a new structure in which water rights holders can be penalized for past unauthorized use of water, even if they have stopped diverting since. But Byron-Bethany probably isn’t alone; Andrew Tauriainen, a lawyer for the state’s Division of Water Rights, says, “It’s highly likely that additional enforcement actions will follow in weeks and months ahead.”

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Green Subsidies? Sustainable Energy? We don’t need them!

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A cabinet source has said that a “big reset” on subsidies paid by consumers, which push up household energy bills, is coming in the autumn.

“There is a hardening view in the cabinet that we’ve got to deal with green subsidies,” the source added.

Last month, the government announced that new onshore wind farms would be excluded from a subsidy scheme from April next year.

Within a few weeks, the solar power industry is expecting its subsidies will be cut.

The issue of renewable energy subsidies was discussed at the weekly meeting of the government’s most senior ministers on Tuesday.

Subsidies to the renewable energy industry, paid for by consumers, are expected to add up to £4.3bn this year.

‘Best deal’

This week, the think tank Policy Exchange said the average household energy bill has risen by £120 over the last five years due to what they called “ill-thought through energy and climate policies”.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change said:

“Reducing energy bills for hard-working British families and businesses is this government’s priority. We’ve already announced reforms to remove subsidies for onshore wind, and that work to make sure bill payers are getting the best possible deal is going to continue.”

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But the renewable energy industry fears a cut now could seriously damage an industry at a crucial point in its development.

“We are getting very anxious about what might be coming,” Leonie Greene, from the Solar Trade Association, told the BBC.

“The British industry is already very significant today. It employs over 30,000 people and turns over billions of pounds. It is quite clear that globally this industry is going to be worth trillions. So it is incredibly important that in terms of the global race that the prime minister talks about, that we make sure we have a strong solar industry in the UK.”

In a speech last month, the Energy Secretary Amber Rudd warned the renewables industry and campaigners that support for the environment has to be weighed against the impact on energy bills.

“All that support costs money,” she said. “We cannot ignore the fact that, obviously, people want subsidies if they are on the receiving end of subsidies, but we have to ensure that we get the good measure of it.”

And there lies the conundrum for the government: attempting to keep bills low, supporting emerging industries and keeping to climate change targets – with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris just a few months away now in December.

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