MANCHESTER, Oct 26 (Reuters) - The UK secretary for energy and climate
change pledged Britain will become Europe's fastest growing renewable energy producer, reassuring green energy investors spooked by a series of unexpected cuts to government subsidies.
'We will be the fastest growing country in the EU when it comes to renewable deployment,' said Chris Huhne on Wednesday, addressing a filled auditorium of 650 renewable energy conference delegates.
Investors in projects such as wind farms, solar facilities and biomass plants have been uncertain whether the government's programme for electricity market reform and new subsidy regimes will provide them with a stable return in the long term.
An earlier-than-expected slash in solar power subsidies this summer unnerved investors, and a lack of detail about propsals for so-called contracts for difference to reward low-carbon energy has left the renewable energy industry wondering about the government's full commitment to green technology.
'It's now clear how committed the government is to renewable energy; it was a very good speech,' said Peter Pantlin, UK chief executive officer at Spanish wind energy company Gamesa .
'But I wonder whether he wasn't preaching to the converted,' he added, saying Gamesa had already earmarked London as a location for its European offshore wind headquarters.
The Spanish company has also shortlisted sites at Dundee and Hartlepool harbours to build a turbine manufacturing plant.
'We hope to make a decision soon, before Christmas,' Pantlin said.
Huhne reiterated Britain's plans to remain at the forefront of the global offshore wind industry, maintaining its position as world leader in installed offshore wind capacity.
Britain seeks to generate 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the end of the decade, compared with 7.4 percent reached in 2010.
'His words reflect the determination of those working in the renewable energy sector to build Britain's low-carbon economy,' said Maria McCaffery, chief executive of trade association RenewableUK.
Britain is also on track to deliver its delayed Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) by the end of November, while discussions with the European Commission are ongoing about the correct level of support for heat generated from biomass.
The programme aims to pay subsidies for the use of renewable energy technology for heating, starting with business customers and extending to households.
'We hope to get a resolution soon. We're convinced we're right,' Chris Huhne told reporters after his speech.
The EU blocked the RHI launch at the end of September, saying state aid for large biomass projects was too high.
'Industry will be relieved that the heat incentive will now go ahead,' said Paul Thompson, head of policy at the Renewable Energy Association.
'It was such a shock when the planned launch in September was abandoned at the last minute.'
(Reporting by Karolin Schaps) Keywords: BRITAIN RENEWABLES/HUHNE
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