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Former energy minister plans ‘Rolling Thunder’ UK tour to promote net zero

Former energy minister Chris Skidmore. (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Former energy minister Chris Skidmore. (David Mirzoeff/PA)

The former energy minister who signed net zero into law is planning a “Rolling Thunder” tour of the UK to promote the benefits of cutting carbon.

Chris Skidmore, Conservative MP for Kingswood, near Bristol, said supporters of net zero needed to “get away from the doom-mongering” if they were to counter disinformation and “populist” opposition to the Government’s plans.

His plans will see him tour the country, visiting green infrastructure projects such as wind farms, solar farms and rewilding projects to point out the opportunities presented by the drive for net zero.

Mr Skidmore said the tour would allow MPs to “get out of Westminster” and “demonstrate the impact that net zero would have locally in terms of economic regeneration” by providing jobs and investment.

He said: “In the past, net zero has only been viewed as a cost, so it’s about how do you shift that opportunity to show on paper where renewables are coming down and returning money to people’s back pockets.”

He added: “I’m beginning to plan this opportunity to go region by region around the country and actually reach outside the national media and go to the local press, and I’ll try and run this Rolling Thunder net zero tour for as long as I can.”

Mr Skidmore’s plans are in part a reaction to pressure from some Conservatives to dilute the Government’s net zero plans, including from the Conservative Net Zero Scrutiny Group led by South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay and backed by Brexit campaigner Steve Baker.

In response, Mr Skidmore established his own Net Zero Support Group in January to rival Mr Mackinlay’s group and promote net zero. He also took over as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the environment in April and is looking to use that network to maintain cross-party support for cutting carbon emissions.

He said: “Net zero and green policies are popular, and it shouldn’t be a vocal minority of MPs who are able to dominate the airwaves and dominate media coverage, undermining or chipping away at those policies when they actually have grassroots support.”

As well as talking up the opportunities of net zero, he said he would look to support policies to show people a more direct benefit, such as transferring responsibility for paying green levies from billpayers to oil and gas companies or giving people living near onshore wind farms money off their energy bills.

He said: “The question is about engaging people as owners and active agents in their future. That’s something we can learn from the (Brexit) referendum campaign.

“On the one hand, Remain tried to go on the economics, this is what we will be worse off by, but sovereignty won out.

“People were more interested in having sovereignty and having independence, and regardless of what the economic consequences were, that’s more important.

“Now sovereignty is becoming an issue around energy, and that’s why we’ve really got to work hard to make sure that people see renewable energy as sovereign.”

But he denied that net zero was not simply a re-run of the 2016 election, pointing to support from Eurosceptics such as Simon Clarke and Lee Rowley.

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