A cabinet minister has rejected calls for the UK to consider rationing energy, as a plan to drastically increase onshore wind power also appeared to be significantly scaled back.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had been a “massive wake-up call” for western nations about their dependence on imported oil and gas, which European countries are now trying to wean themselves off.
However, Shapps said the UK would not follow the lead of other countries, such as Germany, that have put emergency measures in place to ration gas if Russia cuts off supplies to Europe.
An international row is escalating over Russia’s demand that, from 1 April, all gas purchased by foreign countries must be paid for in roubles – a move that G7 countries have rejected.
According to Reuters, the Dutch government said it would urge consumers to use less gas, Greece has called an emergency meeting of suppliers, and the French energy regulator urged consumers not to panic.
Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, said fuel rationing “should be an extreme option”.
“We should be making those plans and the government should be preparing – not necessarily in public – for that situation,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning show.
After the prime minister, Boris Johnson, flew to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to urge oil-producing countries in the Middle East to turn on the taps, Reynolds said the government should not be “shopping from one authoritarian regime to the next for fossil fuels”.
He called for the long-delayed energy security strategy to be published with a particular focus on generating more renewable and nuclear energy, as well as improving energy efficiency.
Reynolds also said there was “a lot of complacency in this country about the relative lower exposure to Russian gas that we have”, warning that if European countries stopped importing it then they would turn to the same providers used by the UK, squeezing supplies further and keeping prices high.
But asked if he could completely rule out energy rationing in the UK, Shapps said: “Yes I can … We don’t see rationing being part of our approach to this, and nor should it be.”
Shapps instead raised the prospect of generating more offshore wind, though he appeared to walk back on plans to double the amount of onshore wind power by 2030.
The Guardian reported last month that ministers were considering drastically increasing the amount of power generated by onshore wind turbines by the end of the decade from 14 gigawatts to 30.
Johnson was headed for a showdown with his own cabinet and backbenchers, but Shapps’s public disapproval will be interpreted as a sign that the government is preparing to back down.
Shapps said there “may be places where it’s appropriate”, but that he thought “by and large, I think it’s better to build significant wind power offshore”.
Earlier, he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show: “I don’t favour a vast increase in onshore windfarms for pretty obvious reasons. They sit on the hills there and can create something of an eyesore for communities as well as actual problems of noise as well.”
Instead, Shapps said he favoured nuclear modular reactors.
This follows the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, telling the Sunday Telegraph that up to seven nuclear power stations could be built in Britain to radically expand homegrown energy.
The UK’s new energy security strategy is expected to be published on Thursday.
In a bid to smooth cabinet splits over the planned dramatic increase in onshore wind, No 10 said any decisions “will always be subject to consent from local communities”.
However, a senior energy industry source told the Guardian they believed the antipathy to onshore wind came from “a small but determined group of backbench MPs and feels ideological rather than logical”.
“Local MPs will justify house building, if they see it’s in the national interest, even in places they think there’s local opposition,” they said. “Often there are compromises made or locals get rewarded for having the infrastructure, but the homes get built. In contrast, onshore wind is treated by some MPs as something that isn’t valuable or vital – when it is.”