Wind farm energy policy blown to bits by Government spat
The Government appeared in disarray over its wind farm policy last night after the Energy Minister and the Prime Minister clashed over the development of new turbines.
Conservative Energy Minister John Hayes said it was “extraordinary” that wind turbines had been allowed “to be peppered around the country without due regard for the interests of the local community or their wishes”.
But his words earned a public rebuke from his boss, Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey, before David Cameron weighed into the row, insisting the Government’s policy remained unchanged but that there should be a “debate” on the issue.
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Mr Hayes’ comments were initially welcomed in the West Country, which has been on the frontline of the debate over the controversial technology.
But hope turned to confusion as frantic efforts by the Lib Dem coalition partners attempted to stamp on his views. Caroline Harvey, secretary of the Two Moors Campaign which has been fighting applications for four wind farms just south of Exmoor National Park, said of Mr Hayes: “At last someone is speaking out. These things are still being foisted on local populations despite the express wishes of the Government.”
She added: “All these things wouldn’t be so bad if at the end of the day the turbines were going to do some good, but they won’t. They harm the environment and they harm people living near them for absolutely no benefit whatsoever.”
More than 20 years ago, the country’s first commercial wind farm was installed near Delabole in North Cornwall. In the following years, dozens of wind farms have been proposed, prompting an often polarised debate over subsidies, their ability to generate electricity and their environmental credentials.
There are now nine, large scale wind farms in Cornwall and one in Devon, with dozens of small scale developments. Other projects are still in the planning process.
Regen SW was set up to help develop the renewable energy industry in the region. Its chief executive Merlin Hyman said wind energy still had an important role to play in future although new projects were likely to be smaller and community led.
But he said Mr Hayes’ comments were “irresponsible” and only served to undermine confidence in the wider renewables industry.
“The Tory party clearly feels it needs to play to its base,” Mr Hyman said. “That is a very irresponsible way to behave in Government.
“We are looking at the future of energy and there are some very big decisions to make in terms of how we go forward. We are going to need private sector investment and those investors are going to need a clear, consistent Government policy.”
Mr Hayes was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron in last month’s reshuffle. The Tory energy minister had been ordered not to deliver the remarks in a speech on Tuesday night but they were obtained instead for publication by newspapers.
In comments apparently cut from a draft of Mr Hayes’s speech, he said: “We can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities. I can’t single-handedly build a new Jerusalem but I can protect our green and pleasant land.
“We have issued a call for evidence on wind. That is about cost but also about community buy-in.
“We need to understand communities’ genuine desires. We will form our policy in the future on the basis of that, not on a bourgeois left article of faith based on some academic perspective.”
He added: “If you look at what has been built, what has consent and what is in the planning system, much of it will not get through and will be rejected. Even if a minority of what’s in the system is built, we are going to reach our 2020 target. I’m saying enough is enough.”
At Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron told MPs: “There has been no change towards renewable energy.
“Let me explain – we have got a big pipeline of onshore and offshore wind projects that are coming through. We are committed to those, but all parties are going to have to have a debate in this House and outside about what happens once those targets are met.”