North East consumers face rocketing bills and a huge increase in onshore wind farms to pay for a £100bn Government “dash” for renewable energy.
Some 7,000 new wind turbines, 4,000 onshore and 3,000 offshore, are planned – and Business Secretary John Hutton said “windy” Northumberland would be a suitable location for some of them, while new power lines will be needed to connect them to the National Grid. To pay for the green policies, consumers will face bills that by 2020 could be 13% above what they would otherwise be for electricity and a 37% increase for gas.
Campaigners last night claimed pensioners already hit by soaring bills will be forced to choose between “eating and heating” as Gordon Brown unveiled the new UK renewable energy strategy.
Domestic electricity bills could climb annually by up to £13 from 2010, £19 from 2015, £53 from 2020 before dropping to a maximum increase of £48 from 2025, as costs of transforming energy production and subsidies to develop renewables are passed on to consumers.
Household gas prices could rise by up to £30 from 2015 and £209 from 2020 under the Government’s drive to meet a target to source 15% of all energy consumption from renewables by 2020.
The average annual bill is currently £643 for gas and £412 for electricity – although cheaper deals are available.
And the Government has admitted its plan will increase the “challenges” in dealing with fuel poverty – although further action to tackle the problem and improve energy efficiency to cut bills are promised.
A spokesman for Help the Aged said: “Every 1% price increase in fuel bills pushes a further 40,000 households into fuel poverty. More and more older people are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the costs of fuel under a small basic state pension.
“The Government must review its fuel poverty strategy as a matter of urgency or leave even more older people having to decide between heating or eating.”
Peter Atkinson, Tory MP for Hexham, expressed concern about the cost of wind farms and added: “We are going to destroy the landscape and turn away the visitors that we are trying to encourage to come to Northumberland.”
He said the Government must recognise that making coal power more clean could instead be a key part of meeting the “energy gap”, not least because the country has 400 years of supply.
Dominic Coupe, Northumberland chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: “I am struggling to see the benefit to ordinary people who are struggling to pay their fuel bills as it is.”
He claimed ministers would ignore residents on planning issues and expressed concern over possible “sweeteners” for communities from developers for local infrastructure in return for accepting wind farms.
Berwick Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith warned local people would be excluded from major planning decisions. “This pressure seems to be tipping the balance against people getting a fair hearing on the individual sites.” he said.
He added fuel prices would continue rising “full-stop”, but warned the bill for new nuclear power stations would be much higher than for renewable energy.
Energy producer E.ON welcomed the Government plans and promised to develop technology to “keep the lights on” as well as protect the environment and manage energy bills.
A spokesman added that wind power was “key” but stressed other renewable energy sources, along with new nuclear, coal and gas power stations were needed.
By William Green
27 June 2008
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