The Government has signalled a dramatic shift in its attitude towards wind farms after a minister admitted there would be no “no dramatic increase” in onshore developments.
Energy Minister Lord Marland said the “future for this country” in terms of wind energy lies in offshore schemes rather than land-band developments that have sparked anger in Westcountry rural and coastal communities.
The Government has also scrapped controversial local and regional renewable energy targets, a policy many councils used to justify approval of wind farm plans.
While the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) stressed that onshore wind farms remained a central part of plans to reduce Britain’s carbon footprint, the tone struck by the minister is in stark contrast to the previous Labour Government.
Former Energy secretary Ed Miliband said opposing wind farms is “socially unacceptable”, adding society should view people who blocked planning applications in the same light as drivers who refused to wear a seatbelt.
During a debate in the Lords last month, Lord Marland was asked how the Government would square the circle between increasing the supply of renewable energy and ensuring the “landscape of this country is not disfigured by a rash of ill-planned wind turbines”.
The Conservative peer said around 70 per cent of onshore turbine developments approved by the previous Government are under way.
He added: “It is our determination that there should be no dramatic increase in this (wind farms approved by Labour) and that the emphasis should be offshore, where the supply of wind is much more reliable.
“There are of course constraints in the environment… and fishing and shipping communities need to be listened to, but offshore is the future for this country.”
When pressed during a later debate, Lord Harland explained the Government endorsed the level of onshore wind developments sanctioned by Labour but that “going beyond that was not our main focus”.
“In order to achieve our energy commitments by 2050 we will have to push hard on all fronts,” he added.
In opposition, the Conservatives took a dim view of large-scale onshore turbines, a reflection of the fierce opposition to wind farms in rural communities where the party is strong.
The Government has come under attack from Labour for abolishing local renewable energy targets along with the regional spatial strategy as part of its agenda to free councils from top-down edicts.
Labour claims the move makes it easier for councils, particularly those that are Conservative controlled, to refuse controversial applications.
Mr Miliband, Shadow Energy Secretary, told the WMN that the Government’s energy plans were a “charter for failure” on cutting carbon emissions and improving energy security.
He added: “I really worry about the direction of energy policy under this Government.”
Wind farm plans have repeatedly come up against angry opposition in the Westcountry, where there are already more than 100 turbines in operation.
Last month, plans for 20 turbines close to a beauty spot near Davidstow on Bodmin Moor – each measuring more than 120 metres tall – were thrown out by Cornwall Council.
Arthur Boyt, chairman for Stop Turbines in North Cornwall (STINC), which opposed the scheme, said Lord Marland’s comments suggested a far less “prescriptive” approach to renewables.
Of scrapping local targets, he said: “If that is the case, that is a good thing.
“Had Davidstow been approved that would have fulfilled the renewable energy requirement for all of Cornwall – so it became one of the reasons why councillors further west wanted it to be built.
“North Cornwall would have taken the pressure for the rest of the county.”
A spokesman for DECC said there had been no change in policy.
She said: “All renewables have a part to play.
“We have to make sure renewables are appropriately sited.
“There has never been a target for onshore.
“It is for the market to decide what the target would be.”