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Plans to pay communities to build wind farms under threat

Plans to pay communities to erect wind turbines are already in doubt because of increasing chaos caused by the Government’s review of green subsidies.

In a heated debate in Westminster Hall Charles Hendry, the energy minister, set out a number of new policies that will encourage communities to allow wind farms.

One of the main mechanisms is to offer a new subsidy, known as a ‘Feed in Tariff’, that pays communities for the ‘green electricity’ generated from small scale renewables like solar panels or wind turbines.

But earlier this week the subsidy system was thrown into chaos amid growing concerns that most of the money is going to large developers building solar farms.

A review, that will report this summer, will look at whether any solar projects over 50KW should continue to receive the payments. A wider review of all FITs, including wind, will report at the end of this year.

Tony Bosworth, of Friends of the Earth, said that the review has made the market uncertain for building medium sized solar farms and other renewables because investors are unsure of subsidies.

“More must be done to ensure that communities reap the huge financial benefits of local green energy developments, such as wind farms,” he said.

“But one of the best initiatives for boosting community-owned renewable energy schemes – feed-in tariffs – is currently under threat.

“Ministers are under pressure to reduce the size of the projects which qualify under the feed-in tariff scheme – and this would be a massive blow for community-led projects.

“The twin threats of rising fossil fuel prices and climate change make urgent action to develop the UK’s vast green energy potential is more essential than ever – the feed-in tariff should be expanded, not shrunk.”

However DECC insisted that the review was designed to protect the consumer.

The subsidy does not come from government money but from a tax on energy companies that will ultimately be passed onto household bills.

DECC said the reviews have been put in place to ensure only small scale renewables benefit, as there is another system of subsidies for big business, and to ensure cost of the subsidy does not escalate if too many big projects go ahead.

Mr Hendry also announced plans to ensure wind turbines are built in isolated windy spots, rather than near the centres of population.

But Andrea Leadsome pointed out that thousands of wind farms are already being built or have planning permission where local communities are protesting.

The Tory MP for south Northamptonshire accused the last government of concentrating subsidies on wind and called for a more balanced system that will not only pay communities to build wind turbines but also ground source heat pumps, biomass and other renewables.

The Government is committed to generating 15 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020.