A string of Yorkshire’s Tory MPs are among more than 100 party backbenchers who have written to David Cameron calling for a dramatic cut in subsidies to onshore wind farms and a chance for local people to have greater power to block future developments.
In what represents a major revolt against Government policy by around a third of the Conservative Parliamentary party, rebel Tories have joined forces with a handful of politicians from other parties to express concern over the amount of taxpayers’ money supporting onshore wind.
State backing for the sector is already set to be cut back by the Government, under new renewable energy tariffs set out last year.
But in an early headache for new Energy Secretary Ed Davey – promoted to the job after his Liberal Democrat colleague Chris Huhne’s resignation – the rebel MPs are demanding that process be accelerated “dramatically”.
“In these financially straitened times, we think it is unwise to make consumers pay for inefficient and intermittent energy production that typifies onshore wind turbines,” the letter states.
The rebel MPs also express concerns that the Government’s proposed shake-up of planning laws “diminishes the chances of local people defeating onshore wind farm proposals”.
Critics say turbines are inefficient and a blot on the countryside – but supporters insist they have a vital part to play in reducing Britain’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Organised by backbencher Chris Heaton-Harris, the letter’s 101 Tory signatories include senior figures such as David Davis, the MP for Haltemprice and Howden, as well as campaigning East Yorkshire MP Greg Knight.
Mr Knight told the Yorkshire Post he was particularly concerned about the number of applications around the Yorkshire Wolds.
“I have three problems with onshore wind turbines,” Mr Knight said. “They being vastly subsidised at taxpayers’ expense; they are not a reliable energy source; and they are destroying our landscapes.
“The Yorkshire Wolds are an outstanding area of beauty in my opinion, but because they are not formally designated as such we are getting application after application for these turbines. “
Mr Knight said it was important to make a distinction between onshore and offshore wind farms.
Several vast offshore wind farms are planned off the Yorkshire coast, with the potential to generate much of the UK’s future energy supply while creating tens of thousands of jobs across this region.
“Clearly, out at sea the wind is more consistent, and therefore the return is more predictable,” Mr Knight said. “We should be focusing our subsidies in that direction, and starting to abandon onshore wind.
“We are an island, and I think we have been slow in harnessing both offshore wind and wave power.”
Shipley MP Philip Davies said he too has put his name to the letter, describing onshore turbines as “a blot on the landscape”.
And Selby MP Nigel Adams said he supported the letter, suggesting Mr Huhne’s demise may now provide Tories with an “opportunity” to fight onshore wind.
“In Chris Huhne we had a very pro-wind farm Secretary of State,” Mr Adams said. “Hopefully Ed Davey will take a more pragmatic view.”
But the Government defended its policy, pointing out its firm commitments to localism and to reducing wind subsidies.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “We need a low carbon infrastructure, and onshore wind is a cost effective and valuable part of the UK’s diverse energy mix.
“We are already proposing a cut for onshore wind subsidies to take into account the fact that costs are coming down.”
Its stance was backed by trade body Renewable UK, which pointed to a public opinion poll from December which showed 56 per cent of people want to see the UK expand its wind power capacity.
Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint said the Tories were now clearly “divided” over the issue.
“If Tory MPs want to turn the clock back on renewable energy, it will be the public who pay the price through higher energy bills as we become more reliant on volatile fossil fuel prices,” she said.