David Cameron risks a backlash from the countryside after defending the Government’s plans to support onshore wind farms.
The Prime Minister insisted he had sympathy with concerns raised by Tory MPs, but that there were “perfectly hard-headed reasons” for encouraging turbines to be built.
More than 100 turbines are in operation across the Westcountry, and the UK’s biggest onshore wind farm in North Devon is expected to be up-and-running shortly.
Mr Cameron’s comments came in a letter responding to more than 100 Tory MPs who had called for the scrapping of subsidies for “inefficient” wind power and not to ignore opposition from those against wind farms in their community.
Westcountry MP Ian Lidell-Grainger, who signed the letter of protest, said wind turbines were so unpopular in rural areas they generated more complaints than nuclear power stations.
The Conservative MP for West Somerset said: “The Prime Minister does risk a backlash and quite right too. You can’t have that number of MPs ignored.
“The countryside is being put at risk for no gain. They are inefficient and we don’t get any jobs from them.
“We should not be giving them any subsidy. If we didn’t they wouldn’t exist.”
In the Prime Minister’s letter – addressed to the organiser of the original letter, Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris – Mr Cameron denied that the issue went beyond targets for renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions.
“On-shore wind plays a role in a balanced UK electricity mix, alongside gas, nuclear, cleaner coal and other forms of renewable energy,” he wrote.
“A portfolio of different supplies enhances energy security and prevents the UK from becoming over-reliant on gas imports.”
Mr Cameron added: “I am also determined that we seize the economic opportunities in renewable energy supply chains as the global race for capital in low-carbon sectors intensifies.”
The Prime Minister stressed that the Government was already proposing to cut subsidies to onshore wind by 10 per cent to reflect a fall in building costs. A subsidy tariff is set for each form of green power – and effectively paid for out of household electricity bills – and the “bonus” is drawn-down for each “kilowatt hour” of energy the technology produces.
Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I obviously didn’t expect the Prime Minister to just say: ‘OK, you are right,’ and change policy in this area and I am pleased he understands the massive concern that local residents have about these plans.”
But he added: “However, those who signed the letter would like to see a cut in subsidy to on-shore wind greater than the 10 per cent proposed, and hope that our suggested amendments to the national planning policy framework are taken on board. We are also concerned at how the cost of this type of renewable energy is adding to fuel poverty.”
With vast open spaces and windy conditions, the Westcountry has long been considered “fertile ground” by developers.
The massive Fullabrook wind farm in North Devon, between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe, consists of 22 giant turbines. Many more are pending in the planning system.
The coalition Government has indicated it is less enthusiastic about onshore wind than Labour. Opposition leader Ed Miliband has said opposing wind farms was as “socially unacceptable” as drivers who refused to wear a seatbelt.
At a public meeting in North Devon last week, Nick Williams, who lives in the shadow of one of the Fullabrook turbines and has complained at the noise they make, made an emotional plea to “stop the onslaught of the countryside”. He said: “I’m a prisoner of Fullabrook.”
To cut carbon emissions, the Government has backed nuclear, offshore wind and marine power.
“Ministers have granted the South West region Marine Energy Park status and Hinkley Point C in Bridgwater, West Somerset, will be the UK’s first new nuclear power station for 20 years.
Greenpeace spokesman Joss Garman said: “The Prime Minister is right to make a strong intervention to cut through the myths and remind a vocal minority on his back benches that wind farms are good for the economy and good for the environment.
“Wind energy can play a crucial role in reducing our dependence upon the expensive gas imports that are driving up everybody’s energy bills, whilst also cutting pollution and creating new jobs.”
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