Downing Street would probably call it “taking a balanced view” but David Cameron’s letter to backbenchers who called for the scrapping of subsidies on wind farms also demonstrates the conundrum the Prime Minister finds himself in over renewable energy. Yes, he told them, he understands the concern of Tory MPs in rural areas, inundated with complaints about giant turbines destroying the view, But no, he went on, he won’t scrap the subsidies because he believes onshore wind plays a role in the UK electricity mix.
How much easier all this seemed in Opposition. Then Mr Cameron could make use of the positive photo opportunities offered by hitching his wagon to the green movement, driving huskies across the snowfields in the Arctic and eschewing an car to take his bicycle to the House of Commons. In Government, with austerity the name of the game, it is so much harder to maintain the forward direction of a green energy policy while keeping costs down and avoiding the ire of mostly Conservative supporting rural voters who, in general, hate wind turbines and resent the subsidies paid for their power.
The Government’s inability to steer a sensible course on this issue was crystallised by its decision to cut, in very short order, the subsidy paid on solar energy – actually a much less controversial form of green electricity generation since the photo-voltaic panels are less intrusive in the landscape and the return, in energy terms, is generally perceived as being better than with wind turbines, whose inactivity during still periods is obvious for all to see.
In the end, of course, Mr Cameron, was bound to write the reply that he did to those of his backbenchers who are highly critical of wind energy. Subsidies will be cut by 10 per cent, he reminded them but wind power has a place. The sub-text, however, seems to be that enthusiasm for both the cost and the impact of onshore green energy is fading within Government. Low carbon power in the future will come from new nuclear power stations, offshore wind, wave and tidal generators and things like waste-to-energy burners and anaerobic digesters. Then there is shale gas and “clean coal” to consider. Onshore wind is not dead – far from it. But the spectre of the countryside becoming covered with thousands of turbines is surely past. This letter from Mr Cameron helps to confirm that fact, whatever the bald facts in the text.