A war of words erupted yesterday following calls by Prime Minister David Cameron for green energy to become cheaper and “more sustainable”.
The Prime Minister made the comments at an international clean energy summit in London that saw ministers gather from 23 countries around the globe.
In Wales, where renewables have become a highly divisive issue amid concerns about their impact on scenery, windfarm opponent Michael Williams said the technologies were viable only because they attracted massive subsidies.
But Llywelyn Rhys, deputy director of RenewableUK Cymru, which represents several hundred firms across the country, said green energy will get cheaper as the technology matures.
Speaking specifically on the environment for the first time since pledging to lead “the greenest government ever”, the Prime Minister said the country needed cheaper energy because families were struggling with utility bills in the face of higher gas prices.
Mr Williams, secretary of the North Wales protest group the Cynghrair Hiraethog Alliance, said that while he was in favour of renewable energy in principle, wind farms in particular were costly, inefficient and they semi-industrialised beauty spots.
The 68-year-old semi-retired arts consultant from Pentrellyncymer, in Conwy, said: “It’s not a matter of saying it’s got to be cheaper. It’s only viable at the moment by having enormous subsidies.
“The electricity they [wind farms] generate costs twice the amount as everybody else who is being paid for electricity and if it’s out at sea they get paid three times as much.”
The Department for Energy and Climate Change says renewables are subsidised to balance the need to provide investors with long-term certainty, while keeping costs to consumers to a minimum.
Its support for the sector, which stands at around £1.3bn per year, has seen a tripling in the level of renewable electricity in the UK from 1.8% in 2002 to 6.6% in 2010.
As part of EU-wide action to increase the use of renewable energy, the UK is committed to generating 15% of energy from green sources by 2020. Mr Cameron said the growth in renewables in the UK was not just good for the environment, but “good business” too.
Mr Rhys said he welcomed the Government’s support and sees the pay-outs to the sector as a premium for cleaner energy rather than a subsidy.
He said: “In the future, renewable energy will actually help to keep the price of our bills down because it will lessen our reliance on the need to import expensive gas from foreign parts.
“So by increasing the mix of energy and relying more on renewables, which after all means you don’t have to import the fuel or dig the ground, we’re not only doing good for the environment, but also the security of supply.”
The Prime Minister stressed fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas – including shale gas – and carbon capture and storage were all going to have a role to play in the nation’s energy mix – as is nuclear.
But he added: “I passionately believe the rapid growth of renewable energy is vital to our future.”
And in a move to reassure companies which have been hit by policy uncertainty – embodied by the cuts to solar subsidies for households – he promised: “When we have made a commitment to a project we will always honour it in full.”
The Prime Minister used yesterday’s meeting to announce a new industry partnership to make the most of the North Sea’s renewable resources, such as offshore wind. And he announced £350m of new investment in UK renewables, representing 800 jobs, including a £300m biomass project by Helius Energy at the Port of Bristol.
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