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Wind farms are inefficient says new Environment Secretary, as DECC prepares to launch review

Wind farms are “inefficient” according to the new Environment Secretary as the Government plans to look again at subsidies to the industry.

Owen Paterson, the new Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, sought to distance himself from suggestions he is a climate change sceptic.

“Climate change is happening and there is obviously a man-contribution,” he said.

But he suggested putting up wind turbines to cut carbon emissions is not the best way to deal with the problem.

“My concern is… measures we are taking to counter [climate change] may be doing considerable damage.”

The new Tory minister supports offshore wind but said he was against wind farms onshore in areas like his own constituency in Shropshire because there is not enough wind.

He suggested that wind farms can be “inefficient” – and fail to cut carbon emissions – because they have to be backed up by gas turbines.

“I am not convinced building wind farms in my area is the right way [forward] because you have more problems. You have to have back up from gas – that is operating inefficiently. “

A report from Civitas earlier this year claimed that wind farms are expensive because of the need for back up electricity from fossil fuels when the wind doesn’t blow.

It claimed wind farms cause more carbon emissions because turning back-up gas power stations on and off to cover spells when there is little wind actually produces more carbon than a steady supply of energy from an efficient modern gas station.

However a report from another think tank IPPR claimed that wind has already cut carbon emissions in the UK by 5.5m tonnes in 2011 alone.

Major energy suppliers say that modern combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) are able to operate efficiently at a low level and ramp electricity up and down very effectively in order to meet the requirements of variable generation like wind.

Also, other technologies such as coal and nuclear have to be backed up by gas or other technologies as well to deal with repairs that can go on for months.

IPPR pointed to a large-scale US study that found the need for back up fossil fuels does not damage the efficiency of producing low carbon energy from wind. The National Grid already balances demand and supply of energy and is able to cope with surges and falls in wind capacity.

Mr Paterson also questioned the subsidies handed out to wind energy developers.

“Some projects may be inappropriate for certain areas: a) it may not reduce carbon and b) they depend on very heavy public subsidies that are intensely unpopular,” he said.

His comments come as Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, prepares to launch a review of the costs of wind that could lead to cuts in subsidies from 2014.

The Lib Dem minister will also call for evidence into how communities can have more of a say over, and receive greater economic benefit from, hosting onshore wind farms.

In a visit to launch the construction the largest man-made coastal reserve in Europe, Mr Paterson suggested that the UK should be doing more to create new habitat when building large infrastructure projects.

Four millions tonnes of soil from the construction of Crossrail tunnels in London is helping to create the wetland on floodplains in danger of sinking beneath the sea. Wallasea Island is expected to attract 100,000 visitors by the time it is finished in 2019 and rare birds like spoonbills and Kentish plovers.

As the Coalition bickers over how to get the economy going through construction, Mr Paterson suggested the UK should not be “frightened” of building new infrastructure because of the environment.

He argued that projects like Wallasea show that the environment can benefit from large infrastructure projects if enough imagination is shown.

“We should not be afraid of large infrastructure projects that benefit the economy because you can get an environmental gain if you are inventive.”

The Tories are in favour of ‘conservation credits’, that would allow developers to offset the damage of building over wildlife by creating habitat elsewhere.

The MP for North Shropshire, who is pro-foxhunting, also gave his support for the badger cull.