Power generators are close to a landmark deal to pay out hundreds of millions of pounds extra to overcome opposition to wind farms.
Utilities have agreed in principle to quintuple “community benefit” payments from £1,000 for each megawatt of installed capacity to £5,000.
The pledge is contingent, however, on the government keeping subsidies at current levels.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change launched a review of the economics of wind this year after more than 100 Tory MPs signed a letter calling for state payouts to be slashed.
Maria McCaffery, head of Renewable UK, the industry body leading the talks, said: “The industry is quite prepared to increase the community benefit fivefold, but we will only do this if we have assurance that the [subsidy] is safe.”;
The findings of the review were set to be published before the end of the year, but it is now thought that they may not be made public before early next year. The government had already reduced the subsidy by 10%. Opponents wanted it slashed by as much as 25%.
The payout plan was just one of a number of options. Others included the electrical utilities offering lower power bills to locals, or giving them shares in the wind farms.
The cash payments, which have become standard practice in Scotland, have garnered wide industry support. Britain has 3,340 turbines with a total generation capacity of 5,050MW. Based on those figures, the £5,000 payments would generate £25.2m for communities a year for as long as the farms operate. They can function for decades.
Another 13,000MW is under construction or in the planning process.
The policy has driven a wedge in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. Onshore wind is among the cheapest forms of renewable energy – offshore farms cost three times as much to build. Critics say it is invasive and blights the countryside.
Last month a speech by John Hayes, the Conservative energy minister, was leaked. In it he called for an end to new onshore wind farms. Ed Davey, his Liberal Democrat superior in the energy department, swiftly rejected the comments as they conflicted with the government’s stated support for more onshore turbines.
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