Many prime ministers have had a personal possession that has come to define them.
For Harold Wilson it was his pipe, for Margaret Thatcher her handbag and John Major his grey suit.
It says much about David Cameron that he is still widely associated with the wind turbine he installed on his Kensington home in 2007 and soon removed after it generated more in the way of anger from his neighbours than it did electricity.
For Cameron making a personal commitment to green energy was a symbol of change in the Conservative Party.
It was supposed to signal that far from being greedy and nasty the Tories were soft and cuddly and of course it was designed to win over Lib-Dem voters.
As of yesterday the Prime Minister’s wide-eyed belief in green energy seems finally to be in retreat as he realised that wind farms could turn out to be a huge political liability in rural seats.
New planning guidance will for the first time put concerns of residents above national green energy targets when officials come to consider planning applications for new wind farms.
For dozens of communities the news could not have come soon enough.
Across the country proposals have been made for 6,000 more wind turbines, in addition to the 4,000 that already mark the landscape.
At last much cherished countryside will not automatically be sacrificed to fulfil a green target dreamed up in Whitehall.
But no one should cheer too loudly.
Yesterday’s announcement is only a small step in reversing an energy policy which is damaging the economy and costing us all dear in higher bills.
It is not the end of wind farms.
Combined with the new planning guidance comes a proposal, heavily promoted by the Lib-Dem part of the coalition, to try to bribe residents into dropping their opposition.
At present the developer of an average-sized 20-megawatt wind farm is obliged to offer the local community £20,000 a year in compensation payments, to go towards good causes such as new woodlands or community halls, or alternatively into a discount on energy bills for those affected by new development.
From now on this will be increased to £100,000.
In other words the Government’s policy of encouraging wind farms will remain, only in future there will be a bit less stick and a little more carrot.
That might help the Tories to hold on to a few more rural seats but it isn’t going to help the economy and neither will it do much for the environment.
This year the Government’s own energy quango Ofgem calculates we will all be paying £21 a year on electricity bills to subsidise green power generation.
But this is just the beginning.
Under the Climate Change Act 2008 Britain, alone in the world, is committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent compared with 1990 levels.
No other country has been foolish enough to set itself such a stringent target without any idea of how it can be achieved and without impoverishing the country.
It certainly won’t be achieved by building more wind farms.
Drive around Britain and you could be forgiven for thinking wind turbines are generating most of our electricity.
In fact they are still generating less than five per cent of it.
Even if we covered Britain with turbines from Land’s End to John O’ Groats that figure would never get anywhere near 50 per cent because wind energy is intermittent. On calm, freezing days in winter – when energy demand is at its greatest – the turbines generate next to nothing.
They must therefore be backed up by huge reserve capacity or, though the technology does not yet exist, by some kind of mass storage.
The Government’s energy policy is hurting consumers and killing industry. Energy costs are not the only factor in the loss of manufacturing industry to Asia but they are a growing part of it.
While ministers crow about reducing UK carbon emissions by 20 per cent in the past two decades in reality we haven’t cut our carbon emissions, we have simply outsourced them abroad – in many cases to countries where energy generation is much dirtier than it is here.
When you take into account the CO2 spewed out in the cause of manufacturing goods that used to be produced in Britain, UK carbon emissions – as the Parliamentary committee on climate change recently observed – have actually risen by 10 per cent over that period.
The irony is that in the US, which follows a cheap energy policy and which refuses to bind itself to carbon reduction targets, has actually seen carbon emissions fall.
Why? Because “fracking” has led to a slide in gas prices. This has led to gas-fired power stations taking the place of coal-fired ones, the latter of which – kWh (kilowatt hour) for kWh – produce twice as much carbon dioxide.
While ordinary people pay through the nose for green energy a few already wealthy people have been making fortunes.
Among them is David Cameron’s father-in-law Sir Reginald Sheffield, who is earning £350,000 a year from a wind farm on his estate near Scunthorpe.
And the Government is set to introduce subsidies for green central heating systems such as heat pumps and biomass boilers that could mean the owners of very large houses make a profit every time they switch on their heating.
Yesterday’s change of tack on wind farms is very welcome.
But of itself it is not going to reverse a mad energy policy that is making a lucky few rich on the backs of ordinary consumers.
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