August 20, 2013

Ministers at war over secret wind farm evidence

By Peter Dominiczak, Political Correspondent | The Telegraph | 19 August 2013 |

An official study of the impact of wind farms and renewable energy on the countryside is being suppressed by the Department of Energy, Coalition sources have disclosed to The Daily Telegraph.

The newspaper has learnt that a new Government row over wind farms is blocking a report that could provide official confirmation that the controversial turbines can harm rural areas.

Sources have said that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) – run by Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat – wants to stop Owen Paterson, the Conservative Environment Secretary, publishing a major report that he has commissioned on renewable energy and the rural economy.

Mr Paterson, a known opponent of onshore wind farms, is understood to be furious at the attempts to stifle his department and is said to be “determined” to publish the findings. In June, he said that onshore turbines were often regarded as a “complete scam”.

Opponents of wind farms claim that they are unsightly and are an inefficient method of energy generation.

Sources in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) tonight claimed that figures in Mr Davey’s department were more concerned about “ideology” than scientific evidence. “This is our department,” a source said. “We are doing this report. It is part of our remit.”

It is claimed that figures in the DECC are concerned that the report, which has not been completed, could include negative conclusions about how renewable energy affects the rural economy.

“They don’t want information out there that would allow people to challenge the energy solution that they are going after,” the source added.

David Cameron this month signalled his growing opposition to onshore wind farms, saying that there is now “limited potential” for the technology in the UK.

The Prime Minister said he was in favour of offshore wind and shale gas exploration, known as fracking.

Mr Paterson’s report is about the impact of all renewable-energy sources on the countryside and on the rural economy. “There has been a back-and-forth with DECC but we are doing this report,” a source said. “We want some hard and fast evidence about the effect of renewables on rural communities. That is well within our portfolio.”

No DECC officials have seen the report as it is still in its early stages, it is understood. It is claimed that officials in the energy department have expressed concerns about the “principle of [the] report and what they fear may be documented about some renewables”.

The DECC said the departments were working together but appeared to raise doubts about the quality of Defra’s work.

A spokesman said: “We are currently working with Defra to ensure that a final report meets the usual standards and quality assurances that you would expect from any Government publication.”

A Defra spokesman said: “We need to ensure that energy is generated in a way that is sustainable.

“We need to understand the effects that different technologies have on the environment and on communities across the country. The energy report is not yet complete.”

In June, following government moves to make it easier for local communities to block wind farms, Mr Paterson said: “I know there is huge unhappiness with some of these projects.

“There are places where these projects are well prepared, the community wants it. But in inland areas they are very often deeply unpopular.”

According to sources, Mr Paterson is in favour of “appropriate renewables” and is not opposed to some biomass projects and fracking. Defra said the report was being produced by civil servants in the department and that it will be peer-reviewed by experts when it is finished.

The row has echoes of a dispute last year between Mr Davey and John Hayes, the former energy minister. Mr Davey slapped down his Tory colleague after Mr Hayes said that the spread of wind farms across the countryside will be brought to a halt as “enough is enough”.

The Energy Secretary was forced to publicly state that government policy had not changed after Mr Hayes called for an end to wind farms being “peppered” all over the countryside.

In March, Mr Hayes was moved from his role as energy minister and became the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary adviser. He is tasked with improving relations between the Tory leadership and backbenchers.

He was replaced by Michael Fallon, who is also retaining his position as a business minister.

The Government has committed to erecting thousands of new onshore turbines by 2020.

DECC projections published earlier this year said that the Government is aiming to double the amount of onshore wind capacity in the country over the next 10 years.

Currently 6.3 gigawatts of energy comes from onshore wind – equating to 4,074 turbines. The DECC has said that the country could produce between 10 and 12 gigawatts of energy from onshore wind farms by 2020.

However, while speaking to factory workers in Lancashire earlier this month, the Prime Minister said that people should not “expect to see a lot more wind power onshore in the UK”. “There’s a limited potential for onshore wind,” Mr Cameron said.

“Frankly, we’ve got some in the UK – I don’t think we’re going to have a huge amount more.

“We’ve just changed the rules, we’ve cut the subsidies and we’ve said that any schemes that go ahead have to give more benefit to local communities. So I wouldn’t expect to see a lot more wind power onshore in the UK.”

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