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Thousand more wind turbines than UK needs

At least 1,000 more onshore wind turbines will be built than are needed under the Government’s own green energy targets, official estimates disclose.

All wind farm projects currently in the planning system are surplus to requirements, and, if built at the rate ministers expect, will see the UK exceed the upper limit of its planned onshore wind farm capacity by 15 per cent, figures suggest.

In a letter seen by The Sunday Telegraph, Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, discloses government analysis of the proportion of proposed and approved wind farms that will be built.

The figures show the UK is on course for a total of more than 15 gigawatts (GW) of onshore wind farms, compared with the total of 11-13GW Mr Davey says is needed by 2020 to meet EU renewable energy targets.

The disclosure appears to confirm claims by the Conservatives that there is “no requirement for any more” wind farms, beyond those already approved, in order to hit the targets.

The Conservatives have already pledged to cap the number of onshore wind farms by ending subsidies for those that have not yet been approved if they win the 2015 election, amid concerns from backbench MPs that wind turbines are blighting the British countryside.

Mr Davey opposes such a cap, arguing it would push up bills by requiring more expensive offshore wind turbines to be built instead.

In his letter, to Labour MP Mary Creagh, Mr Davey says that 7.8GW of onshore wind capacity has already been built and 1.5GW is under construction. There is a further 5.3GW with planning consent and 6.4GW in the process of applying for planning consent. Although Mr Davey makes clear that “not everything in planning will get planning consent and not everything that is consented will be built”, he says: “On average, our models assume that around 50 per cent of projects in the planning system receive consent and around 70 per cent of consented projects are built.”

If 70 per cent of projects already given consent are indeed built as expected, the total capacity would hit 13GW – the top end of the range Mr Davey says is necessary. This implies that none of the 6.4GW still in the planning system would be needed.

If, however, projects in the planning system are also approved and built at the rate ministers expect, that would result in the upper range of the target being exceeded by 2.2GW – or more than 1,000 turbines, based on a typical onshore capacity of 2MW each.

The Renewable Energy Foundation, a group critical of subsidy costs, which uncovered the letter, said: “The presence of this needless 6.4GW of onshore wind in the planning system is causing undue cost to local authorities and widespread planning blight to affected communities, to say nothing of misdirected capital ­effort on the part of developers.

“In our judgment Mr Davey should cool the sector down with a statement to the effect that the onshore wind target is now met, that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) does not support onshore wind applications currently in the planning system, and that effort should be focused on other areas.”

A spokesman for Renewable UK, the wind industry body, said: “The Government’s target of 11-13GW assumes that we’ll successfully decarbonise not only electricity, but also heat and transport fuel. If heat and transport haven’t made sufficient progress, we’ll need more onshore wind.”

The Government is opposed to any more renewable energy targets after 2020, arguing it should be free to choose its own method of cutting carbon emissions. This would not necessarily have to involve more wind farms, though DECC says it is likely to.

A DECC spokesman said: “The government’s ambition for onshore wind has not changed, and our support package is designed to deliver 11-13GW in 2020 as part of diverse, secure and sustainable energy mix.

“We also have a legally binding target to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and we see renewable energy sources, including wind farms, as an important part of achieving this target.”