A Liberal Democrat minister has approved 15 new onshore wind farms, triggering a coalition row and demands that a future Tory government rips up the contracts.
Ed Davey, the energy and climate change secretary, awarded 27 new contracts yesterday, including 15 onshore wind projects and five solar projects, with the rest involving waste energy or new “conversion technology”.
Conservative MPs demanded that David Cameron cancel the contracts, which will be signed before the election, to honour his pledge that a future Conservative government would stop all new subsidies for onshore wind farms.
All the projects approved yesterday would be delivered between 2016 and 2019, causing a huge dilemma if the Tories were re-elected. The next government would face a huge battle to unpick the legally binding agreements to power 1.4 million homes.
The contracts were decided in an auction to determine which forms of renewable energy were cheapest – and onshore wind proved in many cases the best value for money. More than half the projects are in Scotland or Wales.
Had the government held a competitive auction last year, it would have forced energy companies to drive down costs and accept lower subsidies.
The Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris, a member of the public accounts committee who has spoken out repeatedly on the “blight” of wind farms, said that he was disappointed at the news.
“This is a rush to milk subsidy while subsidy still exists,” he said. “A new Conservative government would not subsidise onshore wind in the future.
This subsidises an expensive energy source which people then pay over the odds for.
“It is not green – you need gas-powered turbines – and it solves none of our renewable or green issues. It’s just a big white elephant.”
He added: “The Spanish government cut all subsidy to wind projects in that country and it would not surprise me if we had to go down that route in a couple of months time.”
Another senior Tory said: “Conservative party policy is to have no onshore wind at all. The department can do what they want – if there’s no subsidy they aren’t going to be built.”
New planning guidance would stop the wind farm being built on a range of grounds, the Tory figure added.
Mr Davey said: “Onshore wind and solar prices are clearly leading the way for the cheapest green energy out there, and the Conservatives now have some serious questions to answer.
“If they want to tackle climate change and do it through bringing on more green energy, then why press the stop button on onshore wind? An end to onshore wind means that you are either saying no to tackling climate change, or you are having to plug the gap with a more expensive form of energy that will put everyone’s energy bills up.”
The government announced yesterday that following the first competitive auction, Scottish Power and another offshore wind farm developer would receive separate subsidies worth 18 percent less than last year’s payout for two other projects.
At the time, the National Audit Office criticised the government for not forcing companies to cut their costs by competing for the payments in an auction. The body claimed that awarding the subsidies without a competition unnecessarily pushed up costs for consumers.
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