The Liberal Democrats could support Conservative plans to end onshore wind farm subsidies, Nick Clegg has suggested, in a concession that will anger many of the party’s environmentalist supporters.
Mr Clegg on Sunday made “leading the fight on climate change” one of the party’s “red lines” for any potential coalition agreement after the general election.
Asked whether he could nevertheless go into a government that was ending onshore wind subsidies, a key Conservative pledge, he said: “There are other green technologies and our whole energy strategy doesn’t just rely on onshore wind.”
He said it would be “a great shame to remove one green technology for arbitrary ideological reasons” but added: “I don’t think the whole environmental agenda depends on one green technology.”
The concession could smooth the way for a second coalition with the Conservatives. Energy and the environment has been a key battleground over the last five years, in particular over onshore wind.
The Lib Dems have until now been vocal critics of Conservative plans to end subsidies for new onshore wind farms.
Onshore wind farms currently receive subsidies at roughly twice the market price of power so ending subsidies would be tantamount to a ban.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem energy secretary, has said the plan would push up energy bills and undermine jobs and investment.
Mr Clegg said on Sunday: “For five years we have fought sceptical Tories to ensure we were the greenest Government ever.”
Despite this the Lib Dems indicated they could compromise on many of their flagship manifesto proposals for green energy – such as plans to decarbonise the power sector by 2030 – by failing to make them “red lines”.
Mr Clegg made clear that while he could potentially live with the Conservatives’ proposals to end onshore wind subsidies, he did not understand or support the rationale for the plan.
He said he was “perplexed” by the “hard line right wing” of the Conservative party for whom “Europe, single mothers,welfare cheats and onshore wind farms have all assumed some dastardly status”.
“We take a much more pragmatic approach to it. You shouldn’t be imposing onshore wind farms on communities that really don’t want them, but equally given we are a very windy island we shouldn’t be closing off the opportunity to create green jobs and invest in sustainable energy generation at reasonable cost,” he said.
Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems supported “spreading our bets” by backing a mix of green technologies.
He added: “As the onshore wind industry matures, of course the cost declines… and the need for public subsidy declines as well. I’m a liberal, I don’t want to subsidise any industry or any technology a penny or a pound more than is necessary. I just don’t understand this belief that somehow all wind energy is bad. It is an absurdly draconian approach.”
It came after David Cameron and Nick Clegg appeared to begin public negotiations over the terms of a future Coalition after the Liberal Democrat leader suggested he is open to an EU referendum.
During an appearance on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show, Mr Clegg was asked eight times whether he would accept a referendum in 2017 as the price of a Coalition with the Conservatives.
He repeatedly refused to do so, instead pointing to his party’s own “red lines” including a public sector pay rise, raising the personal allowance to £12,500, investing £8billion a year in the NHS, and guaranteeing education funding.
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