English consumers could be forced to continue paying for new wind farms in Scotland, after the Government indicated its promise to end subsidies may not apply north of the border.
The Conservatives pledged in their manifesto to “end any new public subsidy” for onshore wind farms after David Cameron declared that “enough is enough”.
But on Wednesday the Government disclosed that, while it would “be announcing measures to deliver this soon”, it would also “consult with the devolved administrations on changes to subsidy regimes for onshore wind farms”.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister and SNP leader, is strongly in favour of more onshore wind farms and has already demanded a veto on the Tory plans – raising the prospect that subsidies may continue to be paid to new projects in Scotland.
The cost of subsidising wind farms is shared between all households across the UK, through levies on their energy bills.
If Ms Sturgeon succeeds in retaining subsidies for new projects in Scotland, English consumers could therefore continue to pay the bulk of the costs.
The Conservatives have previously suggested that their pledge would see subsidies scrapped for any onshore wind projects that do not already have planning consent.
The majority of such projects – 1,642 out of 2,836 turbines – currently awaiting planning permission are in Scotland, compared with 483 in England, according to figures from wind industry body Renewable UK.
The devolved government in Wales – where 387 turbines are awaiting permission – is also likely to be in favour of continued onshore wind subsidies.
Asked to confirm whether the end to subsidies would apply in Scotland, a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “The UK Government’s intention is to end subsidies for onshore wind but we will consult with the Scottish government before applying it there.”
He added: “There is no point doing a consultation without taking into account the outcomes of it.”
The Queen’s Speech also proposes the introduction of an Energy Bill that will change the law “in line with the manifesto commitment to give local communities the final say on wind farm applications”.
As part of this, large wind farms of more than 50 megawatt capacity – at least 17 turbines – will be moved from national to local planning authorities.
Only two big onshore wind farms have so far been dealt with at national level, Angus Walker, planning partner at law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, said, suggesting the Government may have overplayed the significance of the change.
However, both such projects were approved in the face of local opposition, he said, and a handful of further projects in England and Wales are currently being dealt with under the national framework.
A second element of the Government’s plans will see “changes to the national planning policy framework to give effect to the manifesto commitment that local communities should have the final say on planning applications for wind farms”.
It is not clear what this will mean in practice, as currently if a local community rejects a proposal the developer can still appeal to national planning inspectors or the secretary of state.
Wind industry groups reacted angrily to the plans to curb onshore turbines.
Ian Marchant, chairman of Infinis Energy and spokesman for British Wind, said: “The proposed approach contradicts the Government’s manifesto commitment to ‘meet our climate change commitments, cutting carbon emissions as cheaply as possible, to save you money’ as the cost of substituting more expensive alternative technologies in place of onshore wind would needlessly add several hundred million pounds every year to energy bills.
“It surely cannot be the Government’s intention to deny local communities the chance to host onshore wind projects if that is what they want to do.”
Maria McCaffery, chief executive of RenewableUK criticised the plan to move big wind farms from national to local planning authorities. “Singling out one of the most popular and lowest cost forms of energy technology for different treatment in the planning system sends a worrying message to investors across the energy sector,” she said.
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