Conservative proposals to axe onshore wind farm subsidies are being delayed amid fears they will trigger a costly legal battle with green energy companies and a damaging dispute with the Scottish Government.
Plans to implement David Cameron’s manifesto pledge by shutting down a key subsidy scheme had been expected as early as last week but were postponed following threats from the wind industry to sue the Government and complaints from the Scottish National Party that it was being “frozen out” of the decision.
An announcement had been rescheduled for this week but Whitehall sources said it had now slipped again as officials tried to draw up plans that would not leave them vulnerable to legal challenge.
The wind industry has vowed to fight against planned changes on the grounds that millions of pounds of investment in proposed projects could be rendered worthless by retrospective changes.
Green groups successfully sued the Coalition government after it changed the rules on rooftop solar panel subsidies.
Wind industry sources said they believed the Government’s announcement could now be delayed beyond next week as ministers feared the policy would also become “a stick the SNP could try to beat the Government with”.
The Government promised in the Queen’s Speech to consult with devolved administrations on the proposed changes to wind farm subsidies, but Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister, complained last week it had received no contact on the matter.
Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, said on Wednesday that the Department of Energy and Climate Change had now begun consultation with Scotland.
“Our manifesto said that we would be removing subsidies for onshore wind and we will be acting on that manifesto pledge. We also said that we will be consulting with the devolved administrations, a process I have begun, and I will continue to do that until we have arrived at a firm policy,” she said.
Challenged over the timing of the announcement, she said she had put “a lot of pressure” on her department on the issue but MPs would have to “bear with us a little longer”.
The majority of onshore wind turbines awaiting construction or seeking planning permission are in Scotland. Failure to implement the manifesto pledge in Scotland could see English consumers continue to foot the majority of the costs of developments north of the border.
The first stage of the Conservatives’ plans involve shutting down a subsidy scheme called the Renewables Obligation a year early, in 2016 rather than 2017 as planned.
About 3,000 onshore wind turbines already have planning permission and many of these would have expected to be able to qualify for subsidies under the scheme.
Almost 3,000 more turbines are still seeking planning permission.
Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of wind industry body Renewable UK, said: “The industry will fight against any attempts to bring in drastic and unfair changes utilising the full range of options open, including legal means if appropriate.”
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