We must deliver on the promises we made during the General Election to both end subsidies for large onshore wind farms and to give local communities the final say over planning applications. However, this must not be done at the expense of becoming a world leader in the green technologies of the future.
Any visitor to our picturesque countryside around Yorkshire can see for themselves that we have taken more than our fair share of wind turbines. I have first-hand experience of fighting plans for entirely inappropriate wind farms around York. Every single time it was the developers who were trying to impose their turbines on local communities who simply did not want them.
It is essential that we listen to people’s concerns about the relentless spread of onshore wind turbines and local communities should always be at the heart of the decision-making process. It is therefore only right that residents, not politicians or bureaucrats, have the final say over whether planning permission should be granted for a wind farm in their own neighbourhood.
Only 18 months ago, the former Labour-run council in York was proposing to encircle our historic city with up to 40 wind turbines. Thankfully, it was the voters who saw sense and voted accordingly.
We also need to end the current system whereby large landowners and energy companies pocket lucrative taxpayer-funded subsidies. The cruel irony is that many wind turbines are essentially being funded, at least in part, by the very communities who are so deeply opposed to them in the first place.
It is to be welcomed that the Secretary of State, Amber Rudd, has grasped the nettle and is honouring our manifesto commitments. She knows that she has the full support of the overwhelming majority of people across rural Yorkshire who want to preserve our countryside for the benefit of future generations.
It is a great shame, however, that our proposals have so far been blocked by the House of Lords, whose members are unelected and ultimately unaccountable to the electorate. The fact that many of the most vociferous opponents of reform have well-paid jobs in the wind and renewables industry should also not be overlooked.
The whole point of public subsidy is not for an industry to become dependent on taxpayers’ money, but to help new industries stand on their own two feet. It is therefore only right that we now turn our attention to supporting other potential forms of renewable energy that remain in their infancy.
Offshore wind in the North Sea has the potential to generate far more renewable energy than onshore wind farms, and in a way that does not harm our countryside. Siemens has announced hundreds of millions of pounds of investment into a new plant in Hull to manufacture giant offshore turbines, which will create thousands of new jobs across the entire supply chain in Yorkshire.
Tidal energy is also one of the many forms of renewable energy that has yet to be exploited on an industrial scale in this country as is not receiving the same level of support that has helped to transform wind and solar energy into major industries.
When we talk about our long- term energy mix, we have to bear in mind the energy trilemma: the need to ensure that our energy is affordable, secure and environmentally-friendly. All too often we focus on the final consideration, being green, when more needs to be done to push down the cost of household bills and increase capacity in the marketplace.
It is no good having the greenest energy in the world if customers are struggling to pay the bills, or if generation is intermittent and we struggle to keep the lights on. Any government that pays lip service to our future energy security without taking the problem seriously is playing Russian roulette with our country’s future.
We need a balanced energy mix to deliver security of supply as without action, funds for otherwise uneconomic wind turbines are draining resources away from other less-intrusive forms of renewable energy. Only by embracing the latest technologies of today can we translate into action the bold commitments we made at the Paris Summit.
Frankly, too many people are now fed up with so many wind farms being built in their own back yards, with their own money, without any say in the matter. The key is to fix this problem whilst at the same time ensuring that we have a dynamic and secure energy mix that focuses on jobs, investment, and the needs of local communities.
The current system is no longer fit for purpose and the House of Lords must accept the manifesto commitments that my colleagues and I were elected to carry out. I made a promise to everybody who voted for me to make sure we have a common sense policy on wind farms and I intend to keep my promise come what may.
Julian Sturdy is the Conservative MP for York Outer and a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee.
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