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Government suffers fresh defeat over wind farm subsidies

The Government has suffered a fresh defeat in the Lords over scrapping subsidies for new onshore wind farms.

Peers voted by 182 to 178, majority 4, for an Opposition amendment to extend exceptions to the plan allowing some projects to be completed where they had been given initial planning permission.

The vote in debate on the Energy Bill sets the stage for another clash with the Commons and a further round of parliamentary “ping pong” over the legislation.

Peers initially deleted the plan to remove the subsidies from this month – a year earlier than planned – when it was put before them last year.

But the Government reinserted it into the Bill in the Commons, insisting it is one of their 2015 general election manifesto pledges which must be implemented.

The idea to end the renewables obligation (RO) early is a key part of the Bill, which has been backed by MPs and also seeks to give people the final say on new onshore wind development applications in their area.

Debating the Commons changes to the Bill, Labour spokesman Lord Grantchester said it was only fair and honest to make a small extension to exceptions already agreed by the Government for schemes given planning permission last year.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Lord Wallace of Tankerness accused ministers of “capriciously” cutting support to wind energy and damaging investor confidence in the sector and also urged wider exceptions.

But energy and climate change minister Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth said it was a clear manifesto commitment to end the subsidies.

He confirmed there would be some exceptions to the subsidy cut-off during a period of grace and insisted the move would protect consumer bills while balancing the interests of the industry.

While understanding the Government had “to draw a line somewhere”, opposition spokesman Lord Grantchester said: “The amendment proposes a logical, consistent, clear, honest and fair extension to the exceptions agreed by the Government.

“The wider onshore wind industry has come to a consensus and supports this single narrow extension to the existing renewables grace period criteria.

“The proposed change is for projects that have achieved democratic local consent for their development at a planning commission on or before 18 June 2015.

“This cannot be said to be against Conservative Party policy.

“It’s widely considered that the decision made by a democratically elected local planning committee embodies the principle of giving local people the final say.”

Lord Bourne said he understood the points being made but highlighted a “doctrinal difference” between the Government and opposition on onshore wind.

He said: “Cut-off points are always going to be a problem. In reality a cut-off point has to be set and that’s what we have done. It’s only arbitrary in that any date is arbitrary.”

He added: “This doesn’t stop wind farms deploying onshore. It ends the subsidy.”