MPs have warned the Government not to drop its manifesto pledge to block onshore wind farms after ministers suggested the rules could be relaxed.
David Cameron’s 2015 manifesto vowed to halt the spread of subsidised onshore wind turbines after more than 100 Conservative MPs wrote to the Prime Minister calling for wind subsidies to be scrapped.
The row over onshore wind farms was given fresh impetus after the energy ministers Claire Perry and Richard Harrington alarmed their backbench colleagues by revealing that they are working on ways to support future projects. Ms Perry prompted concern late last year after saying that onshore wind “is absolutely part of the future” and that she is working on ways “to see how we might bring forward onshore wind, particularly for areas of the UK that want to deploy it”.
Mr Harrington, the junior energy minister, has said that he sees “no reason” why onshore wind farms should not compete on a level playing field against other energy options vying for financial support.
Glyn Davies, the MP for Montgomeryshire in Wales, who played a leading role in the campaign against onshore wind farms, said he was “alarmed” by the change of tone. “I’ve spoken to Claire Perry because I wanted to let her know my view. The minister assured me that there hasn’t been a change and I am a bit reassured by that,” he said.
“We’ve got huge numbers of people who demonstrated their opposition previously and I think all those people would be reactivated if the Government changed its position.”
Mr Davies opposes plans by National Grid to install power lines through Mid Wales in order to connect any new wind farms.
Bob Stewart, the MP for Beckenham and another opponent, said: “We are constrained by the manifesto and if we have said we will do something we should. If we don’t, there should really be a very good reason not to.”
A Government spokesman clarified the ministers’ comments, saying: “We do not believe that more large-scale onshore wind power is right for England, but in other areas where there is public support and it is cost-effective it could be developed in future.”
The ministers revealed their support for wind power in the wake of a fall in turbine costs, which could result in cheaper power and lower household bills. The sharp decline in costs could open a loophole for ministers to offer support to onshore wind projects, without breaking the pledge to scrap subsidies, through so-called “subsidy-free” contracts.
The apparent softening of a party pledge is likely to reopen the rift in the party over renewable energy.
Emma Pinchbeck, of Renewable UK, said: “The political debate about onshore wind has begun to shift because the economics have changed. Westminster was surprised by the record drop in the cost of offshore wind last year and this has opened up a wider debate on how cheap renewables, including onshore wind, can help lock-in low prices for their constituents.”
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