Wind farms: Row after minister says UK has 'enough'

Wind turbines in Kent Turbines at a wind farm on Romney Marsh, Kent

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Tory energy minister John Hayes has been slapped down by his Lib Dem boss Ed Davey after saying the UK had "enough" onshore wind farms.

A source close to Mr Davey said Mr Hayes had "totally over-egged things" and did not make the final decisions.

Mr Hayes told the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph the UK was "peppered" with wind farms and "enough is enough".

He suggested reviews would be launched into the noise and impact on the landscape created by turbines.

The comments put him on a collision course with energy and climate change secretary Mr Davey, who took personal charge of wind farm policy after Mr Hayes was appointed in September's reshuffle, and who has said having a wind farm on the doorstep can be good for communities.

Mr Davey is in charge of the government's renewable energy strategy, while Mr Hayes is in charge of "deployment".

Some 4,000 turbines are due to be built across the UK by 2020 - which Mr Hayes told the two newspapers was sufficient to meet the government's environmental targets.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has launched a consultation on future developments - but Mr Hayes appeared to pre-empt that by saying any future wind farm applications would put the views of local communities first.

'No change'

He said: "We can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities. I can't single-handedly build a new Jerusalem but I can protect our green and pleasant land.

Analysis

John Hayes is a long-standing opponent of onshore wind farms, so this row was waiting to happen.

I understand that he wrote an anti-wind speech which Ed Davey decreed to be against government policy.

He then penned a more emollient version, but shared his original views with journalists.

Mr Hayes cannot be contacted to confirm that.

Onshore wind is particularly contentious with so many back-bench Conservatives opposing turbines in the countryside, but the Lib Dems insistent that wind farms offer the cheapest way of expanding low-carbon energy to help keep the lights on and reduce emissions in the forthcoming Energy Bill.

Of the alternatives, offshore wind is very expensive; nuclear is controversial and expensive; wave power is in its infancy; energy efficiency is hard to achieve; coal is deemed too dirty and gas leaves the UK vulnerable to price spikes on the global market.

It's not easy.

"We have issued a call for evidence on wind. That is about cost but also about community buy-in. We need to understand communities' genuine desires. We will form our policy in the future on the basis of that, not on a bourgeois Left article of faith based on some academic perspective.

"If you look at what has been built, what has consent and what is in the planning system, much of it will not get through and will be rejected. Even if a minority of what's in the system is built we are going to reach our 2020 target."

But a DECC source told the BBC's Chris Mason that Mr Hayes "does not make final decisions on this" and that he had "totally over-egged" things when he suggested reviews will be commissioned into the noise that turbines create and their relationship with the landscape.

There had been "absolutely no change in government policy", added the source, and "we will be reassuring the renewable energy industry we haven't shifted our view at all".

Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of RenewableUK, said his organisation was "disappointed" by Mr Hayes' comments, which came after he addressed a renewables conference on Tuesday evening.

Mr Smith told BBC Radio 4 Today's programme: "At our conference he was talking about the importance of renewables in the mix, the importance of wind, the importance of jobs and securing benefits for renewables.

"What we would like is clarity about those views. We understand some of those things that have been said in print this morning are not government policy."

Mr Hayes' speech to the event on Tuesday evening was "well received" by the renewables industry and did not include the views expressed in the newspaper interview, according to DECC.

But the minister, a longstanding critic of wind farms, told reporters on Wednesday morning "I stand by what I said" in the interviews.

John Hayes John Hayes has previously described wind turbines as a "terrible intrusion" on communities

DECC has said it has "no targets" for the deployment of onshore wind power but a spokesman added: "Government is committed to supporting a balanced energy mix of renewables, new nuclear and gas in order to meet the UK's energy needs."

Earlier this year, more than 100 Conservative MPs wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to get rid of the subsidies paid to wind farm operators funded from household energy bills.

Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint, for Labour, accused Mr Hayes of "playing politics" with clean energy jobs and the country's energy security.

"With energy bills skyrocketing, what hard pressed people urgently want is action but instead we have a shambles of a Tory-led government which can't even agree with itself," she added.

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