Conservatives implement manifesto pledge to end subsidies but offer loophole that is likely to see about 1,000 more turbines get built
Onshore wind farm subsidies are being ended to prevent the “beautiful countryside of the United Kingdom” being covered with wind turbines, ministers have announced.
A key subsidy scheme that has fuelled the spread of wind turbines, the Renewables Obligation (RO), will be closed in April 2016, a year earlier than planned, Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, said on Thursday.
But energy companies will be handed a ‘grace period’ loophole that Ms Rudd said could enable up to 5.2 gigawatts (GW) of wind farms - nearly 3,000 turbines - that already have planning permission to still qualify for the lucrative payments.
Ministers indicated they expect about 2.1 GW of these - closer to 1,000 turbines – will actually proceed, pushing the annual bill for onshore wind farm subsidies up from £800 million a year to £1.1 billion.
The early closure of the RO subsidy scheme, first disclosed by the Telegraph last month, is a key part of the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to end new onshore wind farm subsidies.
Chris Grayling, the leader of the house, said: “This Government are committed to renewable energy, but I am afraid that my idea of renewable energy does not involve covering some of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom and the highlands of Scotland with wind farms."
He said he wanted to "cherish and protect" the countryside for future generations.
The move was welcomed by Tory backbenchers who have long campaigned against the payments.
About 250 wind farms – almost 3,000 more turbines – are currently seeking planning permission. Some of these would have hoped to qualify for subsidies under the RO scheme and will now be unable to following the changes.
However, the majority would not have been built in time to qualify even for the original 2017 closure date and were instead hoping to secure subsidies under a new system of contracts.
Ms Rudd indicated on Thursday that she would make further changes later this year so these new subsidy contracts would no longer be made available for onshore wind farms either.
Ms Rudd said the UK already had enough onshore wind in the pipeline to meet its renewable energy commitments. "It is therefore appropriate to curtail further deployment of onshore wind, balancing the interests of onshore wind developers with those of the wider public," she said.
The wind industry and Scottish government reacted angrily to the plans.
Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister, threatened judicial review against the changes which he said would have a “disproportionate impact” on Scotland where the majority of proposed turbines were due to be built.
Maria McCaffery, chief executive of wind industry body RenewableUK, said the move sent “a chilling signal” to all infrastructure investors in the UK and would push up consumer bills as more expensive green technologies would have to be be built instead.
Katja Hall, deputy director-general of the CBI, said: "Cutting the Renewables Obligation scheme early sends a worrying signal about the stability of the UK’s energy policy framework. This is a blow, not just to the industry, and could damage our reputation as a good place to invest in energy infrastructure."
Addressing SNP MPs who objected, Mr Grayling said: “I am still befuddled by the way in which the SNP appears to want more wind farms in some of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom, which I want to cherish and protect for future generations."
Dr John Constable, director of Renewable Energy Foundation, which has long campaigned against wnd farm subsidies, welcomed the move. He said: "This is a long overdue correction to more than a decade of misguided political intervention in the markets and the planning system that has forced onshore wind farms onto unwilling consumers and local populations, harming the reputation of renewable energy and rewarding speculative investors for mass deployment of inadequate technologies."