Tory plans to end onshore wind farm subsidies will see 'bills rise or climate targets missed', campaigners warn

Government says onshore wind farms 'often fail to win public support' – despite statistics suggesting 67 per cent of people support them

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The Independent Online

Conservative plans to end subsidies for onshore wind farms will push up energy bills and leave thousands of jobs in the balance, campaigners have warned.

The Government proposal to close the existing scheme for new onshore wind projects a year early has been criticised by campaigners for hitting the cheapest form of clean energy.

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd today announced the plans to close the "renewables obligation" scheme for onshore wind farms from April 2016, fulfilling a Tory election manifesto promise.

The Tory Government has said onshore wind farms “often fail to win public support and are unable by themselves to provide the firm capacity that a stable energy system requires” – despite latest Government survey statistics suggesting 67 per cent of people support them.

Ms Rudd said there were enough subsidised onshore wind schemes to meet renewable commitments.

A European Commission progress report this week however suggested the UK was one of several member states set to significantly miss renewable targets for 2020.

Campaigners meanwhile have warned the move will push up energy bills, as in order to meet targets to tackle climate change, support will have to shift towards more expensive forms of low-carbon energy.

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: "This decision risks undermining the development of the cheapest form of renewables in the country, and is bad news for Scotland's clean energy ambitions.

"Cutting support early for the lowest cost renewable technology is a backward step that will either see bills rise or climate targets missed."

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd today announced the plans to close the 'renewables obligation' scheme for onshore wind farms from April 2016 (BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Campaigners have also warned the move sent a "chilling signal" to investors across the UK's infrastructure sectors – and will leave millions of pounds of investment in the balance.

In Scotland, where the majority of planned new wind farms are due to be built, Energy Minister Fergus Ewing MSP has warned the decision may be the subject of a judicial review.

Industry body RenewableUK chief executive Maria McCaffery said: "It means this Government is quite prepared to pull the rug from under the feet of investors even when this country desperately needs to clean up the way we generate electricity at the lowest possible cost - which is onshore wind.

"People's fuel bills will increase directly as a result of this Government's actions.

"Ministers are out of step with the public, as two-thirds of people in the UK consistently support onshore wind.

"Meanwhile the Government is bending over backwards to encourage fracking, even though less than a quarter of the public supports it."

The Government has denied the claim that bills will rise due to the proposed changes, saying there are enough planned and current projects to meet projected targets.

A Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spokeswoman said: "We have a cap on the cost of renewables to consumers, so this won't push up bills. We have enough onshore wind now - including projects that have planning permission, we have as much as we'd projected.

"If we'd allowed the RO to stay open longer, we could have ended up with more projects than we can afford - which would have led to either higher bills, or other renewable technologies losing out on support."

Under the proposal, up to 5.2GW of onshore wind capacity may be eligible for a grace period offered to projects that already have planning consent, a grid connection offer and acceptance, along with evidence of land rights, the Government has said.

The scheme is due to close to all new renewable schemes in 2017 – the year it had been expected to end for onshore wind.

The Government has denied the claim that bills will rise due to the proposed changes (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Ms Rudd said: "We have a long-term plan to keep the lights on and our homes warm, power the economy with cleaner energy, and keep bills as low as possible for hard-working families.

"We want to help technologies stand on their own two feet, not encourage a reliance of public subsidies.

"So we are driving forward our commitment to end new onshore wind subsidies and give local communities the final say over any new wind farms."

Alasdair Cameron, Friends of the Earth's renewable energy campaigner, said: "Slashing wind support on the day the Pope calls for stronger climate action, and 24 hours after thousands lobbied their MPs to do more for the environment, shows the Government is living in a different world.

"Far from showing global leadership ahead of the crucial Paris climate summit later this year, the government appears to be making the environment pay the price for rash pre-election promises."

Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner Daisy Sands said: "Ministers have just moved to raise everyone's energy bills by blocking the cheapest form of clean power, whilst continuing to back the impossibly expensive Hinkley C and going 'all out' for unpopular, risky, and unproven fracking.

"Even if this omnishambles of an energy policy survives the many legal challenges threatened against it, it will send a clear message to international investors that the UK Government is willing to wreck our power sector to please their most ideological backbenchers.

"This mistake will cost the UK dearly."

The DECC has said more than £800m of subsidies, paid for through consumer bills, helped onshore wind generate 5 per cent of the UK's electricity last year.

Additional reporting by PA