Subsidy limited to 20 wind farms: Minister attempts to calm fears that rash of applications will result in dozens of alternative-energy sites. Nicholas Schoon reports

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The Government yesterday tried to calm public fears about a rash of wind turbines covering the British countryside. Tim Eggar, Minister for Energy, said only up to 20 out of 230 wind-farm applicants would get the subsidies they needed to proceed.

But this figure implies further steady growth in the number of wind farms. If the trend continues there will nearly 100 by the turn of the century.

The closing date for the Government's third round of bids for subsidised renewable energy projects has just closed. Later this year, the Department of Trade and Industry will announce the winners, which will then be guaranteed a high price for the electricity they generate, with electricity consumers providing the subsidy through their bills - about 0.2 per cent extra.

The Government devised the subsidy scheme to encourage the commercial development of renewable energy because it cuts pollution, diversifies energy supplies and substitutes for non-

renewable fossil fuels.

About 650 applications have come in for the latest round of subsidies, including 230 for wind farms. Their backers are applying for the planning permission they will need if their projects are to be built. In several cases local people are protesting about the potential damage to the landscape and the noise that will be made by the turbines.

The wind farms need to be in areas with strong, steady winds. That usually means high ground, from where they can be seen for miles, and much of Britain's upland is valued for its scenery. Yet the limits of the subsidy programme mean that many planned wind farms will never be built.

Mr Eggar said: 'I am prepared to see the steady development of wind energy, but it is not the case, as suggested by some alarmists, that I intend to cover the country with wind farms.'

So far, 22 wind farms and eight single turbines have been guaranteed the subsidy under the Government's first two renewable energy rounds. One is under construction, the rest are up and running. A few of these turbines have caused severe noise disturbance for residents, but wind farm proponents say surveys show most people do not find them ugly or annoying.

The British Wind Energy Association said Mr Eggar's welcome announcement showed Government policy on wind energy 'has not been blown off course by a vociferous minority of alarmists'.

(Photograph omitted)