The politics of lifting the ban on subsidies for wind turbines

There are political reasons behind the Tories’ change of heart, Jon Stone explains

Monday 02 March 2020 22:58 GMT
The move could help revive the sector that the government previous destroyed
The move could help revive the sector that the government previous destroyed (AFP via Getty Images)

It would be a dramatic U-turn, even by the standards of this government, but it does look as though the Tory party will overturn its much-derided ban on subsidies for onshore wind power.

The change comes just four years after the policy, a Tory manifesto promise in 2015, was enacted. It seems strange that they’re doing it now, but zooming out, it’s more obvious why it’s long overdue.

The ban was originally brought in because of a perception in the party hierarchy that a certain section of voters didn’t like wind turbines ‘at the bottom of their gardens’.

But the political context for the introduction of the ban was very different to today: it was at a time when the Conservative party’s leadership saw itself as threatened from the right.

In other words, this promise was in the same category as a the EU referendum: it was supposed to stop David Cameron losing votes to Ukip.

It didn’t save Cameron’s political career – or indeed that of Amber Rudd, the energy secretary who introduced it. But what it did do was trash the UK’s wind energy sector at a pretty critical time. The government boasted of 250 planned windfarms being cancelled, thousands of turbines in total.

It’s also questionable whether the voters who didn’t like wind turbines ever really existed in any significant number – or whether they were just very loud and well-connected to local Tory associations where liberal Conservatives thought they were under attack.

Wind power is extremely popular in the country: 78 per cent of the British public support onshore wind, including 74 per cent of Conservative voters, according to recent polling.

Of course, some of those will have a different view on wind turbines located near them personally, but these numbers are not exactly indicative of a revolutionary groundswell against onshore wind.

With concern about climate change going increasingly mainstream over the last few years, the government’s policy is starting to look more anarchistic to an even broader range of people.

And Theresa May’s outgoing commitment to take the UK to net zero carbon by 2050 would have probably necessitated a U-turn – if the courts didn’t force the government into one before ministers got around to it themselves.

For the government the move is both politically, as well as environmentally, astute.

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