Wind turbines can be gorgeous - but not to Mr Pickles. Photo: Nick Ford via Flickr.com.
Pickles appoints himself Lord of the Wind Farms
17th April 2014
Turbulence lies ahead for the UK's wind energy sector, writes Rebecca Cooke, as key Conservative MPs appear to be launching a hardline attack on onshore wind farms in the run up to the General Election.
What faith can anyone have in the planning process when this can happen, when the rules are thrown out of the window on a whim?
It has emerged that Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is personally rejecting onshore wind proposals that have been recommended by the Planning Inspectorate.
Experts have criticised the policy of capping the building of more onshore wind turbines because restricting wind power to offshore-only will drive up the cost of installations and require bigger subsidies.
Yet Mr Pickles has released a Ministerial Statement announcing that he will be extending his period of calling in planning decisions on renewable energy projects for a further 12 months.
Tories against the UK's lowest cost renewable energy source
This means he will be the sole final decision-maker when it comes to which wind farm will get permission to be constructed in England until the General Election - something that Dale Vince of green energy supplier Ecotricity denounces as "anti-wind posturing" in advance of European and General Elections.
The move has emerged shortly after Grant Shapps, Party Chairman, suggested that a refusal to allow more onshore wind farms to be built would be part of the Conservative Party manifesto.
Renewable energy industry leaders have voiced concern that this is too much influence for one MP to have over an entire industry sector (you can have your say too with this petition)
Anti-onshore wind sentiment has been criticised as a strategy of appeasing the minority of a party and a minority of rural Tory voters, whose vote could swing to UKIP on issues such as onshore wind.
However a 2013 UK Energy Research Centre report showed that wind had the overwhelming support of the British public, with 85% of Britons saying that they would like to see more wind farms.
Ecotricity has had planning permission rejected in recent weeks. In March, the green energy company applied for permission to move forwards with a four-turbine windfarm proposal at Black Ditch in Somerset.
But the proposal was rejected by Mr Pickles - despite several years of environmental assessments, the support of the Council's Planning Officer, and a planning inquiry which concluded with the Planning Inspector recommending approval.
This would have been only the second wind turbine development in the county.
Dale Vince, Ecotricity founder, commented that the Black Ditch windfarm passed all regulatory planning processes and that Mr Pickles did not take the decision seriously.
"We've worked diligently through the entire planning process, passed every test, including a public enquiry - only to have our application refused by a man that knows nothing on the subject. What faith can anyone have in the planning process when this can happen, when the rules are thrown out of the window on a whim?"
Ecotricity has launched an appeal to the High Court against the decision by the Secretary of State, on grounds relating to landscape and topography at the site.
Mr Pickles decision to reject the windfarm also conflicts with the Government's commitment to a decarbonised economy and the European Commission's goals to have 15% of the country's electricity demand met by renewable energy sources by 2020.
The rejected Somerset windfarm of just four turbines would have produced enough green electricity to power the equivalent of around 7,000 homes every year, saving around 9,500 tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere.
Whilst the cost of wind farm installation has been falling globally - with wind now the cheapest form of energy generation in much of the US, a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering has claimed that restricting wind turbines to offshore farms will push up the costs which will be passed to the UK tax payer through subsidies.
Rebecca Cooke blogs for Trillion Fund, on whose website this article was first published.
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