UK Politics

Wind farms: 'No change' on policy, says David Cameron

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Media captionEd Miliband and David Cameron clashed over Lord Heseltine, and wind farms

There has been no change in the government's policy on renewable energy, the prime minister has said.

It comes after a Tory energy minister sparked a coalition row by claiming the UK had "enough" onshore wind farms.

John Hayes was slapped down by his Lib Dem boss Ed Davey after suggesting future projects would be blocked.

Mr Davey said he was in charge of energy policy and, echoing the PM, said the wind farm policy had not changed.

"The government is still committed to renewables including onshore wind," said Mr Davey.

"They are the cheapest available major renewable source and as the Prime Minister made clear today in the House of Commons the policy on renewables hasn't changed."

"There will still be lots of investment in onshore wind farms," he added, saying they were vital as a "clean" and "secure" alternative to oil from other countries as North Sea oil diminished.

Mr Davey refused to answer when the question "Is John Hayes just wrong then?" was shouted at him by reporters.

'New Jerusalem'

Mr Hayes, a longstanding critic of wind farms, was handed the junior ministerial role in September's reshuffle, prompting Mr Davey to take personal control of wind farm policy to protect a key Lib Dem priority.

The Tory minister, who is in charge of "renewable energy deployment", is understood to have wanted to announce a moratorium on new wind farms in a speech on Tuesday evening but was prevented from doing so by Mr Davey.

Instead, he told the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph there were enough wind farms in the planning pipeline to meet government environmental targets - and there should be no more.

He said: "We can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities. I can't single-handedly build a new Jerusalem but I can protect our green and pleasant land.

"We have issued a call for evidence on wind. That is about cost but also about community buy-in. We need to understand communities' genuine desires. We will form our policy in the future on the basis of that, not on a bourgeois Left article of faith based on some academic perspective.

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Media captionKay Siddell, who lives near a wind farm: "It is the constant churn of the turbines"

"If you look at what has been built, what has consent and what is in the planning system, much of it will not get through and will be rejected. Even if a minority of what's in the system is built we are going to reach our 2020 target."

He also suggested reviews would be launched into the noise and impact on the landscape created by turbines - something denied by a DECC source, who said Mr Hayes had "totally over-egged" things in the newspaper interviews.

Mr Hayes told reporters on Wednesday morning "I stand by what I said".

'Playing politics'

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron denied there had been any change to the government's policy on wind energy, but did back a future debate on renewables, once the government had met its environmental targets.

He said: "There has been no change towards renewable energy.

"We have got a big pipeline of onshore and offshore wind projects that are coming through, but frankly all parties are going to have to have a debate in this House and outside this House about what happens when those targets are met."

Labour leader Ed Miliband described this as a "useless answer," adding "there are investors all round this country who want certainty about energy policy".

There are 3,400 onshore wind turbines across the UK at 324 different sites, generating 3% of the UK's electricity.

Image caption John Hayes has previously described wind turbines as a "terrible intrusion" on communities

A further 4,000 turbines are due to be built by 2020.

Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of RenewableUK, said his organisation was "disappointed" by Mr Hayes' comments, which came after he addressed a renewables conference on Tuesday evening.

Mr Smith told BBC Radio 4 Today's programme: "At our conference he was talking about the importance of renewables in the mix, the importance of wind, the importance of jobs and securing benefits for renewables.

"What we would like is clarity about those views."

Earlier this year, more than 100 Conservative MPs wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to get rid of the subsidies paid to wind farm operators funded from household energy bills.

Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint, for Labour, accused Mr Hayes of "playing politics" with clean energy jobs and the country's energy security.

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