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David Cameron Backs Wind-Sceptic Energy Minister John Hayes

James Chapman, Daily Mail

The Coalition was in turmoil last night over the future of onshore wind power, as furious Liberal Democrats demanded the new Tory energy minister is stripped of responsibility for renewable energy. David Cameron effectively backed his minister – who he told to ‘deliver a win for our people’ on wind power when he was appointed last month – telling MPs it was time for a debate about the future of the technology.

Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey reacted with consternation after John Hayes, a sceptic on wind farms, told the Daily Mail that Britain has had ‘enough’ of turbines ‘peppered’ across the country.

David Cameron effectively backed his minister – who he told to ‘deliver a win for our people’ on wind power when he was appointed last month – telling MPs it was time for a debate about the future of the technology.

‘We have got a big pipeline of onshore and offshore wind projects coming through,’ the Prime Minister said.

We are committed to those, but frankly all parties are going to have to have a debate about what happens once those targets are met.’

But Mr Davey, who had attempted to ban Mr Hayes from making his remarks public, insisted the minister could not make Government policy.

Lib Dem sources said they now wanted renewable energy removed from his portfolio.

Mr Hayes said it seemed ‘extraordinary’ that turbines had been erected across Britain with little or no regard for the views of local people.

He added: ‘We can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities.’ 

His remarks delighted the Tory benches, where 150 MPs have urged the Government to take a more sceptical stance over onshore wind power.

Mr Hayes had been due to expand on his remarks in a speech to a renewable energy conference in Scotland, but did not do so following a furious intervention from Mr Davey.

‘John Hayes might wish that he has the final say on energy policy and that he’s in a single-party government – but he doesn’t and he’s not,’ said one source close to Mr Davey.

‘He seemed to be mapping out Tory plans for their election manifesto but he was not speaking for the Government. He did not deliver the speech because he was told it was not acceptable.’

Other sources said Mr Davey had told Downing Street that Mr Hayes should now be stripped of all responsibility for green energy.

A senior Tory source, however, said Mr Cameron was backing  his minister.

Conservative business minister Michael Fallon also supported Mr Hayes, insisting local communities should have the right to decide whether they accept wind farms.

Are the high costs worth it?

‘We’re not saying we absolutely have to have 4,000 onshore wind farms by a particular date. These things have to be determined locally,’ he said.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change conceded that taking into account the number of onshore wind farms already built, those under construction and those in the pipeline, we will have enough to meet targets for 2020.

But the Lib Dems insist it is wrong to say no more turbines will be constructed once the target is reached.

Mr Davey said: ‘There has been no change to Government policy on renewable energy, as collectively agreed by the Coalition cabinet.

‘Onshore wind is one of the cheapest renewables, which is why we’ve been able to cut the subsidy.’

Trade body Renewable UK’s deputy chief executive, Maf Smith, said: ‘As the wind industry meets in Glasgow to celebrate the success of this industry, it comes as some surprise that the new minister has said one thing to us and another to the press.

‘We are on the eve of the publication of the energy bill, with huge investment decisions to be made that will lead to tens of thousands of jobs over the next decade.

‘If we are to see these jobs and investment realised confidence must be retained and that means consistency.’

But a No 10 spokesman said Mr Hayes’s views were compatible with policy. He said the Government would meet its obligations to generate 15 per cent of energy from renewable resources by 2020 with windfarms ‘already in the pipeline’ – those with planning permission or awaiting approval.

A senior Government source said because of that, Mr Cameron could change the mix of energy sources, potentially capping windfarms before 2017.

‘Aye, lad. Losing our elm then our ash trees was bad enough, but then the great wind turbine blight started in 2012…’

‘The call for evidence includes a line that we will look at the cost of the technology,’ he said. ‘That could let you change the subsidies for wind power.’

Labour energy spokesman Caroline Flint said the row demonstrated Britain had a ‘shambles of a Tory-led government which can’t even agree with itself’.

‘Onshore wind is the most developed and cheapest source of clean energy,’ she said.

Daily Mail, 1 November 2012