George Osborne is demanding huge cuts in government subsidies for windfarms – in a move which could ‘kill dead’ plans for the construction of hundreds of turbines across the country. The Chancellor has told the Treasury to draw up plans for cuts of 25 per cent in subsidies for onshore windfarms.
The intervention will provoke widespread anger among his Lib Dem coalition partners, who are strong supporters of plans to build hundreds of turbines in the countryside.
Environmental groups say any further cut in subsidy for windfarms would put an end to the development of further wind power sites.
Such a result will be welcomed by thousands of campaigners up and down the land who are opposing plans to build turbines near their homes.
Last night Tory backbenchers supported Mr Osborne’s determination to slash the enormous amount spent on renewable energy by the government at this time of austerity.
Douglas Carswell said: ‘We have got to pull the plug on this windfarm scam. Why has it taken so long? A centre right government should be bringing and end to this.
‘One of the reasons that the economy is not growing is because energy costs are so ridiculously high because of this windfarm scam which is adding hidden surcharges to our bills.
‘We need to do all we can to get cheap energy as soon as possible.’
In February more than 100 Conservative MPs wrote to the Prime Minister to demand cuts to the £400million a year public subsidy for windfarms, which they say is evidence of too much Lib Dem influence over coalition policy.
Mr Osborne’s position puts him at odds with Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey – a key supporter of renewable energy.
And it could also cause friction with his boss David Cameron, who promised to lead the ‘greenest government ever’ after the election.
But the Chancellor’s intervention could boost his popularity among Conservative MPs who are angry at a series of Budget disasters which have prompted five U-turns in recent weeks.
Tory backbencher Chris Heaton-Harris, who has led the charge against the subsidies, said onshore wind power was expensive compared with gas and that it would drive up fuel power.
‘I want to see a dramatic cut,’ he said.
Another opponent of wind farms is understood to be the Duke of Edinburgh, who is said to have described turbines as useless and to believe they will never work.
But Mr Osborne’s position is opposed by Tim Yeo, Conservative chairman of the Commons energy and climate change select committee.
He said: ‘This is an example of where the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s attempts to stimulate renewable energy are being hampered by Treasury intervention.
‘The way to deal with this – and realise the savings the Treasury wants to achieve – is to have more onshore renewable energy, which requires lower levels of subsidy, and less offshore, which requires more. We need to change the balance.’
Juliet Davenport, chief executive of renewable electricity supplier Good Energy, said the Chancellor was giving in to Tory backbenchers who do not want turbines built in their constituencies, believing they will damage their prospects of re-election.
She said: ‘This is a reckless act of political opportunism by a chancellor keen to boost his popularity among his backbench MPs.’
Earlier this year, Mr Osborne angered green campaigners by announcing plans to slash subsidies for solar energy.
There are more than 3,000 wind turbines in the British countryside, and polls show the public are largely in favour. However there is often opposition when turbines are proposed close to people’s homes.
In October, the energy department suggested a 10 per cent cut in support for onshore wind, but the Treasury is apparently demanding a 25 per cent cut.
A source told the Observer: ‘The whole of the UK’s renewables investment portfolio is being jeopardised by Osborne’s pandering to Tory backbenchers.
‘It is total prioritisation of politics over the economic interests of the country.’
A spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change said: ‘It is vital that our support for renewable electricity both encourages investment and represents value for money for consumers. The government will publish the new support levels shortly.’
There are 320 onshore windfarms in the UK, a third of them in England. Many more are awaiting construction or planning permission.