On-shore wind farms are essential to keep energy bills down and the country needs more of them, the Government Minister in charge of energy policy has told the Journal.
Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said he had helped to ensure that communities close to wind farm sites received compensation, such as extra funding for local facilities.
But speaking to The Journal at Westminster, he shrugged off critics including the Bishop of Newcastle who warn that the rural North East had enough wind turbines.
In a House of Lords debate late last year, the Rt Rev Martin Wharton said that too many parts of Northumberland’s landscape had been “scarred and disfigured”.
He called for “an end to any further funds for on-shore wind, especially in Northumberland”.
In the same debate, North East-based Conservative peer Viscount Ridley asked: “Why must Northumberland bear the brunt of this often bonkers policy?”
But asked to respond to these comments and similar criticism from other campaigners against wind farms in the North East, Mr Davey insisted: “On shore wind is currently the cheapest, large scale renewable energy. So if you don’t invest in that, you are going to have to invest in the not-so-cheap renewable energy . . . and the net result is bills will go up.”
He said: “There has been an increase in on-shore wind farms, they are now producing more than five per cent of Britain’s electricity and I think you will see a lot more in the years ahead.
“Prices have been coming down, they are green and they are secure. It is home grown energy, you don’t have to import it from abroad.”
There was no “free pass” for on-shore wind and proposals for new turbines should be rejected where they are inappropriate, he said.
But he said there was an urgent need to increase the use of renewable energy, particularly to cut the use of coal.
He added: “If you look at the national opinion poll ratings for on-shore wind, it’s actually pretty popular.”
Mr Davey, a Liberal Democrat, criticised Conservative Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, accusing him of blocking applications for wind turbines for political reasons.
“On shore wind can and does play an important role in a green, secure energy strategy, and I’m very proud that Liberal Democrats have fought the fight for not just on-shore wind but also renewables in this government.”
The Government had ensured developers had to consult local residents affected by potential new developments, he said.
“It was my idea that there was mandatory pre-application consultation. That means that before the developer puts their application in, they have to talk to local people about it.”
And the Government had also worked with industry to improve “community benefits” given to areas with new wind farms.
“A lot of people now living around on-shore wind farms get benefits that can come in a number of ways, but they are five times what they used to be.
“Some people are seeing energy bill reductions as a result of them hosting an on-shore wind farm in their community.
“Sometimes there is money given to a local village to help with their village hall, or for training young people, or for a whole range of things.”
Speaking to The Journal, Mr Davey predicted household fuel bills would fall this year, partly because of increased competition from smaller energy suppliers which he said would force the “big six” energy companies to cut prices.
He argued Labour’s plans for an energy price freeze could actually lead to higher bills by giving suppliers an excuse to freeze prices instead of cutting them.