LONDON -- Britain's two government coalition parties clashed over the policy for wind-farm expansion, unsettling industry officials seeking clarity on how much support they can expect.
John Hayes, a junior energy minister, ordered an analysis of onshore wind and said he wouldn’t support new turbines, the Daily Telegraph reported, quoting him as saying “enough is enough.” Ed Davey, the Cabinet minister in charge of the department, said the technology “one of the cheapest renewables” and has “an important role to play.”
The comments underscored divisions between the Liberal Democrat who leads on energy policy and the Conservative, whose party is the senior member of the coalition. Industry and environmental groups said Prime Minister David Cameron must clarify the government’s position or risk investment needed to upgrade Britain’s aging power plants.
“John Hayes’ petulant outburst adds to the coalition’s growing energy shambles and to a deepening divide within government between those who care about green growth and those who just want more oil and gas,” said Leila Deen, an energy campaigner for Greenpeace. “Here is a new minister veering off brief and publicly contradicting his bosses.”
Hayes was appointed in September and has said he wants to give greater weight to the views of local communities on where wind farms are sited. Almost a third of Conservative members of Parliament wrote to the prime minister in January saying turbines are “inefficient and intermittent.”
“We can no longer have wind turbines imposed on communities,” Hayes said, according to the newspaper, which said only a minority of turbines in the planning process would get through. He has commissioned research to assess the impact of turbines on the landscape.
Davey released a statement from his office in London this morning saying that nothing had changed in the government’s policy toward encouraging renewables. He has pushed for an expansion of the wind industry, especially for turbines sited offshore.
“We set out in the Renewable Energy Roadmap in July 2011 how we expect to reach our target of getting 30 percent of all U.K. electricity from renewable sources by 2020,” Davey said. “We’ve put in place support to bring on growth in new industries to deploy the technologies needed to diversify our energy mix in the most cost-effective way.”
RenewableUK, an industry group, said it was shocked by Hayes’ remarks in the newspaper, which didn’t chime with comments he made in a speech yesterday in Glasgow to 400 delegates at a wave, wind and tidal conference. There, he repeated the government line that it’s supporting renewables.
“We are on the eve of the publication of the Energy Bill, a crucial time for energy policy, with huge investment decisions to be made that will lead to tens of thousands of jobs over the next decade,” Deputy Chief Executive Maf Smith said in a statement.
About two weeks after Hayes was appointed to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the department started a consultation designed to ensure communities could derive benefits from wind farms built nearby, including through grants to build playgrounds.
Ministers from the energy department met this morning and discussed Hayes’ remarks. Davey is in charge of energy strategy and renewables, while Hayes looks over deployment of technologies and Greg Barker, another junior minister in the department, is in charge of planning issues.
Hayes said Oct. 17 that the British government should give more weight to aesthetics in the approval process. Britain is seeking to more than double its onshore wind capacity by 2020.
Davey fought to maintain cuts to onshore wind subsidies at the planned 10 percent level in July after pressure from the Treasury headed by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to reduce them more. Osborne, a Conservative, has called for government to move slower on low-carbon initiatives, saying they’re hurting industry.
Copyright 2012 Bloomberg
Lead image: Wind turbines via Shutterstock