New onshore windfarms still possible without subsidies, says Amber Rudd

Energy secretary says three large developers have expressed interest in onshore UK wind projects despite the government’s decision to end financial support

New onshore windfarms could be built in the UK without subsidies, according to the energy secretary Amber Rudd.

The Conservative government recently moved to block future onshore turbines by removing financial support and giving local communities the final say. Critics said the step would increase energy bills as additional clean energy from more expensive technologies would be needed to replace wind power.

But Rudd told the energy and climate change select committee of MPs on Tuesday: “I have had three separate developers interested in developing [onshore] windfarms without subsidies.” She said they were “large” developers, but did not give further details.

Rudd was challenged by LibDem committee member Alistair Carmichael over the large subsidies promised to new nuclear power stations. He asked whether her statement that subsidies should only be given while a new industry established itself was contradicted by the 35-year deal offered to a proposed nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset: “It’s hardly a new technology,” he said.

Rudd said: “We have to have secure baseload [electricity] so you should not be surprised that we are prepared to pay for it.” She said she had met recently those involved in the Hinkley Point project, which include French state-controlled company EDF Energy.

“There is a very good prospect of reaching a very happy conclusion later this year,” she said. The final decision on Hinkley Point has already been delayed by five years and the earliest it could now open is 2023.

Rudd also said that Austria’s “very unwelcome” challenge to the UK’s support for nuclear power - suggesting it is illegal state aid - was unlikely to succeed. “The signal we are getting from the European commission is that the decision is robust,” she said. “We don’t think it will impact on the final investment decision.”

Rudd was asked if the retrospective cuts to onshore wind power had damaged the confidence of investors. “I appreciate it was disappointing but I don’t think it came as a great surprise,” she said, noting that it had been a Conservative manifesto commitment.

Rudd also gave an indication of the political aspect of the crackdown on onshore wind. Conservative committee member Glyn Davies said: “The issue in some parts of the country was the scale of the development. It turned people against wind and renewables in general.”

Rudd replied: “That is one of the reasons the prime minister wanted to end subsidies for onshore wind and put local communities in charge. People felt large windfarms were being built in their areas without their consent.”

Recent anonymous briefings from cabinet ministers have promised a “big reset” on the subsidies for green energy, which make up less than 4% of the average energy bill. Rudd said an announcement would be made shortly: “I am absolutely aware we need to give certainty [to investors].”

Rudd said the troubled Green Deal energy efficiency policy was under review. “Energy efficiency is the most effective way to reduce bills and carbon – it is a win-win.” she said. George Osborne’s recent budget cut the funds available for energy efficiency programmes.

Rudd was not asked about her U-turn on banning fracking in the country’s thousands of Sites of Special Scientific Interest. But she said: “I think shale gas will be an important part of the energy mix of the UK and part of decarbonisation, as it is effectively a low-carbon fuel.”

Critics argue that gas is only a low-carbon fuel when compared to coal and that UK coal power plants are due to be shut down in any case. They argue shale gas will push out genuinely low-carbon renewable developments, rather than coal.

Rudd said the recent decision of Lancashire County Council to refuse planning permission for fracking firm Cuadrilla was “disappointing” and said the government and developers would have to continue to reassure local communities that a safe and robust regulatory regime is in place.


Damian Carrington

The GuardianTramp

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