The number of onshore wind turbine projects granted planning approval has more than doubled over the past two years, the Department for Energy and Climate Change has announced.
The news comes against a background of fears that wind farm and other alternative energy investment plans could be caught up in growing public disquiet and political controversy about rising energy bills that are being partly blamed on the government’s carbon reduction drive.
The so called ‘green levy’ is said to add as much as £110 a year to the average domestic energy bill against a background of steeply rising energy prices. Conservative ministers in the coalition were reported at the weekend to be devising a plan to prevent the spread of onshore wind farms and solar power installations that they say will blight the countryside.
They also say that subsidies being paid – over £1Bn last year – should be cut. Energy secretary Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat member of the coalition government, is known to be a staunch supporter of wind farms and a political row is looming that could at the least cause some operators to delay investment plans. Conservatives are said to be trying to change planning laws to limit the size of onshore developments and some would like to see a ban on building any more wind and solar projects included in the next general election manifesto.
Energy department figures show that 188 new onshore wind farms and smaller turbine developments were granted planning approval between January and August this year, almost 50% more than the same period in 2012 and double the rate of approvals in 2011. The amount of energy generated by onshore wind farms is up 70% since 2012.
The department also says there has been a surge in new site applications, with 597 applications receive by local authorities across the UK by the end of August, compared with 470 for the same period in 2012, and 203 in 2011.
UK onshore wind farms earned an income of £2Bn in 2012, over half of which derived from subsidies added to consumers’ energy bills. The six largest energy companies received wind farm subsidies of some £900 million.
Ministers are also reported to be considering slowing down a range of subsidised green initiatives that would cause energy bills to rise, including the £1⋅3Bn Energy Companies Obligation scheme which funds insulating the homes of people classified as being in ‘fuel poverty’.