A leading champion of “green” power in the South West has warned the Government risks “damaging” the growing industry as subsidies to onshore wind farms and solar power are to be cut.
Ministers yesterday unveiled the new funding package to underwrite uneconomic renewable energy as it published its latest National Infrastructure Plan (NIP).
The new regime, which will redirect money to build wind farms at sea, was welcomed by campaigners opposed to wind and solar schemes covering the rural Westcountry.
But Merlin Hyman, chief executive of the not-for-profit organisation Regen SW, warned messages from the Government are “confusing” and could cause job losses. The annual NIP – which set out over £375 billion of planned public and private investments to 2030 and beyond – also pledged to outline how it will end road misery on the A303 cross-country road between the South West and London next year – with a senior minister saying the “pipeline of money is already open” to upgrade the road.
The Government argues onshore wind and solar energy no longer need so much state support. In contrast, they said, offshore wind sources still needed more subsidy to encourage long-term investment. Last week, renewable energy developer RWE’s decision to scrap plans for the 240-wind turbine Atlantic Array project off the north Devon coast.
Mr Hyman, who runs the
organisation representing renewable technology firms in the South West, said Liberal Democrat Ed Davey’s Department of Energy and Climate Change should be “congratulated for protecting the renewable energy budget” amid pressure from the Treasury, run by Tory George Osborne.
But he added changes to renewable energy subsidies and reducing the requirement for energy companies to insulate council houses will “lead to job losses for local companies that have recently grown and taken on more staff”.
Proponents of renewable power argue the South West’s abundance of natural resources mean the region is poised to benefit from thousands of new “green” jobs.
But Mr Hyman said: “Messages from the Government as a whole are unclear, and this could significantly damage investment in renewable energy.”
The Government guarantees to pay green power developers the difference between wholesale power prices and a fixed “strike price”. The new “strike price” for onshore wind and solar has been reduced by £5 per megawatt-hour from 2015 onwards, while offshore wind will get £5 more than under the provisional subsidy figures announced in June.
Danny Mageean, spokesman for Cornwall Protect, which campaigns against inappropriate development in Cornwall, said: “We welcome the fact that the general public will be paying less for onshore wind power – but they are still wasting too much money on a technology that is not the answer.”
Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon, said while it is unlikely RWE will reinstate their plans for an offshore wind farm in the region but there “remains a lot of wind” in the Bristol Channel and it remains “a site that people are still quite keen to see used for a wind farm”.
Meanwhile, the NIP says a feasibility study announced this summer on improving the notorious A303-A30-A358 bottleneck is “on track” – and “solutions to alleviate congestion and tackle” will be published in next year’s autumn statement.
In the Commons, Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, asked: “I welcome the Chief Secretary’s pipeline of funding. Will he turn the tap on in relation to the A30 and the A303 running east out of Honiton so that it can be continuously dualled and we can have a second pipeline of roads into the Westcountry?”
anny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, responded: “I can reassure you that the pipeline of money is already open for that project, as I announced in June. The Government are committed to ensuring that the route is upgraded, which is why we are conducting a feasibility study.”