Wind farms have been branded a ‘complete scam’ by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, reigniting coalition battle over green power.
As the government unveiled new powers for local residents to block turbines blighting their villages, Mr Paterson condemned many planned schemes as ‘deeply unpopular’ and causing ‘huge unhappiness’ across the country.
The outspoken remarks from a senior Tory minister in charge of environmental policy risks a furious reaction from Liberal Democrats pushing for more renewable power projects.
The Conservatives have taken a tougher line on wind farms in recent months, and this week unveiled plans to give communities a powerful ‘veto’ over controversial new onshore developments.
Schemes will have to gain local residents’ consent before a planning application can even be made, effectively handing them the power to prevent turbines being erected.
Planning rules are also to be changed so that the drive for renewable energy can no longer be used as a reason for overriding environmental and other concerns.
Mr Paterson signalled that plans for wind farms will have to take into account the impact on the countryside and views as well as the desire to save the planet.
In an extraordinary intervention at the Royal Cornwall Show yesterday, the Tory Cabinet minister said: ‘Turbines are regarded as a complete scam, but as of today we have given power to local communities to decide.
‘The criteria is now that environment and landscape will have to be taken into consideration as well as the national energy requirement.’
Under the new rules councils must look at the cumulative impact of wind turbines and reflect the effect on landscape and local facilities.
There is also a major increase promised in the amount developers pay local communities to win them over, including long-term electricity bill discounts of up to 20 per cent.
However, Mr Paterson suggested anger with many schemes would not be overcome by additional bribes.
He added:’I know there is huge unhappiness with some of these projects, both from what I hear nationally and from my own constituency in Shropshire.
‘There are places where these projects are well prepared, the community wants it and it will be worthwhile. But in inland areas they are very often deeply unpopular,’ the Western Morning News reported.
Leila Deen, Greenpeace energy campaigner, said: ‘Wind farms may seem like a scam to a Government minister who questions the science of climate change and who’s pushing for his Shropshire constituency to be fracked for shale gas.
‘The public disagrees – two thirds of people would rather have a wind turbine near their home than a fracking site.
‘Onshore wind powered almost 2.5 million homes in 2011, is falling in cost and will play a key role in our future energy mix.’
Mr Paterson’s appointment to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last September was controversial, with allies forced to deny he was a climate change denier.
In 2007, he described wind farms as ridiculous, claiming they ‘demand vast amounts of public subsidy and do not work’.