Green energy supporters in Northern Ireland have hit out at the new Tory Energy Minister after he said that the UK had “enough” onshore wind farms.
Campaigners say the message on renewable energy coming out of Government is unclear after John Hayes — a known wind farm sceptic — ordered an analysis.
Some 4,000 turbines are due to be built across the UK by 2020 which Mr Hayes said was sufficient to meet the Government's environmental targets.
The EU dictates that Britain must get 15% of its energy from renewables within eight years.
Mr Hayes said: “If you look at what has been built, what has consent and what is in the planning system, much of it will not get through and will be rejected.
“Even if a minority of what's in the system is built, we are going to reach our 2020 target,” Mr Hayes claimed. “I'm saying enough is enough. We have issued a call for evidence on wind.”
According to figures by the DoE Planning Service, there are currently around 770 applications for individual wind turbines and 37 applications for wind farms pending a decision, with 66 previously approved. Five applications were refused.
MPs — including East Antrim’s Sammy Wilson — have urged David Cameron to block further expansion of onshore wind farms.
The Prime Minister, however, later told MPs the Government was committed to a number of wind projects.
Mr Wilson said he supported Mr Hayes' comments, describing it as a “victory for common sense”.
“Consumers are paying more for electricity that comes from turbines and offshore turbines,” he said. “We are going to have great difficulty in keeping prices down if we are going to meet that target which is not good news for consumers in Northern Ireland trying to pay their electricity bills.
“It is not just an issue of local people getting fed up with these spoiling the landscape, but economically this is a disastrous policy to follow.
“We regard this as a bit of victory for common sense”.
A spokesman for Doe Planning Service said more than 300 planning applications have been approved for individual wind turbines.
Action Renewables, an organisation that supports commercial renewable energy development, described the UK Government’s approach as “inconsistent”.
Michael Doran, director of Action Renewables, said: “My question is if we are going to stop turbine development completely, which is what he is saying, after the existing applications go through the planning process, what is the alternative?”
Northern Ireland Green Party leader Stephen Agnew said a “clear commitment” from the Government was needed for the development of renewable energy.
”It is interesting to see that Mr Hayes is certainly not in step, at least publically, with his party leader on this issue as David Cameron was quick to distance himself from his minister’s ill-informed comments on wind farms,” Mr Agnew said.
“We want to encourage wind farms which are appropriately sited, well designed and locally supported.”
He added: “We must also take into account that renewable energy technology has the potential to deliver a huge and long-lasting financial boost to the Northern Ireland economy including job creation, reduction in fuel poverty and an increase in fuel security.
“But for this to happen successfully the government must give a clear commitment to the Green economy to allow it to develop to its full potential.”