Rural communities have reacted with relief and delight after David Cameron called time on the SNP’s wind farm march across Scotland’s countryside.
Anti-turbine campaigners praised the UK Government’s decision to exclude new onshore wind farms from claiming a key subsidy from April next year, 12 months earlier than expected.
They said the move, which is expected to stop the construction of many developments not yet given planning permission, was a welcome respite for communities “besieged by subsidy chasers” taking advantage of the SNP’s “open door” policy.
But they said it was to the “eternal shame” of the Scottish Government that it was only the Conservatives who had heeded the concerns of rural Scots, with one prominent campaigner stating: “Thank God for Westminster.”
SNP ministers were furious with the decision, even claiming they may challenge it in the courts, with Nicola Sturgeon describing it as “wrong-headed”, “perverse” and “downright outrageous”.
In a letter to Mr Cameron, she warned the wind farm companies may sue the taxpayer for compensation for planned schemes “rendered useless by this decision.” The industry claimed the move would cost consumers up to £3 billion.
However, the John Muir Trust, the eminent environmental protection group, said it was the “right time” to work out an energy mix that is affordable “without damaging our wild and natural landscapes.”
The funding for the subsidy comes from the Renewable Obligation (RO), which is funded by levies added to household bills. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said there will be grace period for projects already with planning permission.
Although energy policy is reserved to Westminster, the SNP government in Edinburgh has used its control over the planning system in Scotland to encourage the construction of thousands of turbines across the countryside.
Alex Salmond, the former First Minister, set a target of generating the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, with the vast majority coming from onshore wind.
Amid growing opposition from local communities, Scotland’s most senior planning officials even warned that the countryside risked becoming a “wind farm landscape”.
But the Scottish Government told council planners they had set aside too little land for wind farms and Scotland now hosts more than half the UK’s onshore turbines.
Nicola Sturgeon was outraged at the UK Government’s decision
Scotland Against Spin, a national alliance of groups and individuals which campaigns against turbines being built in unsuitable locations, said it was “delighted” the Tories had honoured an election manifesto promise to “end the ludicrously generous subsidies for onshore wind farms.”
Graham Lang, the group’s chairman, said: “ Speculative developers from across the world have flocked to Scotland because of the SNP’s open door policy to the wind industry. Scottish communities besieged by subsidy-chasers can at last look forward to some respite.
“Yet to its eternal shame the Scottish Government has ignored the clamour for reform from its own people. There is a terrible irony that the Conservatives at Westminster, not the nationalists at Holyrood, have finally stood up to the wind speculators and put the interests of communities and consumers first.”
Lyndsey Ward said she hoped the decision would stop the construction of 25 turbines near her home just outside of Beauly, in the Scottish Highlands.
She said she was “fairly disgusted” with the Scottish Government as Fergus Ewing, the SNP Energy Minister, had “parroted wind industry propaganda”. She added: “They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Thank God for Westminster.”
Campaigners against a plan to erect 18 410ft-tall turbines in rural Angus, above the Blackwater Reservoir, also welcomed the announcement.
Sue Smith, a spokesman for the Friends of Backwater and Glenisla Against Turbines group, whose husband Maj Gen Martin Smith is Commandant General of the Royal Marines, said: “The removal of obscene levels of financial gain which these subsidies offer should discourage land owners and turbine developers from exploiting irresistible opportunities to make a fast buck, at the expense of local communities and their environments.”
She also praised the UK Government plans to give communities the final say on large wind farm developments south of the Border and attacked the SNP for failing to introduce this in Scotland.
But, speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said the decision was “utterly wrong-headed” and her government would “do everything in our power” to get it changed.
Mr Ewing said repeated the wind farm companies’ claims the move could cost consumers £3 billion, adding: “We have warned the UK Government that the decision, which appears irrational, may well be the subject of a judicial review.”
But Murdo Fraser, Scottish Tory energy spokesman, said: “This is a Conservative Government standing up for communities that the central belt SNP couldn’t care less about.”
He added: “The latest figures show that, with all the wind projects already constructed, those under construction or given consent, we have already met the SNPs 100 per cent target for renewable electricity.”
A DECC spokesman said: “If we’d allowed the RO to stay open longer, we could have ended up with more projects than we can afford – which would have led to either higher bills, or other renewable technologies losing out on support.”