The full extent of lobbying by Britain’s wind industry to preserve subsidies while getting thousands of new turbines built can be revealed.
The intensive lobbying – both to construct wind farms and to maintain generous subsidies – comes amid growing unease over an industry adding to the burden on household electricity bills.
Analysis of UK wind farms shows that the 15 biggest owners will between them receive almost £850 million in subsidies that are added on to household electricity bills.
It comes after the disclosure last week that 101 Tory backbench MPs had written a letter to David Cameron demanding he slash the subsidies.
An investigation shows how the wind energy industry has:
* employed lobbying firms to fight against Government plans to cut a near £1 billion a year subsidy
* drafted in eco-activists to drum up support for wind farm projects in the face of local opposition
* defeated a Tory election pledge that could have triggered local referendums on wind farms before they are built
A separate study by the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), a think tank opposed to onshore wind farms, shows that 7,000 turbines are on course to be built onshore across the UK by 2020, helped by a 70 per cent success rate on wind farm planning applications.
REF expects the total consumer subsidy paid out by 2030 to amount to a staggering £130 billion.
Dr John Constable, Director of REF, said: “The government’s own data shows that in spite of its unpopularity the wind industry is in fact having an easy time in planning, with the vast majority of schemes being forced on unwilling local populations.
“Very high subsidy levels have resulted in an overheated market and a rush of development that is inappropriate and environmentally damaging, as well as being extremely expensive for the consumer.”
RenewableUK, the trade body for the wind industry, said it had a roster of four lobbying firms while appointing a fifth last month to “help with media support”.
The four main lobbying companies are Bellenden Public Affairs, Four Communications, Edelman and Citigate. A fifth – Hill+Knowlton – works on media strategy.
RenewableUK has fought to resist attempts to drastically cut the wind energy subsidy, paid out through the Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROC) scheme that is added on to household bills.
The Government, following a consultation, is looking at cuts of between five and 10 per cent, which prompted RenewableUK’s chairman Andrew Jamieson to declare in its most recent newsletter to members: “Thanks to the highly effective way in which RenewableUK engaged with a wide range of stakeholders on key issues, the proposals do not appear as bad as originally feared.”
A RenewableUK spokesman said: “We knew the consultation was coming out so we did work in advance of it.”
In October, a flagship Conservative policy, which would have required local referendums on large-scale projects such as wind farms and housing estates, was quietly abandoned after intense lobbying by RenewableUK.
The trade body had warned of the “slow death” of the onshore wind industry if the referendums pledge had not been dropped from the Localism Bill, which was then going through parliament.
A RenewableUK briefing document subsequently sent to members stated: “Following a great deal of coordinated work with a number of other organisations and Peers with a development interest, RenewableUK has been successful in ensuring that planning applications and wider planning policy are not subject to referendums.”
A RenewableUK spokesman said: “We saw a slow death of the onshore wind industry had that gone ahead which is why we were campaigning so hard to get it struck out.”
While lobbying is taking place nationally, developers are also employing lobbying tactics on the ground to get wind farms built.
Energy companies have taken to hiring eco-activists, who run non-corporate, amateur-looking stalls proclaiming the virtues of renewable energy in order to produce hundreds of letters in support of planned wind farms.
The stalls, typically in provincial towns generate hundreds of identical letters in support of a wind farm, often some distance away.
One anti-wind farm group, fighting a development in Norfolk, said an analysis of letters of support for a scheme by Renewable Energy Systems (RES), part of the Sir Robert McAlpine Group, showed that not a single letter had come from within a six mile radius. Some letters came from addresses more than 30 miles away.
Barry Cox, who is fighting the six-turbine farm at Jack’s Lane, near Fakenham, said: “They [RES] should not be allowed to bamboozle the unsuspecting, by going for numbers collected miles away from the local villages.
“They might just as well offer the views on Jack’s Lane held by residents of Inverness.”
An RES spokeswoman said: “Providing opportunities for people to comment on the wind farm has included two street canvassing activities in the nearest centres of population to the site, including King’s Lynn, which resulted in more than 730 letters of support.
“Many of these support letters used standard wording but all were signed by real people who supported wind and wanted to send the letters.”
A Manchester-based company Pendragon Public Relations runs a pro-wind farm campaigning arm called Yes2Wind, which is hired out to developers seeking to build wind farms.
Yes2Wind boasts a specially designed computer software package Express Support, which enables “community members to quickly and easily generate their own individual, personalised support letters”
Alex Doyle, managing director of Pendragon, said: “We are trying to balance out the opposition. We are pro-wind and we put those arguments forward on behalf of the individual developers.
“One of the difficulties is a lot of people who are supportive tend to shrug their shoulders and not actually take any action that will make themselves heard.”
He said Yes2Wind’s computer programme, which generated individual letters, was not a quick option and took between 15 and 20 minutes to complete so that letters reflected the genuine views of members of the public.
Yes2Wind often hires a freelance eco-activist Jeff Rice, from Derbyshire, to manage its stalls. Mr Rice, who was convicted of trespass on the roof of the Palace of Westminster in 2009 as part of a mass Greenpeace protest, is also hired out directly by energy companies, including Renewable Energy Systems. RES is estimated to earn £15 million a year alone through consumer subsidies.
Mr Rice said people supporting local wind farms were often too intimidated to speak up for a scheme.
“We do get quite a lot of harassment,” said Mr Rice, “Anti-groups can be quite aggressive.”
He said letters were often identical because people were in a hurry and had no time to stop and compose their own letters.
He added: “We are trying out best to make sure the letters are reasonably local within a few miles of a project. We do try and do that. If people are too far away we will stop them doing a support letter.”