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UK cracks show again as minister tears into onshore wind

The political cracks in the UK’s renewables policy were back on stark display after the country’s energy minister gave strongly anti-wind interviews to two influential newspapers – just at the moment his government is attempting to calm nerves over its support for clean power generation.

John Hayes, a member of the majority Conservative party in the ruling coalition, tells the newspapers that onshore wind turbines had been “peppered around the country” without regard to local communities and pledges to “protect our green and pleasant land”, adding "enough is enough".

Onshore wind already faces a government review to decide if the existing level of support under the UK’s Renewables Obligation scheme is appropriate, and a consultation on its community benefits.

Hayes – who was given his energy minister post last month – told the Daily Telegraph: “We need to understand communities’ genuine desires. We will form our policy in the future on the basis of that, not on a bourgeois Left article of faith based on some academic perspective.”

Tensions within the coalition over the respective roles of renewables and gas have undermined Prime Minister David Cameron's claim to lead the UK's "greenest ever government".

Following Hayes' intervention, Cameron was today forced to defend the coherence of his government's energy policy during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, where it was ridiculed by opposition leader Ed Milliband.

While Hayes' views on onshore wind were already well known, his outspoken remarks will cause more friction with his boss, UK energy secretary Ed Davey, a member of the minority Liberal Democrats, who has been attempting to reassure investors that the country is supportive of a long-term role for renewables.

Davey’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is preparing to unveil its flagship energy bill, including details of power market reforms seen as vital to cementing investor confidence.

In a DECC statement rushed out this morning Davey says: “There has been no change to government policy on renewable energy, as collectively agreed by the coalition cabinet.

"There are no targets, or caps, for individual renewable technologies such as onshore wind. Nor are there reviews being done of onshore wind on the basis of landscape or property values," says Davey, adding that onshore wind "has an important role to play in our energy future”.

Hayes’ remarks are also likely to cause surprise at the annual conference of industry body RenewableUK in Glasgow, where the minister yesterday disappointed delegates with a bland speech at a reception that barely mentioned wind at all.

The interviews also caught RenewableUK itself offguard. After initially welcoming what it interpreted as Hayes' "long-term commitment to developing renewable energy", RenewableUK today says it is “shocked and concerned” by his interview comments.

"It comes as some surprise that the new minister has said one thing to us and another to the press," says the body.