Sweetener plan to get Norfolk windfarms agreement

Battle-lines were being drawn last night over a new scheme planned to reward communities which back wind turbines with cash payments towards local projects.

The financial incentives were branded 'bribery' and an 'insult' by anti-turbine protesters.

RenewableUK, the wind power trade body, is expected to announce today that neighbourhoods agreeing to host windfarms would receive up to �2,000 a year per turbine in a bid to boost the country's production of sustainable energy. The money would be donated to local projects as residents see fit.

Nick Medic, communications manager of RenewableUK, said it was only fair that communities which hosted a windfarm should see the benefit financially.

'Effectively what you will have is an employment benefit during construction, operation and maintenance. That's one thing. Then you will have a direct payment to the local community on an annual basis,' he said.

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'You will have some agreed payment every year. It's granted by the trustees, elected by the local community. The community there on the ground will be able to define the catchment area and then the community will be able to allocate that money.'

The scheme has been given the backing of the coalition government as Chris Huhne, energy secretary, said communities often 'see the windfarms, but not the windfall'.

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'Wind is an abundant, clean, home-grown alternative to fossil fuels,' he said. 'We'll all benefit in the long-run and moves to help local people feel more immediate benefits of hosting a windfarm are crucial.'

But the scheme drew criticism from Richard Bacon, Tory MP for south Norfolk.

He said: 'Windfarm companies are posing as benefactors by offering 'sweeteners' to local communities in the hope of reducing opposition to wind turbines.

'In my constituency, one windfarm company is proposing to pay up to �4,000 per turbine per year into a fund for 'community projects'.

'This is a tiny fraction of the total subsidy each wind turbine receives, paid for by consumers, without which the turbines would not be being built.

'Local residents are being enticed to accept wind turbine schemes by being offered their own money. I am afraid this looks rather like a cynical PR exercise at our expense.'

Lucy Melrose, from the 4Villages campaign group set up to oppose wind turbines near Dickleburgh, Rushall, Pulham Market and Pulham St Mary in south Norfolk, branded the scheme an 'insult'.

'It's entirely about money and it's a complete insult to local communities to suggest that they could be bought,' she said.

'It's a bankrupt policy. Why does giving money alter anything?

'It doesn't change the fact that a suitable site is a suitable one, and an unsuitable one is an unsuitable one.'

The first windfarm in the UK was built in 1991 and the sector has grown to provide more than 2.2pc of all of the country's electricity.

Government targets aim for the renewable energy share to grow to 15pc of total electrical supply by 2020 and, because of oil and gas imports, this will require as much as 40pc of electrical power to be from green sources.

The UK already has 3,153 wind turbines capable of producing a theoretical 5,200 megawatts.

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