Energy prices in Devon and Cornwall to double - warning
The South West faces a doubling of electricity bills as Government incentives to produce clean energy drive up the price of burning fossil fuels.
Pensioner groups say a disproportionate number of people in the region are elderly and in fuel poverty and predict that large rises will add an "extra burden" and cause serious hardship.
Campaigners against wind farms say a new green tax on polluting energy from gas and coal-fired power stations will make turbines far more profitable for investors at the expense of consumers.
And renewable energy experts in the South West admit the prospect of rising bills as part of increased investment is a "tough" point to sell – but warn that relying on imported energy leaves us exposed to even more dramatic hikes in the future.
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Merlin Hyman, chief executive of industry body RegenSW, said "most people" in the industry expect energy prices to "double in the next few years".
"At the moment when we pay our bill we are not paying for the fact that our electricity is polluting the world," he added. "We are dependent on imported power from fossil fuel and investing in renewable energy will put up bills but they will go up less than if we didn't," he added.
"It is a tough point to sell and get across but if you think about it, it is common sense, because fossil fuels are a limited resource."
Anti-wind power group the Renewable Energy Foundation, has highlighted a briefing document on the wind industry written for investors as evidence of a bonanza from the new tax.
In the face of concerted opposition to the proliferation of wind turbines in the region, Mr Hyman has cautioned it was important to remember that the proposed disincentive to polluters would not affect small scale wind farms – below around 5megawatts (MW) – or new projects after implementation in 2014.
He said the new regime would see a Government "contract for difference" which would guarantee the price paid to generators.
Nevertheless the REF says financiers are looking to invest up to £260 million in a new energy fund, Greencoat UK Wind, which is planning to buy stakes in six existing big wind farms around the UK.
The Government, through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), has committed £50million to the Greencoat fund to underpin the scheme.
A BIS spokesman said it was investing "to help catalyse the additional private sector capital required" to increase investment in renewable energy.
Richard Nourse, managing partner at Greencoat Capital, which will manage the fund, said Greencoat UK Wind offers investors the prospect of a "6% dividend yield" expected to increase in line with inflation.
Dr John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, a charity which has highlighted the cost of wind farms, said: "Wind power is already over-subsidised, so it is simply astonishing that government should calmly and, one suspects, incompetently spread another generous layer of jam on the revenue of existing wind farms."
Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox, whose Torridge and West Devon constituency has seen dozens of campaigns spring up against turbines, said the Government had failed to "get the balance" right.
"What we need is a good diverse mix of energy – what we have got is an extremely rash move towards technologies such as wind which are discredited and outdated," he added. "We are not going to replace coal-fired power stations with wind – what we should have done is take sensible decisions to start constructing nuclear power, which the UK simply cannot do without."
Age UK estimates that there are approximately 3.5 million people aged over 60 in fuel poverty in the UK, around half of all fuel poor households.
Colin Fletcher, chief executive in Devon, said the end of the state-funded efficiency drive, Warm Front, and large rises in bills over five years meant "increasing concern for older people".
"The issue is larger for the South West, with a higher proportion of older people than many other areas of the UK," he added. "Further rises will be a huge burden on older people and will cause serious hardship for many."