Green energy incentives are branded 'bribes for blights'
Towns and villages across the Westcountry could see a massive windfall from power plants built on their doorstep under new Government plans branded "bribes for blight" by critics.
Rural communities hit by proposed new wind farms, solar plants and fracking sites could receive millions of pounds in compensation from energy companies.
Residents living near the proposed site of the first nuclear reactor in the UK for 20 years on the Somerset coast could receive up to half a billion pounds in compensation.
The payments could be used to cut local people's energy bills, provide bursaries to pay their children's university fees, build village halls and carry out home improvements.
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The extra cost of the "community benefits" scheme would be passed on to customers through higher energy bills.
The aim is to open up the countryside to developments including the 6,000 additional onshore wind turbines planned by the government.
Ministers hope the financial offer will stifle planning objections from local people upset at losing their pristine landscapes or worried about the danger from nuclear waste – while critics say it amounts to bribery.
Bob Barfoot, North Devon chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said nothing could "quell" dissent" among people living next to large turbines.
He said handing over large sums to "sterilise" opposition would not be a consideration for local planning committees, unless the Government planned to change the law.
"Developers already do this but the amount has been increased to entice people into lowering their resistance," he added
"No amount of money is going to help you if you have got a huge turbine dominating your property.
"If a parish council is offered £70,000 by a developer, those living furthest away from the site may be supportive and those nearby would oppose it no matter how much was on offer – it will cause a rift."
Under the proposals, wind farm developers would pay a minimum of £5,000 a year into a "community trust" for each megawatt (MW) of generating capacity they install.
This figure dwarfs the £1,000 minimum industry standard payment which is typically paid, often with restrictions on how it can be used.
A typical onshore wind turbine has a capacity of 4MW, so the new figure would amount to £20,000 a year for each one.
A wind farm such as the 22-turbine, 66MW Fullabrook in North Devon, could net £330,000 a year, more than £8 million over a 25-year lifespan.
Ed Davey, the energy secretary, said: "Two-thirds of people support the growth of onshore wind, but far too often host communities have seen the wind farms but not the windfall.
"We want to ensure that people benefit from having wind farms sited near to them."
Nuclear power stations, such as EDF's proposed reactors at Hinkley Point, could also generate millions of pounds for those living nearby.
The formula under discussion by ministers would see EDF paying for the disruption caused during the eight to ten years of construction.
Once the reactor was fired up, the firm would pay a rate based on the power produced.
Overall, it would mean EDF paying £8 million a year into community trusts, overseen by West Somerset and Sedgemoor district councils, for the construction and operating phases, a total of 70 years.
Bob Brown, corporate director at Sedgemoor council, said: "During construction there will be 1,400 lorry movements through Bridgwater each day. There will also be a workforce of 5,600 living here so our residents deserve compensation for the disruption."
The trusts would get a further £18,000-a-year for each tonne of the highly radioactive spent fuel waste that would have to be stored on the Hinkley site.
Caroline Flint, shadow secretary for energy and climate change, said the community benefits scheme was a form of "bribery" that would reinforce the domination of Britain's energy markets by six large companies.
"In Germany, 65% of wind farms, solar farms and other renewable energy generation is owned by local communities who get to keep all the benefits, not just a small percentage," she said.
"That would be a much sounder system for local people and for Britain."