Whitelee windfarm near Glasgow. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA
The Conservative party is planning to pledge in its manifesto for next year’s general election that it will introduce a moratorium on future onshore windfarms from 2020 on the grounds that they have now become “self-defeating”.
In an attempt to show that David Cameron is not abandoning the green agenda, the Tories will also pledge in their 2015 manifesto to press ahead with an intensification of offshore windfarms.
The manifesto will also focus on greater use of solar power, a point highlighted when the government unveiled plans this week to encourage England’s 22,000 schools to install solar panels and other measures to improve energy efficiency.
The decision to refocus the emphasis on offshore wind – and to abandon support for future onshore windfarms – follows an intense debate among senior Tories and between the coalition partners over the future of Britain’s renewable energy resources.
A senior source close to the prime minister told the Guardian this weekthat Cameron is supportive of opponents of onshore windfarms and wants to “go further” in cutting financial aid to them.
A move by Cameron and George Osborne to push for a cap on the electricity output of onshore windfarms, which would in effect amount to a cap, was rejected by Nick Clegg.
The Guardian understands that Cameron has brokered a compromise between warring Tories by agreeing to include measures in the manifesto for next year’s general election that will in effect rule out the building of onshore windfarms from 2020. “We are likely to see that in the Conservative manifesto,” one senior Tory said of the measures, which would amount to a moratorium.
The Tories will be working out the details of the pledge, which could involve an absolute cap on the output from onshore turbines. Lesser measures, which would all come into force in 2020, would involve lower subsidies or introducing tighter planning restrictions.
The senior Conservative said it was important to act because onshore windfarms had become so unpopular.
The Tory source said: “We are not going to allow the Lib Dems to characterise us as anti-clean-energy just because we want to control the number of onshore windfarms. If anything we are mindful that uncontrolled expansion of onshore wind is alienating people from the whole clean energy debate. We think it is self-defeating.”
The government believes it is on course to meet its energy forecasts outlined by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. But the source added: “After 2020 we really want to see the emphasis on offshore wind. The emphasis will shift but not completely.
“We want to deliver the wind that’s obviously been built already, that’s currently in the planning system, that’s currently in construction. But when that current pipeline is deployed by 2020 we want to see the emphasis shift to offshore wind. Solar can also help take up the slack.”
The revelation that the Tories will abandon support for onshore windfarms comes after Michael Gove, the education secretary, and Greg Barker, the climate change minister, outlined ambitions to encourage all 22,000 schools in England to install solar panels.
Schools would fund the installation of solar power, which can cost around £10,000, by accessing feed-in tariffs which would be used to pay off the capital costs, which could take up to 10 years.
Barker said: “This ambitious new roll-out of solar on our schools is another example of the coalition walking the walk, not just talking the talk on the green agenda. Schools have a particularly iconic role at the heart of communities so as well as joining the clean energy transition and helping lower our emissions, schools and their pupils can help inspire thousands of others to take action too.”
Gove said: “Solar panels are a sensible choice for schools, particularly in terms of the financial benefits they can bring. It is also a great way for pupils to engage with environmental issues and think about where energy comes from.”
Friends of the Earth welcomed the announcement. Andy Atkins, the executive director, said: “It’s encouraging to see the prime minister’s Conservative colleagues promoting a positive solar vision for the UK and as a solution to climate change, particularly when it comes just days after David Cameron took a swipe at onshore windfarms. Clean, renewable power like solar is our future, and with Greg Barker rightly pointing out that it will soon be cheaper than gas, we need the whole of government to move fast to ensure solar projects everywhere can rapidly take off.”