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11:00 - 09 February 2005

Ministers were last night urged to place an immediate moratorium on the construction of new windfarms following the publication of a devastating critique of the Government's renewable energy policy.

Launching a pre-election "manifesto" yesterday, the independent Renewable Energy Foundation warned that the Government's "dash for wind" would result in costly electricity and threaten the security of UK supplies, without producing the desired cut in greenhouse gas emissions.

The foundation, which was established last year to build up an independent, scientific information bank on renewable energy, said that experience on mainland Europe suggested that onshore windfarms could not solve the UK's energy problems. The manifesto urged ministers to focus far more money on other sources of renewable energy, such as tidal power and biofuels.

Noel Edmonds, the Devon-based businessman and television presenter, who is the foundation's chairman, urged the Government to stop building onshore windfarms immediately. "It is quite clear that we must learn from the European experience," he said. "We don't need to make these mistakes ourselves - we've got to redesign our renewables policy. Renewables were supposed to be environmentally friendly and locally beneficial. What we were seeing was damaging to rural areas and vulnerable rural populations. On close examination we found that the policy wasn't well designed in terms of national power engineering needs. In fact we quickly found that very many of the UK's scientists and engineers had been saying all along that the current policy was mistaken in its emphasis."

John Constable, the foundation's scientific adviser, said that the chief problem with wind power was its unreliability. Dr Constable, senior research fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, said that both Germany and Denmark, which have invested heavily in wind power, had been forced to import electricity from their neighbours at short notice when the wind failed. He warned that this option would not be available to the UK, which has only limited ability to import electricity from France.

Dr Constable said that virtually all experts viewed the Government's renewable energy targets as unachievable. "I'm not sure we need a target at all," he said. "Why set yourself up for failure? We should put the incentives in place and see what we can achieve."

Dr Constable said that tidal power had huge potential. He described nuclear power as "a separate issue that requires addressing separately".

Science Minister Lord Sainsbury told peers last month that around 240 megawatts (MW) of wind energy was installed in the UK last year and he predicted that this would rise to 600MW this year. But he said an extra 1,200MW of wind energy would then be needed each year until 2010 in order to meet the target - a fivefold increase on last year.

According to some estimates, public subsidies totalling 30 billion will be needed to meet the 2020 target of producing 20 per cent of the nation's energy needs from renewable sources.

Campbell Dunford, chief executive of the REF, urged ministers to halt the windfarm building programme immediately. He said ministers should look at energy efficiency programmes and measures to curb transport emissions, as well as investigating other forms of renewable energy.

"If you come to a situation where the solution on offer is not working then it's probably a good idea to stop digging," he said. "We would recommend that there is a moratorium while the issue is revisited."