South West households and businesses are leading the UK in terms of renewable energy installations, new Government figures show.
The region has more than a fifth of all UK renewables projects installed by homeowners, landowners and businesses under the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme, statistics have revealed.
The recent surge in applications for wind and solar schemes in Devon and Cornwall has sparked campaigns by homeowners and conservationist concerned at the proliferation of schemes and their effect on the tourism, house prices and the countryside.
But the so-called “gold rush” to harvest the longer hours of sunlight in places like Cornwall has also left the South West with the most installed capacity of any of the UK regions.
Merlin Hyman, chief executive of Regen SW, said “What is unique in the south west is that industry, local authorities and Regen SW have worked together to promote renewable energy and tackle the barriers to its success.
“Our leadership in local and community scale renewables is bringing us benefits in greater energy security, boosting incomes and creating local jobs”.
The south west has total installed capacity of 436 MW, compared to the closest region, the south east, which has 294 MW, according to data from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
The figures, which do not cover large-scale projects generating above 5megawatts (MW), mean the region has 2.5 times more solar capacity than the regional average and 1.5 times more than its closest competitor.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England, which has been fighting a raft of schemes said tourism was being harmed while profits were going into developers’ pockets and by-passing communities.
Penny Mills, chairman of the CPRE in Devon’s Torridge District, which has become a hotspot for dozens of projects, said holidaymakers “may think twice" before visiting landscapes "blighted by turbines”.
“I can understand why developers and some landowners are cock-a-hoop about the growth in commercial renewable energy installations in the South West, because they are the few benefiting at the cost of the rest of us,” she added.
“If this was truly only about clean, renewable energy, the Klondike subsidies paid by all of us on our energy bills would not go into developers pockets, but entirely to our needy local communities and charities, leaving the 'green' developers with what they claim to want - the green energy alone.
“The true cost equation is not being highlighted: on one side we have the developers making fortunes, on the other side of the equation we have huge reductions in people's house prices, the increase in fuel poverty of the most vulnerable in our community and the priceless cost to our environment, countryside, landscape and consequential tourism industry.”
Interest in developing schemes in the South West has prompted Regen SW to hold its biggest energy event, “Renewable Energy Marketplace”, on April 8 at Westpoint Arena, Exeter.
The trade show will demonstrate the benefits of renewables to thousands more businesses and households.
Mr Hyman added: “Renewable energy can help homeowners and businesses cut their energy bills dramatically.
“Renewable Energy Marketplace is the opportunity to meet all the great local businesses supplying renewables in one place on one day – with a wide range of technical and professional advice also available.”
The FiT programme provides subsidies for electricity fed into the national grid by small-scale renewable and low-carbon electricity generation technologies.
It offers financial incentives to homeowners and landowners to encourage the installation of schemes up to 5megawatts (MW).
Larger-scale projects are incentivised under the Renewables Obligation (RO) mechanism.