Subsidy earned for having monster turbines on your land is disproportionate to public benefit, says Philip Howard. Wind farms are a crime against the landscape and the taxpayer
So the prime minister has had an attack of the political conscience vapours and is going to ward against the obscene levels of corporate pay. Good on him but perhaps he could have started his fairness crusade closer to home. His father-in-law has earned himself a small fortune each year by allowing a power company to erect eight monster wind turbines on his land. ‘A low blow,” I hear muttered from the Shires. So let us move higher. The Duke of Roxburghe won a battle to build 48 of these cash cows on a previously unspoilt piece of the Borders called Fallago Rig which, over a 25-year contract, is estimated to net a sum running into the tens of millions.
I have nothing against either of these two gentlemen, who have quite understandably taken the windy shilling and the opportunity to join the ranks of the overpaid, previously frequented by oligarchs, public-finance-initiative barons, grain farmers, tartan tycoons, and that admirable, spud-faced nipper from Manchester United. What I don’t like is the amount of public subsidy involved – not, I hasten to add, for the spud-faced nipper.
Christopher Booker recently produced an excellent piece for Mail Online, highlighting the madness of our £250 billion wind-energy policy. He claims the 2,000 Current turbines produce the same as a medium-sized power station, and there are a further 8,000 planned. Because of the downtime due to too much or too little wind, there will be a need to build a dozen or so gas-fired power stations as backup. These wind beasts are often inefficient. The big blade visible from the M4 near Reading apparently produces £130,000 worth of subsidy but only £100,000 of electricity. What other business gets a public subsidy equal to 100 -130% of the value of what it produces?
And I have not even touched on the ruination we are inflicting on our countryside. In October, I drove from Carlisle to just past Dundee and could not believe my eyes. On the outskirts of Glasgow there are 140 turbines: Whitelee, the largest wind farm in Europe. Before that I had driven past another proliferation around Moffat – 69 but soon to be 152. I read that six turbines are to be built on the 1645 battlefield site at Naseby. National planning inspector Paul Griffiths said, “The wind turbines will introduce another modern element into views into and across the battlefield.” Another crop has been applied for at Shuckburgh Park, not far from the 1642 Battle of Edgehill site. One will top Beacon Hill, where the first Sir Richard Shuckburgh was knighted by Charles I. It will ruin the view and life of my lovely friend Ruth, who already bears too great a burden being married to the world’s most hopeless salmon fisherman. And 64 are going up in Wales, covering the site of the 1401 Battle of Hyddgen, where Owain Glyndwr thrashed an English army – the last ever Welsh victory (other than Cardiff City beating Arsenal in the 1927 FA Cup Final).
Our brave new political elite, be they Cameroonies, Hoonies or Millipedes, raised in the years of easy money and profligate expenditure, saw a lot of political capital and votes in going green and going with the wind. They signed us up to sustainable targets with punitive fines. But I don’t think they foresaw the costs both economically or physically. We do need to slow global warming but we need them to reduce energy costs and get out of this wind tunnel they have put us into.
This wickedness is best summed up by Sir Simon Jenkins – journalist, chairman of the National Trust and general wise owl – who said, “The level of subsidy available to land owners to put up these turbines is out of proportion to the public benefit derived from them, and the temptation to ruin what is usually outstanding landscape is overwhelming. It is a crime against the landscape.” And, would add, against the taxpayer.