Wind farms on inherited estates are fuelling vast government subsidies for earls and dukes.
“I am a very rich duke, a most agreeable thing to be, even in these days,” says Fabrice de Sauveterre in The Pursuit of Love. And it still is. From Keswick to Kensington these are hard times in Britain: mortgages up, fuel up, fares up, heating bills up, child benefit and social security down.
The Treasury is poring over ways to make more cash to plug the deficit in the budget this month, whether from the disabled, middle-class mothers or bankers in mansions. But one group is still receiving huge handouts the dukes and earls of this kingdom.
Many are in receipt of a large government cheque not because they live on a desolate council estate surrounded by unemployment but because they are sitting on their own estates. Their undeserved windfall comes from permitting the building of wind farms on their rolling acres.
Ah, you might say, but they should be compensated for allowing these ugly monstrosities on their land; it must be irritating to glimpse a turbine as they look out of the drawing-room windows. But the sums involved are worth as much as their grand masters. They wouldn’t scribble over their Constables but they are happy to spoil some of the most beautiful moorlands and mountains of Britain to get cash.
By 2020, the government will be handing over pound stg. 100 million ($149m) a year in rents to landowners simply for the right to put turbines on their turf. Property agents suggest that each large turbine generates about pound stg. 40,000 a year risk-free for the landowner.
The Earl of Moray is reported to rake in nearly pound stg. 2m a year from his wind farm in Perthshire; the Duke of Roxburghe is expected to make pound stg. 1.5m a year from his development in the Lammermuir Hills. The Duke of Gloucester has given West Coast Energy permission for a scheme on his Northamptonshire estate that could generate pound stg. 3m over 25 years. Even the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, Sir Reginald Sheffield, is in on it, making pound stg. 1000 a day in rent in Lincolnshire.
It’s enough for a peasants’ revolt, but all the landowners seem to care about is whether the blades will interfere with their pheasants.
What is astonishing about this money, financed by huge government subsidies, is just how little the landlords have to do. A mansion tax would not just affect those with inherited homes but those who have purchased with the taxed proceeds of hard work. If ministers want to penalise the acquisition of huge sums by luck rather than judgment, they should be looking at wind energy rather than the housing market.
Perhaps even these undeserved gains (akin to the agricultural subsidies the same landowners have for years pocketed from Brussels) would be acceptable if they provided Britain with its most cost-effective, sustainable and efficient energy source and generated British jobs for British workers.
But wind farms fail on all these counts. Under the renewable energy obligation, electricity firms have to buy a percentage of their power from renewable sources. They then hand the extra cost, currently pound stg. 1.4 billion a year but as much as pound stg. 10bn by 2020, on to consumers. It’s a green tax, only it doesn’t show up on your tax bill but your utilities bill. The government may argue that, having signed up to European targets for reducing greenhouse gases, the only way to meet them is with wind farms. But they are more expensive than other power sources, and the wind turbines are not even manufactured in Britain any more.
Dieter Helm, a professor of energy economics at Oxford University, suggests that clean gas yields a far higher green return than wind. Gas, and nuclear power, would both keep Britain’s energy costs down.
They are also more reliable. On one day in December last year, British wind turbines, which have the capacity to produce 5891 megawatts of electricity, managed only 140. But it can be too windy: last year wind farm companies were paid pound stg. 25m in compensation for shutting down on blustery days.
Most attempts to make these arguments, however, are shouted down. This week a report into the renewable sector was published not by KPMG, the accountancy firm that commissioned it, but by AF Consult, which produced it. KPMG had apparently been nervous about the negative tone. So the consultancy published its findings, which suggest that pound stg. 34bn (pound stg. 550 for every person in Britain) could be saved by 2020 if plans to replace coal-fired power stations with wind and solar energy were ditched for gas and nuclear plants.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change called it “shoddy nonsense” but other ministers are impressed by the findings.
Cabinet ministers had the perfect opportunity to change their minds when Chris Huhne resigned as Energy Secretary. His successor, Ed Davey, could have announced a review and quietly modified the policy just as the government has done with the more middle-class subsidy of solar panels for electricity.
David Cameron has already said under pressure from his backbenchers that wind farms are “over-subsidised and wasteful of public money”. But the Liberal Democrats appear to want to keep boosting the aristocracy.
Now it’s up to the Chancellor. The final paragraph of his budget speech this month should read: “I have received representations about a small group of the undeserving rich who believe that their windfall profits are untouchable. Having considered the options, I have decided not to introduce a wealth tax on housing, but instead to abolish subsidies to wind farms.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding