Each wind turbine of the type causing controversy on the Somerset Levels could be worth £200,000 to local communities, the Government said last night.
Ministers revealed their intentions to encourage the building of wind farms across the countryside, insisting that the turbine industry created thousands of jobs and generated millions of pounds for the economy.
They unveiled a Government report that shows communities benefited from onshore wind turbines to the tune of £84 million in 2011, with 1,100 local jobs supported by the sector.
It said for each megawatt of power generated there was a benefit of £700,000, with £100,000 of that benefit staying in the locality of the turbine.
Many corners of the West have seen fierce debates on the merit of wind turbines – but battle lines are particularly sharply drawn around the Huntspills, in Sedgemoor.
Councillors last month ruled against Stroud-based Ecotricity’s bid to erect four 120-metre high 2 megawatt turbines at West Huntspill, while EDF Energy wanted to install five turbines at East Huntspill, the villages close to the M5 near Bridgwater.
They ignored their planning officials’ advice by rejecting the scheme and residents are bracing themselves for the companies to appeal the decisions.
According to the Government report, which came to its conclusions by studying 18 wind farms, each of the nine turbines would have been worth £1.4 million to the economy, with £200,000 of that staying locally.
But many residents would dispute that – pointing to the effect turbines may have on house prices.
The report, produced by industry experts and The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), also said wind farms benefited local people through schemes which pay residents for hosting turbines, community ownership and investment in infrastructure. It added one in three local jobs were in operating and maintaining the turbines, providing long-term employment. In total, the research by BiGGAR Economics found onshore wind farms supported 8,600 jobs and were worth £548million to the UK in 2011.
The report, which looked at 18 different-sized wind farms and analysed the contribution of their development, construction and operation to the economy, is the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter battle over onshore wind power.
In recent months countryside campaigners have criticised the encroachment of turbines on the landscape and 100 Tory MPs wrote to David Cameron calling for subsidies for the technology to be cut.
But last month the Prime Minister said he believed renewables were “vital” for the future of the UK and were good for business, not just the environment.
Industry body RenewableUK’s chief executive Maria McCaffery said the study showed that every megawatt of wind power capacity installed generated almost £700,000, with £100,000 staying in the local community.
The report also looked at future deployment of onshore wind, and found that if it is scaled up under Government plans from current levels of 4.5 gigawatts installed to almost three times as much (13GW) by 2020, it could generate 11,612 direct and supply chain jobs.
But the report found that while the majority of the money generated during the development and operating phases of onshore wind farms stays in the UK, more than half of construction spend goes abroad, highlighting the value of developing a home-grown supply chain.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: “Onshore wind power is a cost-effective and valuable part of the UK’s diverse energy mix.”
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