The wind-power industry is expensive, passes costs on to the consumer and does not create many jobs in return
Today, The Sunday Telegraph reveals how many ”green jobs’’ the wind-power industry really generates in exchange for its generous subsidies. The figures show that for 12 months until February 2013, a little over £1.2 billion was paid out to wind farms through a consumer subsidy financed by a supplement on electricity bills. During that period, the industry employed just 12,000 people, which means that each wind-farm job cost consumers £100,000 – an astonishing figure.
Of course, we all want to preserve the environment and, in an ideal world, we would invest in energy production that is as clean as possible. But before pouring money into any potential power source we need to discuss honestly its costs, its potential to create jobs and its efficiency. Our story shows that the claims of the green lobby that wind farms will generate abundant energy and economic growth are not consistent with the facts.
Regarding costs, the £1.2 billion figure is merely a starting point. According to the Renewable Energy Foundation, the subsidy is likely to rise to £6 billion by 2020 if the Government is to meet its target of providing for 15 per cent of the country’s needs with renewable energy. Finding space to build the wind farms has created a veritable racket – landowners can expect to receive payments worth an average £40,000 a year for each large, three-megawatt turbine built on their land.
And what is the benefit of all this expense? In terms of jobs, disappointingly little. Greater Gabbard, an offshore wind farm, employs 100 people at its headquarters in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Divide Greater Gabbard’s subsidy of £129 million by 100, and each job is worth an incredible £1.29 million. The spend might be more justifiable if wind were an efficient and abundant energy source – but it simply is not. Its output fluctuates wildly depending on the amount of wind available. This week, our thousands of wind turbines managed to generate an impressive 12 per cent of our total energy production. But during our last cold, windless winter – when electricity demand was at its greatest – that fell to lows of 0.1 per cent.
Wind farms can end up being surprisingly environmentally unfriendly, too. When the wind does not blow and the turbines fail to do their job, consumers have to fall back on the very fossil fuels that they were designed to replace. The result is that we come to rely on foreign imports of oil and gas that hit the household budget hard (domestic coal stations that ought to supply more of the demand have been closed in order to meet carbon-emission reduction targets). Moreover, wind farms can be a blot on the landscape: the dormant turbines take up large tracts of land and kill wildlife; it is the visual pollution of our beautiful countryside that has led some communities to protest against their presence.
The Government has shown recognition of public concern by announcing that residents will be able to stop the construction of wind farms. It is welcome news that when planning applications are submitted, officials will have to take into account both the views of those living nearby and the impact upon the landscape – a proposal that is being sold as giving locals the power of veto over wind turbines.
But things may not work out that way. Under the plans, energy firms will be able to offer ”incentives’’ to residents – such as reductions in energy bills – in order to encourage them to say ”yes’’ to a new wind farm. This amounts to a bribe, and a very tempting bribe, too, given that we live in an age of austerity when many home owners are looking for ways to cut costs and save money. The Liberal Democrats, including Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, believe that the planning-rule changes could actually result in more wind farms being built rather than less.
Therefore, there is a troubling risk that the Government’s plans might prove to be a golden opportunity for wind-power providers to buy their way to installing yet more turbines. That is worrying because – aside from concerns about the damage to our countryside – our report shows that this industry is expensive, passes costs on to the consumer and does not create many jobs in return. Wind power is far from the panacea that its supporters claim it to be.
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