Domestic energy bills are helping prop up Britain’s wind farm industry, with every job in the sector effectively costing £100,000 a year in subsidies, according to a new report.
The Government says the subsidies allow Britain to compete at the forefront of the renewable technology industry, but West Country communities fighting proposed wind farms say the figures prove that the industry is not efficient.
The Sunday Telegraph reported yesterday that wind turbine owners received £1.2 billion in consumer subsidies last year. There are around 12,000 jobs in the industry so the subsidy – paid by a supplement on electricity bills – equates to £100,000 per job.
The figures are seen by some as yet another blow to the beleaguered wind industry, which already faces increasingly fierce opposition from residents in rural areas who say towering turbines will ruin the landscape and damage tourism.
Communities on the Somerset Levels are awaiting a planning inspector’s decision on an Ecotricity appeal over four turbines proposed at Black Ditch, West Huntspill, near the M5. Last night they stressed that they understood that their arguments against the turbines had to be made on planning grounds. But they received a boost this week when they were told that the inspector will be taking on board the Government’s new guidance that local views should take precedence over the need for renewable energy when councils consider planning applications for the farms.
Julia Trott, a member of No Huntspill Wind Farm, said: “We actually checked on this when it was announced and we were told that the inspector will take it on board. As for subsidies, a lot of energy customers don’t realise that there is a tariff on their bills. If the companies are reliant on renewable obligation certificates (the main support mechanism for renewable electricity projects) and subsidies it does prove that they aren’t efficient.”
In a landmark ruling last year Mrs Justice Lang ruled in favour of preserving the landscape of the Norfolk Broads rather than allow for four giant turbines to be built.
Lord Teverson, who leads on energy and climate change for the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, said the subsidies were not primarily for “a job creation programme”.
He said: “It [a subsidy] is in terms of getting us ahead in the world and gives us skills we can export. It is a good investment for the future. The positive is Britain wants to be at the forefront of this.”
The Cornwall-based peer said some element of subsidy for renewable energy projects was “inevitable” while the technology is still in its infancy. He added: “There are some high start-up costs and money is needed for investment, but after that the energy is free. I can see how the idea of a subsidy for renewables doesn’t sit well with some, but you ask most people down here about wind turbines and it is not high on their agenda of things to worry about, unlike the shortage of affordable housing.”
A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: “Subsidies for wind have multiple benefits for the UK economy. Supporting jobs is only one important factor. Wind power adds to our energy security as part of a diverse energy mix, alongside nuclear, gas and other renewables.
“In 2012, over 5 per cent of all electricity generated came from wind power, helping to reduce our dependence on imported gas and cutting damaging carbon emissions. We must strike the right balance between encouraging investment and ensuring value for money for consumers.
“As the cost of technologies come down, so will subsidies. Support for onshore wind was reduced by 10 per cent this year and we have challenged the offshore wind industry to significantly cut costs by 2020.”
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