The latest figures show that there has been a surge in the number of planning-permission approvals for onshore wind farms, more than doubling in two years from 83, in January to August 2011, to 188 during the same period this year. Supporters of wind farms will doubtless offer this as evidence that they are more popular than ever. However, critics will judge that their popularity is not because they are a realistic solution to our energy needs, but because companies and landowners, mindful of the generous subsidies, are milking the system while they can.
We agree with the critics, as the facts demonstrate that companies stand to make a lot of money out of wind farms in return for producing power with varying degrees of efficiency. Today, The Sunday Telegraph also reports that Britain’s wind farms have generated an income of £2 billion for their operators. Of that sum, only £900 million came from actually selling electricity to the National Grid – the remaining £1.1 billion was earned through a consumer subsidy added to electricity bills. Despite predicted rises in household bills, the Big Six energy supply companies have received subsidies ranging from £74 million to £213 million.
These are the companies that Ed Miliband attacked in his conference speech a few weeks ago, when he pledged to defend the customer with a price freeze. Yet it was Mr Miliband who, as energy secretary, introduced the very same green levies that increased our fuel bills when he was last in office. It was also Mr Miliband who committed the UK to cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, the kind of ambitious anti-carbon agenda that has given a fillip to the wind industry and, by so doing, allowed its champions to make the case for subsidies. For all his bluster, Mr Miliband bears a significant share of the blame for the present size of our fuel bills.
Moreover, the subsidies that he championed do not bring value for money because the output of wind farms fluctuates wildly depending upon the weather. In warmer windy months – when least needed – they can produce so much energy that they overload the system. In cold, windless months – when most needed – they can stand lifeless and useless, creating a need for costly and even polluting back-up. Last winter, the contribution of wind turbines to overall energy production in the UK fell to lows of 0.1 per cent.
We all want to help protect the environment and to build a sustainable future. But it cannot be right that the cost of investing in unreliable power supplies has been passed on to the consumer – especially when living standards are being squeezed. The Conservatives are always making noises to the effect that they would like to end these green taxes: the Prime Minister has said that levies would not remain on bills “for a moment longer than is necessary”. What struggling consumers really need from the Government, however, is not words but action. They need to know when the subsidies will end – and to be assured that this will be sooner rather than later.
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