President Reagan once turned down $50,000 that Congress had authorised for redecorating the White House, but he did accept private donations to spruce up the presidential home on the sound basis that one man’s subsidy is another man’s tax burden.
There is no better example of that than the burden of a levy on everyone’s energy bills to cover subsidy payments to renewable energy firms and landowners who happen to have wind farms or individual turbines on their land – the irony being that those who are already asset-rich become even more wealthy at the expense of hard-working taxpayers.
It is fair to suggest that renewable energy should be subsidised to some degree to help stimulate a market, and I agree with that. I am not against all renewable energy subsidies, but we should be supporting technologies that are effective in producing power when we need it and not just when the wind blows.
When we look at the efficiency data for onshore wind, we can see why wind is a bad deal for taxpayers. Onshore wind farms are dependent on the wind blowing at the right speed in order to reach maximum output.
Because wind speed is variable, so too is the output of Britain’s onshore wind farms. As a result, onshore wind farms are unable to respond to spikes in demand, in contrast to other forms of low carbon generation such as the biomass conversion projects that are being so ably demonstrated at Drax power station in my constituency and that I hope will shortly be introduced at Eggborough power station.
Onshore wind farms generate below 20 per cent of their stated maximum output for 20 weeks a year, and below 10 per cent for nine weeks a year. That means that wind farms are, effectively, failing to reach maximum output capacity for more than half the year. On average, they exceed 90 per cent of their rated output for only 17 hours a year. That is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.
Worse still, Britain’s onshore wind farms are routinely paid large sums of money not to generate electricity – as much as £lm in each week of 2014. Those payments, described officially as constraint payments, ultimately end up on consumers’ bills, meaning that the British public are effectively subsidising the UK’s onshore wind industry not to produce electricity.
Research by the Renewable Energy Foundation shows that Whitelee in Scotland, the site of Britain’s largest onshore wind farm, was paid more than £22m in constraint payments last year. In other words, it was paid £22m of taxpayers’ cash not to produce anything. Very nice work indeed if you can get it! Last year, a total of £53m was paid in constraint payments to wind farms – both onshore and offshore – which is the most since 2010. Wind farms are being paid more than £1m a week to switch off their turbines.
I am sure that the wind industry will tell us that this method of electricity generation is a way to create jobs. The industry’s trade body, RenewableUK, states that the industry “is set to employ up to a further 70,000 people by 2023”.
However the Scottish Energy Minister published figures last year showing that 2,235 jobs were connected directly to onshore wind at 203 wind farms across Scotland, so with an annual subsidy of £344m that works out at a cost of £154,000 per job.
The renewables obligation was introduced by the Labour government to encourage investment in and development of the renewable energy industry. The cost is added to all energy bills, meaning that not only households but industry and employers pay, adding to the cost of all our goods and services.
If wind power really is the cheapest form of renewable energy, as its supporters claim, it should now be able to stand on its own feet without using any more taxpayers’ money and increasing our bills.
I am delighted the Prime Minister has said that if the Conservatives achieve an outright majority after the election, subsidies for onshore wind will end. That is welcome news to my constituents in Thorpe Willoughby, Hambleton, Gateforth, Hillam, Riccall, Kirkby Overblow and Spofforth, and right across the beautiful part of North Yorkshire that I represent.
I do not blame farmers and landowners for wanting to join in this gold rush. They do not set policy; the Government do, and it is time to call time. We have more than 8,000 onshore wind turbines operational in this country, with 1,300 under construction, 5,200 awaiting construction and almost 6,000 in planning. Enough is enough.