Fresh conflict has erupted over the development of UK wind farms following a new claim that every job in the sector is effectively costing £100,000 a year in consumer subsidies.
Reports at the weekend claimed that wind turbine owners received £1.2bn in subsidies last year. With the industry supporting about 12,000 jobs, the subsidy – paid by a supplement on household electricity bills – equates to around £100,000 per post. It is said that the level of subsidies in some cases is so high that jobs are effectively supported to the extent of £1.3m each.
The reports claimed that in Scotland, which has more than 200 onshore wind farms, only 2,235 people are directly employed to work on them, despite an annual subsidy of £344m. That works out at £154,000 per job.
The new claims put further pressure on an industry which is already facing a cut in subsidy for onshore wind farms, more power for local communities to block unwanted schemes and calls for better compensation from green energy firms for people affected by new turbines.
Yesterday the cost of subsidies were defended by the Government and a leading Liberal Democrat peer.
However Northumberland county councillor Glen Sanderson, who has been at the forefront of local efforts to put the brakes on the number of new turbines, said the reports backed his belief that jobs created by wind farms were “minimal and expensive”.
He said: “This underlines what those of us who are highly dubious about the benefits of wind farms have been saying for some time. It is a very expensive and undesirable way of meeting our CO2 targets. In Northumberland we have one of the worst areas for fuel poverty anywhere in the country, and it beggars belief that we should be pouring so much money into the pockets of wind developers through our electricity bills.”
Dr John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, said: “Subsidies can create some soft jobs in the wind power industry, but will destroy real jobs and reduce wages in other sectors, because the subsidies cause higher electricity prices for industrial and commercial consumers.”
Lord Teverson, who leads on energy and climate change for the Lib Dems in the House of Lords, said subsidies for wind power were not primarily for “a job creation programme”, but rather allowed Britain to compete at the forefront of the renewable technology industry. He said: “It is a good investment for the future.
“The positive is Britain wants to be at the forefront of this. There are some high start-up costs, and money is needed for investment, but after that the energy is free.”
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change 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.
“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% this year and we have challenged the offshore wind industry to significantly cut costs by 2020.”