Every job in the UK wind farm industry costs around £100,000 a year in subsidies, according to a recent report featured in the Sunday Telegraph.
Figures showed that wind turbine owners received £1.2 billion in consumer subsidies last year, supporting some 12,000 jobs in the industry. This subsidy is paid through a supplement on domestic energy bills.
The cost of being on the ‘cutting edge’
Speaking about the subsidy scheme, Lord Teverson, who leads on matters of energy and climate change in the House of Lords for the Liberal Democrats, maintained that the subsidies were not predominantly for a “job creation programme”; they allow Britain to remain at the cutting edge of the renewable technology industry, he contended.
He commented: “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.”
And, with the technology still being in its infancy, an element of subsidy is “inevitable”, he noted, with high-start up costs and the need for investment. After this initial phase, however, the energy is free, Lord Teverson underlined.
‘Subsidies will come down’
The government has commented that the wind subsidies do more than merely support jobs, noting that they have a number of environmental benefits.
A Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spokesperson commented: “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% of all electricity generated came from wind power, helping to reduce our dependence on imported gas and cutting damaging carbon emissions.”
They also emphasised the importance of striking the right balance between encouraging investment and ensuring that consumers get value for money.
“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.”
New onshore wind farm rules
These figures follow the proposal of stringent new rules which would see locals have more of a say in plans for onshore wind farms in a bid to reduce sight and sound pollution in rural areas.
Furthermore, a landmark ruling last year was made toward preserving the landscape of the Norfolk Broads over the construction of four large turbines on the site.
It is believed that alterations to planning guidance which came up earlier this month could harm the future of the wind industry. These changes would give greater power to local opposition when it comes to renewable energy matters, and place greater emphasis on the impact of turbines on the landscape and local heritage.
However, some individuals within the renewables industry have highlighted that an increase in ‘sweetener’ payments by those who host the technology could see any potential benefits from the plans counteracted. These could also make some developments uneconomic.