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Christopher Booker: How Much Profit Will A Turbine Turn?

Developers of wind farms offer ‘sweeteners’ to local communities, but they may be tiny compared to the revenues.

Scarcely a week goes by when I am not asked by a local campaign group to publicise their fight against some scheme to build one of those increasingly hated wind farms. So many developers are now piling in on the subsidy bonanza that, according to a survey by the Western Morning News, in Cornwall and Devon alone no fewer than 600 such schemes are now being discussed or going through the planning process.

A ploy often used by developers to buy off opposition to their proposals is to offer cash to fund local community projects. But few campaign groups are aware just how derisory the sums often are, compared with the gains the developers stand to make.

I was recently approached, for instance, by Felix Williams, mayor of the little Suffolk market town of Eye, over a plan for two huge 3.4 megawatt (MW) turbines that would loom over the town from the site of a former wartime airfield nearby. Although the scheme was almost unanimously opposed by the town council, it was approved by Mid-Suffolk district council, on the grounds that it was necessary to meet the local target set by the Government, itself determined by our commitment to the EU to generate 32 per cent of our electricity from renewables by 2020, mainly from tens of thousands of new turbines.

The developers tried to appease opponents of the scheme by offering Eye £7,000 a year. What Mayor Williams wished to know was how this compares with the profits they might make from it.

The developers specify the capacity of their turbines – which will be taller than the spire of Salisbury Cathedral – as 6.8MW. But they admit, because wind is intermittent, that the actual output will only be around 2MW. In fact, even this is optimistic: turbines in England generate on average only 20 per cent of their capacity, so it’s unlikely that the average output of the Eye turbines will be more than 1.4MW. Sticking with the developers’ own figure, though – how much would their 2MW earn them?

As a rule of thumb, the annual income per MW fed to the Grid from wind energy is around £800,000, half from the sale of the electricity, the other half from the subsidy we all pay through our electricity bills under the Government’s Renewables Obligation. (These can only be rough averages because the value of each varies.) So the income from the Eye turbines might be around £1.6 million a year – which hardly makes the £7,000 offered to the locals for the blighting of their skyline the bargain of the century. (As Mayor Williams says, the town already pays £5,500 a year just for its new unisex public lavatory.)

Compare this with what the BBC describes as “the huge windfall” being offered to villagers in Powys by the German-owned energy giant RWE, to win their support for a plan to build 65 3MW turbines, each 450ft high, at Llanbrynmair, on the hills of central Wales. This “sweetener”, as the BBC calls it, will amount to a staggering £18.8 million over 20 years. But from RWE’s own figures we can see that the wind farm’s possible income of £50 million a year will amount to £1 billion (£500 million of it subsidy) over the same 20-year period.

This is how preposterous the finances of the great wind scam have become – to yield, very inefficiently, only a fraction of our electricity. (One medium-sized gas-fired power station can produce 800MW, reliably, all the time, at a fraction of the cost.) Even David Cameron last week criticised onshore wind farms as “over-subsidised and wasteful of public money”. He should know, since his father-in-law makes £1,000 a day from one on his Lincolnshire estate. But of course this was only a hollow gesture to appease those 100 MPs who recently wrote to him in similar vein, carefully referring only to “onshore” turbines – when the subsidies for those offshore are twice as high and twice as indefensible.

The fact is that, thanks to that unrealisable commitment agreed with the EU, the Government will do nothing meaningful to remedy this grotesque waste of public money. The destruction of Britain’s countryside – against the wishes of communities like those in Suffolk, Powys, Devon, Cornwall and so many other places – will therefore continue at an ever greater rate.

The Sunday Telegraph, 4 March 2012