Checking the Telegraph's wind-farm front page

Do we really subsidise each wind farm job for £100,000?

The Carbon Brief takes a look at the Sunday Telegraph's front page story revealing "the true cost of windfarms" (apparently £100,000 a job):

In an attempt to create a media-friendly top-line figure, the Sunday Telegraph appears to have relied on high-end estimates for how much it costs - and a somewhat pared down estimate for the number of jobs generated.

The numbers are quite shonky at every stage; for instance, the data the Telegraph used over-estimated the cost of a renewables obligation certificate, over-estimated the number of certificates issued, and ignored thousands of jobs in related industries (including jobs manufacturing wind turbines, which seems like a pretty fair thing to incude).

But the more important point is the one dropped in at the bottom of Carbon Brief's piece: dividing the (calculated) £1.2 billion in subsidies by the number of jobs ignores the fact that we like wind farms because, you know, they help prevent climate change. Obviously if you think that climate change is a massive scam – or if you think, as the Sunday Telegraph does, that it would only be worth fighting "in an ideal world" – then that's not great value for money.

On top of that, there's the fact that the subsidy doesn't just go to paying for jobs. It also goes to building wind farms, a fact which seems to get glossed over in the Telegraph piece. For instance, when "just 2,235" are "directly employed" to work on Scotland's 203 windfarms, subsidised with £344m of public money, one way of looking at that is that we're spending £154,000 per job. Another, better way of looking at it is that we're pumping most of the money into the long-lasting infrastructure, in the plan of tapering off government support as the technology improves. Because that's what we're actually doing.

It's like when you have to pay £200 for a plumber and £800 for the boiler they're going to fit. You could argue that the plumber's paid £1000 for the job. But you'd be wrong.

Regardless of how you measure it, it's still better value for money than the £4.3bn (and increasing) support sent to fossil fuels. It's one thing to support technologies like fracking on the basis that they provide cheap energy; but it's quite another to spend billions on them over clean supplies. Presumably coming to a Telegraph front page near you soon, yes?

Some wind turbines. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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To preserve the environment we hold in common, everyone has to play their part

The challenge of building a clean future based on the common good of Londoners demands that politicians, business, communities and individuals each take a share of the responsibility and of the benefits.

The environmental challenge facing our capital city can seem overwhelming. Our air is poisonous. Our infrastructure built for the fossil fuel era. The need to build a clean, low carbon future can seem incompatible with competing challenges such as protecting energy security, housing and jobs.

The way we tackle this challenge will say a lot about the type of city we are. We inherit the world we live in from the generations that went before us, and only hold it until it is time to hand it over to future generations. The type of environment we leave behind for our children and grandchildren will be affected by the decisions we need to take in the short term. Our shared inheritance must be shaped by all of us in London.

Londoners currently face some crucial decisions about the way we power our city. The majority of us don't want London to be run on dirty fuel, and instead hope to see a transition to a clean energy supply. Many want to see that clean energy sourced from within London itself. This is an appealing vision: there are upsides in terms of costs, security and, crucially, the environment.

Yet the debate about how London could achieve such a future has remained limited in its scope. Air pollution has rightly dominated the environmental debate in this year’s mayoral election, but there is a small and growing call for more renewable deployment in the city.

When it comes to cities, by far the most accessible, useable renewable energy is solar, given you can install it on some part of almost every roof. Rooftop solar gives power to the householder, the business user, the public servant - anyone with a roof over their head.  And London has upwards of one million roofs. Yet it also has the lowest deployment of solar of any UK city. London can do better. 

The new mayor should take this seriously. Their leadership will be vital to achieving the transition to clean energy. The commitments of the mayoral frontrunners should spur other parts of society to act too. Zac Goldsmith has committed to a tenfold increase in the use of solar by 2025, and Sadiq Khan has pledged to implement a solar strategy that will make the most of the city’s roofs, public buildings and land owned by Transport for London.

While the next mayor will already have access to some of the tools necessary to enact these pledges (such as the London Plan, the Greater London Assembly and TfL), Londoner’s must also play their part. We must realise that to tackle this issue at the scale and speed required the only way forward is an approach where everyone is contributing.

A transition to solar energy is in the best interests of citizens, householders, businesses and employees, who can begin to take greater control of their energy.  By working together, Londoners could follow the example of Zurich, and commit to be a 2,000 watt society by 2050. This commitment both maximizes the potential of solar and manages introduces schemes to effectively manage energy demand, ensuring the city can collectively face an uncertain future with confidence.

Unfortunately, national policy is no longer sufficient to incentivise solar deployment at the scale that London requires. There is therefore an important role for the incoming Mayor in facilitating and coordinating activity. Whether it is through TfL, existing community energy schemes, or through individuals, there is much the mayor can do to drive solar which will benefit every other city-dweller and make London a cleaner and healthier place to live.

For example the new mayor should work with residents and landlords of private and social housing to encourage the deployment of solar for those who don’t own their property. He should fill the gap left by national building standards by ensuring that solar deployment is maximized on new build housing and commercial space. He can work with the operator of the electricity grid in the capital to maximize the potential of solar and find innovative ways of integrating it into the city’s power demand.

To bring this all together London should follow the example set by Nottingham and Bristol and create it’s own energy company. As a non-profit company this could supply gas and electricity to Londoners at competitive prices but also start to drive the deployment of clean energy by providing an attractive market for the power that is generated in the city. Community schemes, businesses and householders would be able to sell their power at a price that really stacks up and Londoners would receive clean energy at competitive prices.

The challenge of building a clean future based on the common good of Londoners demands that politicians, business, communities and individuals each take a share of the responsibility and of the benefits. Lets hope the incoming Mayor sees it as their role to convene citizens around this aim, and create incentives to virtue that encourage the take up and deployment of solar, so that we have a healthy, clean and secure city to pass on to the next generation.