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.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.