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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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.