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18 June 2013updated 26 Sep 2015 1:01pm

Checking the Telegraph’s wind-farm front page

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

By Alex Hern

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.

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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?