I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the prohibition of the use of public funds to subsidise the development of onshore wind turbines;
and for connected purposes.
President Reagan once turned down $50,000 that Congress had authorised for redecorating the White House, but he did accept private donations to spruce up the presidential home on the sound basis that one man’s subsidy is another man’s tax burden. There is no better example of that than the burden of a levy on everyone’s energy bills to cover subsidy payments to renewable energy firms and landowners who happen to have wind farms or individual turbines on their land—the irony being that those who are already asset-rich become even more wealthy at the expense of hard-working taxpayers.
It is fair to suggest that renewable energy should be subsidised to some degree to help stimulate a market, and I agree with that. I am not against all renewable energy subsidies, but we should be supporting technologies that are effective in producing power when we need it and not just when the wind blows. There are technologies that get a relatively poor deal from the subsidy market, and when we look at the efficiency data for onshore wind, we can see why wind is a bad deal for taxpayers. Onshore wind farms are dependent on the wind blowing at the right speed in order to reach maximum output. Because wind speed is variable, so too is the output of Britain’s onshore wind farms. As a result, onshore wind farms are unable to respond to spikes in demand, in contrast to other forms of low carbon generation such as the biomass conversion projects that are being so ably demonstrated at Drax power station in my constituency and that I hope will shortly be introduced at Eggborough power station.
Onshore wind farms generate below 20% of their stated maximum output for 20 weeks a year, and below l0% for nine weeks a year. That means that wind farms are, effectively, failing to reach maximum output capacity for more than half the year. On average, they exceed 90% of their rated output for only 17 hours a year. That is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Worse still, Britain’s onshore wind farms are routinely paid large sums of money not to generate electricity—as much as £l million in each week of 2014. Those payments, described officially as constraint payments, ultimately end up on consumers’ bills, meaning that the British public are effectively subsidising the UK’s onshore wind industry not to produce electricity.
Research by the Renewable Energy Foundation shows that Whitelee in Scotland, the site of Britain’s largest onshore wind farm, was paid more than £22 million in constraint payments last year. In other words, it was paid £22 million of taxpayers’ cash not to produce anything. Very nice work indeed if you can get it! Last year, a total of £53 million was paid in constraint payments to wind farms—both onshore and offshore—which is the most since 2010. Wind farms are being paid more than £1 million a week to switch off their turbines.
I am sure that the wind industry will tell us that this method of electricity generation is a way to create jobs. The industry's trade body, RenewableUK, states that the industry
“is set to employ up to a further 70,000 people by 2023”.
The promise of those jobs is totally dependent on the building of large-scale wind farms at sea and the construction of factories in Britain to manufacture the turbines, which are almost all built abroad at the moment. The Scottish energy Minister published figures last year showing that 2,235 jobs were connected directly to onshore wind at 203 wind farms across Scotland, so with an annual subsidy of £344 million, that works out at a cost of £154,000 per job.
The renewables obligation was introduced by the Labour Government to encourage investment in and development of the renewable energy industry. The cost is added to all energy bills, meaning that not only households but industry and employers pay, adding to the cost of all our goods and services. Labour also signed us up to meeting legally binding green energy targets by 2020, with the prospect of financial penalties if we failed to do so. Surely the only possible justification for subsidising these technologies is to drive down costs, but Labour ignored that principle and decided to use subsidies to meet arbitrary and foolishly high targets for green electricity in a very short time scale.
I should like to mention single turbines. These are usually applied for and sited on farmland and they operate under a different regime, the feed-in tariff. Farmers are paid to generate even if they use the power themselves, and they are paid a further amount on top of that for any power fed into the grid. For example, the basic tariff on a 50 kW turbine is 17.78p per kWh, which is £177.80 per MWh, and a further £47.70 for power fed into the grid. If a farmer with such a turbine uses 80% of the power himself, which is not unrealistic, the power fed into the grid and therefore paid for by the consumer will cost a staggering £936.70 per MWh, which is nearly 20 times the wholesale market price. In the case of the owner of a 500 kW farm turbine who uses half the power generated, the price paid by the consumer for the power fed into the grid would be £344.10 per MWh, which is more than six times the wholesale market price. That does not make sense. Those examples show the extent to which the electricity market and, potentially, the farming market are being distorted by this subsidy. A farmer who can get an income of more than £200,000 a year from a turbine has a lesser incentive to improve the competitiveness of his farming activities.
A report produced by Frontier Economics on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change concluded that Britain’s wind energy subsidy was 35% more expensive than the international average. Two countries in particular, Germany and Denmark, have been at the forefront of promoting wind energy. Germany pays £80 per MWh for its electricity from onshore wind, while in Denmark the cost is less than £60 per MWh.
In the last few weeks, we have discovered—thanks to private conversations between the industry and the Labour party—that if, God forbid, Labour was to return to power, it would want to see even more turbines erected across the country. At least neither our comrades the Liberal Democrats nor the Green party—[Hon. Members: “Where are they?] They are not here; they are conspicuous by their absence. At least they have never tried to hide their love of these carbuncles in our countryside. Voters now know that the Labour party, alongside the Lib Dems and the Greens, has no issue with voters paying more for their energy bills and that it cares little about the impact that large turbines have on rural communities.
If wind power really is the cheapest form of renewable energy, as its supporters claim, it should now be able to stand on its own feet without using any more taxpayers’ money and increasing our bills. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that if the Conservatives achieve an outright majority after the election, subsidies for onshore wind will end. That is welcome news to my constituents in Thorpe Willoughby, Hambleton, Gateforth, Hillam, Riccall, Kirkby Overblow and Spofforth, and right across the beautiful part of North Yorkshire that I represent. I know it is also welcomed by constituents of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
I do not blame farmers and landowners for wanting to join in this gold rush. They do not set policy; the Government do, and it is time to call time. We have more than 8,000 onshore wind turbines operational in this country, with 1,300 under construction, 5,200 awaiting construction and almost 6,000 in planning. I agree with Thomas Pursglove, our candidate in Corby and the chairman of Together Against Wind, when he says that enough is enough. My Bill is designed to help communities that feel threatened and powerless in the face of wind farm applications, and to ensure that our constituents are getting good value for the money they pay on their bills. The Bill will also allow other, more efficient technologies to benefit from Government support, and I commend it to the House.
Question put (Standing Order No.23).