Under-fire wind farms hailed for boosting jobs and economy

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THE Government has hit back at critics of the onshore wind industry with a report claiming it has created thousands of jobs and generated millions of pounds for the economy.

The study of 18 wind farms across the country by the industry body RenewableUK and the Department of Energy and Climate Change showed communities benefited from onshore wind turbines to the tune of £84m in 2011, with 1,100 local jobs supported by the sector.

Of them over two-thirds were in development and construction and the rest, just over 300, in operation and maintenance.

The report said wind farms benefited people through schemes which pay residents for hosting turbines, community ownership and investment in infrastructure.

In total, the research by BiGGAR Economics found onshore wind farms supported 8,600 jobs and were worth £548m to the UK in 2011.

The report, which looked at 18 wind farms, half in Scotland, and analysed the contribution of their development to the economy, is the latest salvo in a bitter battle over onshore wind power.

While green energy is seen as a key driver for Yorkshire’s economic revival, with the region hopeful of benefiting from the planned massive investment in vast wind farms off the East Coast, communities are divided over the impact of onshore developments. East Riding councillor Paul Robinson, who has campaigned on behalf of residents against several large wind farms, and has two new battles against developers on his hands, said it was typical of the “spin and unrealistic best case scenarios put forward by the industry”.

In recent months countryside campaigners have criticised the encroachment of turbines on the landscape, with 100 Tory MPs writing to David Cameron calling for wind subsidies to be cut.

Last week the Campaign to Protect Rural England said the countryside was being caught up in “a hurricane of new wind turbines” and highlighted figures which showed in 2008 there were 685 turbines more than 30 metres high (100ft) built, in construction or awaiting approval in the countryside; that figure rose to more than 4,100 by March this year.

Last month, however, the Prime Minister said he believed renewables were “vital” for the future of the UK and were good for business, not just the environment.

Coun Robinson said consumers were paying through the nose for green energy: “The payouts to local communities for local projects is certainly welcome and can benefit the communities around a wind farm, but for many, especially those living within a few hundred metres of some of the largest 125m high turbines it is seen as a cynical attempt at bribery, and does absolutely nothing to compensate for the negative impact on their quality of life, visual amenity or thousands of pounds wiped off their property values.”

Godfrey Bloom, Ukip MEP for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, pointed to a Civitas report last year which said the “green economy” would drain investment from other sectors, making people pay more for electricity indefinitely and have “access to fewer jobs.”

The MEP – who believes natural gas could be the answer to the country’s energy problems – said the real problem was the “hidden cost of increasing energy prices which drives jobs abroad”.

He said: “This is part of an enormous propaganda machine for people with vested interests, landowners across the country are making millions of pounds out of wind turbines, while Mrs Stooks in Pontefract is on £100 a week and can’t afford to pay her electricity bill. It just can’t be right.”

The report said the number of direct and supply chain jobs could increase to 11,612 if the Government trebles the amount of gigawatts installed to 13GW by 2020.

It conceded that while most of the money generated during the development and operating phases of onshore wind farms stays in the UK, more than half of the construction spending goes abroad.

RenewableUK’s chief executive Maria McCaffery said the report showed why more than two thirds (68 per cent) of people in rural areas, where most wind turbines are installed, supported the industry.