Onshore wind farms, recently under attack from leading conservationists for damaging the countryside, can bring significant economic benefits locally and nationally, as well as contributing to the fight against climate change, a new study claims.
Onshore wind supported 8,600 jobs and was worth £548m to the UK economy in 2011, says the report, by consultancy BiGGAR Economics. Of this figure 1,100 jobs were created at local authority level, with £84m of investment.
Looking at 18 case studies of wind farms of different sizes drawn from across the UK, the study analyses the contribution of wind farm development, construction, operation and maintenance to the economy at a local, regional and national level. It suggests if onshore wind is deployed at a scale suggested in the Government's Renewable Energy Roadmap, the economy could benefit by £780m by 2020, with around 11,600 jobs being supported.
From its beginnings 20 years ago, Britain's wind industry now has 3,176 large onshore turbines, with 568 turbines in the sea, according to RenewableUK, the wind industry trade body.
The onshore wind farms together can produce about 4.5 gigawatts of electricity, roughly the equivalent of four large conventional power stations, with another 1.5GW coming from offshore turbines. But the growing presence of turbines in the landscape – there are nearly 3,000 more in the planning process – has led to criticism from conservationists, and last week the Campaign to Protect Rural England broke ranks with other environmental groups who have hitherto been united in support for wind energy for the contribution it can make, with other CO2-free energies like solar and tidal power, to cut carbon emissions that cause climate change.
The CPRE said the countryside was being caught in "a hurricane of new wind turbines" and local communities were "struggling to safeguard valued landscapes" which were being industrialised by the presence of wind farms. Shaun Spiers, its chief executive, said his group accepted onshore wind in the right places as part of the mix required to meet the UK 's carbon reduction targets, "but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations".
The Government and wind industry stress the benefits wind farms can bring. "Rather than feeling wind has been imposed on them, people across the UK recognise the benefits of having wind in their backyard," said RenewableUK's chief executive Maria McCaffery. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: "Wind power provides secure, low carbon power to homes and businesses, and supports jobs and brings significant investment."