We make no apology for returning once again to the subject of wind power - as our Letters page illustrates, it is a topic that greatly concerns Sunday Telegraph readers, some of whom find themselves at the sharp end of the controversy when wind turbines are proposed or erected in their neighbourhoods. As we have emphasised before, we wholly sympathise with the laudable objective of making energy provision environmentally friendly; although ''green'' activism may have been hijacked by the Left, conservation and conservatism are natural allies. That said, nobody with a sense of fiscal responsibility could endorse the massive subsidies being lavished on wind power which, as we report, are being maintained despite the Government's proclaimed culture of austerity.
The Government has agreed onshore wind farms should receive at least £100 per megawatt-hour in subsidies, which is twice the market rate for electricity; offshore farms will get triple the market rate. This arrangement will remain in place for at least another six years, paid for by subsidies levied from consumers' electricity bills. Market analysts have claimed that the costs of wind power, so far from declining as we had been led to believe, are actually rising. Over the year to last February, slightly more than £1.2 billion was paid to wind farms in consumer subsidies. But the Renewable Energy Foundation expects subsidies to rise to £6 billion by 2020. Are we getting value for our money? Hardly, when during the last winter the electricity supply from all our wind farms at times amounted to as little as 0.1 per cent. As for job creation, last year the wind industry employed just 12,000 people, representing a £100,000 subsidy for each job.
There is no doubt that opposition to wind turbines is hardening. Their effect on the landscape can best be described as negative, while they create health and amenity problems for people living in the vicinity, as well as posing a threat to wildlife. Nor are they efficient: on average they operate at just 24 per cent of capacity. Their most unsatisfactory feature is that, since they fail to generate electricity when the wind is either too strong or too weak, conventional power stations need to be kept running as backup. So we are maintaining two energy systems in tandem, one of them eye-wateringly expensive - hardly a sensible proposition. In the context of all these disadvantages the Government's EU-prescribed goal of providing 20 per cent of the country's energy requirements from ''renewables'' by 2020 does not look realistic or financially responsible.
Last week's warning by energy regulator Ofgem that Britain's spare production capacity for electricity could fall to just 2 per cent by 2015, triggering power cuts reminiscent of the Seventies, was a wake-up call. Can we afford to meet EU diktats by closing our oil and coal-fired power stations by the 2015 deadline? As for Ofgem's suggestion of paying factories and large retailers to reduce consumption between 4pm and 8pm, what effect would that have on productivity and consumer input to the economy? The fact that we are debating such alarming hypotheses testifies that something has gone badly wrong with Britain's energy policy. That policy should not be concentrated on wind power, but sensibly diversified.The nuclear option is a good one. So the announcement last week by Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, of a £10 billion guarantee to EDF to finance a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset was welcome. Nuclear power stations provide only 18 per cent of our energy needs and that proportion should be increased. Also welcome was energy minister Michael Fallon's statement last week that "today is the day that Britain gets serious about shale". The minister was responding to a report by the British Geological Survey which estimated shale gas deposits in the North of England alone at 1,300 trillion cubic feet. Of course fracking presents potential environmental and community problems too; but we cannot afford to ignore a resource so rich that just 10 per cent of the estimated northern deposits could supply all our energy needs for half a century. Diversity is key to energy policy, rather than putting all our eggs in the renewables basket, and so is common sense.