The Government has hit back at critics of onshore wind power, releasing a report which showed the industry created thousands of jobs and generated millions of pounds for the economy.
The joint study of 18 wind farms across the country by the industry and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) showed communities benefited from onshore wind turbines to the tune of £84 million in 2011, with 1,100 local jobs supported by the sector. One in three local jobs were in operating and maintaining the turbines, providing long term employment.
The report also said wind farms benefited local 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 £548 million to the UK in 2011.
The report, which looked at 18 different-sized wind farms and analysed the contribution of their development, construction and operation to the economy, is the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter battle over onshore wind power.
In recent months countryside campaigners have criticised the encroachment of turbines on the landscape and 100 Tory MPs wrote to David Cameron calling for subsidies for the technology to be cut. But last month the Prime Minister said he believed renewables were "vital" for the future of the UK and were good for business, not just the environment.
The Treasury has been accused of not backing the drive to develop clean energy sources, but Monday's report highlights that the technology generates £198 million a year in taxes, not including those charged on electricity. This could rise to £373 million for the exchequer by 2020, the research predicts.
Industry body RenewableUK's chief executive Maria McCaffery said the study showed that every megawatt of wind power capacity installed generated almost £700,000, with £100,000 staying in the local community. That means each average 2MW onshore turbine could be creating up to just under £1.4 million, including £200,000 for the local area.
The report also looked at future deployment of onshore wind, and found that if it is scaled up under Government plans from current levels of 4.5 gigawatts installed to almost three times as much (13GW) by 2020, it could generate 11,612 direct and supply chain jobs. The figure rises to 15,459 jobs if wider impacts on the economy of the development are taken into account, contributing around £780 million to the UK by the end of the decade.
But the report found that while the majority of the money generated during the development and operating phases of onshore wind farms stays in the UK, more than half of construction spend goes abroad, highlighting the value of developing a home-grown supply chain.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: "Our policies of increasing community involvement will also help ensure the right balance between developers and community interests. With the cost of the technology coming down, there is a real opportunity to reap the economic benefits onshore wind can bring."