Blowing the cap off benefits

It's common knowledge that religion and politics are topics best avoided in polite conversation. It seems that another subject is fast joining the taboo list round the dinner table, if the online response to a recent article in The Daily Telegraph (Householders waste £24 million subsidising redundant wind farms, 27 January 2012) is anything to go by. Low carbon energy generation, and in particular the UK Government's role in this area, is fast becoming a contentious issue for many Britons.

The Telegraph story revealed that wind farm owners were compensated by householders to the tune of £24 million last year for the periods when weather conditions meant that they had to turn off their turbines. Too much wind and the electricity grid cannot cope with the power generated by the turbines, too little wind and again, the turbines have to be turned off. Energy Minister Charles Hendry was quick to explain that the huge sum of £24 million accounted for just 10 per cent of the £250 million total of “constraint payments” – compensation offered to energy providers when they have to shut down.
Paradoxically this article appeared around the same time that the Government announced its welfare reforms and the introduction of a benefit cap of £26,000 for families – a move that has raised questions even in Cameron’s own camp, most recently by welfare-to-work tsar, Emma Harrison.
Rather than target families with its brutal welfare reforms, surely, in our socially inclusive state, the Government would be better placed to turn its focus to wind turbines and the inefficiency of wind farms? To put it baldly, the money reportedly offered for compensation to wind energy companies not to produce power on windy or windless days would have helped over 7,000 socially dependent families attain their £26,000 benefits. There are currently 5 million homes in England alone in fuel poverty – a quarter of the population – while in Wales the figure reaches 40 per cent. Shouldn’t we switch our focus from benefitting big businesses to benefitting consumers?
There needs to be a change of focus if the Government, in its bid to meet a low carbon energy generating strategy, is using public money to pay businesses not to do their business. It must be clear that for the European ‘low carbon’ economy to work, we need innovators to invent new windmills that only operate when it’s just windy enough and solar systems that operate in the dark…

Fortunately, there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. The Government’s new Green Deal initiative looks set to deliver real energy saving measures to households, stimulating new methods of ‘doing business’ and helping get the right, affordable products to consumers that will bring the much needed reduction in their energy bills and help reduce fuel poverty.

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