In all the publicity given to the opening of "the world's largest wind farm" off the Kent coast last week, by far the most important and shocking aspect of this vast project was completely overlooked. Over the coming years we will be giving the wind farm's Swedish owners a total of £1.2 billion in subsidies. That same sum, invested now in a single nuclear power station, could yield a staggering 13 times more electricity, with much greater reliability.
The first all-too-common mistake in the glowing coverage accorded to the inauguration of this Thanet wind farm by the Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, was to accept unquestioningly the claims of the developer, Vattenfall, about its output. The array of 100 three-megawatt (MW) turbines, each the height of Blackpool Tower, will have, it was said, the "capacity" to produce 300MW of electricity, enough to "power" 200,000 (or even 240,000) homes.
This may be true at those rare moments when the wind is blowing at the right speeds. But the wind, of course, is intermittent, and the average output of these turbines will be barely a quarter of that figure. The latest official figures on the website of Mr Huhne's own department show that last year the average output (or "load factor") of Britain's offshore turbines was only 26 per cent of their capacity.
Due to its position, the wind farm's owners will be lucky to get, on average, 75MW from their windmills, a fraction of the output of a proper power station. The total amount of electricity the turbines actually produce will equate to the average electricity usage not of 240,000 homes, but of barely half that number.
A far more significant omission from the media reports, however, was any mention of the colossal subsidies this wind farm will earn. Wind energy is subsidised through the system of Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs), unwittingly paid for by all of us through our electricity bills. Our electricity supply companies are obliged to buy offfshore wind energy at three times its normal price, so that each kilowatt hour of electricity receives a 200 per cent subsidy of £100.
This means that the 75MW produced on average by Thanet will receive subsidies of £60 million a year, on top of the £30-40 million cost of the electricity itself. This is guaranteed for the turbines' estimated working life of 20 years, which means that the total subsidy over the next two decades will be some £1.2 billion. Based on the costings of the current French nuclear programme, that would buy 1 gigawatt (1,000MW) of carbon-free nuclear generating capacity, reliably available 24 hours a day – more than 13 times the average output of the wind farm.
The 100 turbines opened last week cost £780 million to build, which means that the £100 million a year its owners hope to earn represents a 13 per cent return on capital, enough to excite the interest of any investor. And these turbines are only the first stage of a project eventually designed to include 341 of them, generating subsidies of £1 billion every five years.
A final claim for the Thanet wind farm (which Mr Huhne boasts is "only the beginning") is that it will create "green jobs" – although the developers say that only 21 of these will be permanent. These are thus costing, in "green subsidies" alone, £3 million per job per year, or £57 million for each job over the next 20 years. The Government gaily prattles about how it wants to create "400,000 green jobs", which on this basis would eventually cost us £22.8 trillion, or 17 times the entire annual output of the UK economy.
If all this sounds dizzyingly surreal, the fact remains that we must begin to grasp just what the green fantasies of Mr Huhne, the EU and the rest are costing us. Even the Queen, we learn, tried to claim a "fuel poverty" allowance for her soaring electricity bills, which have risen 50 per cent in the past year. But a crucial first step towards getting some grip on reality must be for those who report on these wind farms to stop hiding away the colossal price we are all now having to pay for one of the greatest scams of our age.