Why the Greens have got the Blues

JR Max Wheel

26 February 2013

That Energy policy is fundamental to any economy is hardly news; yet the UK seems to have created a shambles from an already impending problem. It has been well known for years that UK nuclear stations with one exception, Sizewell,  have reached the end of their operating life, that there has been chronic underinvestment in National Grid infrastructure and that thanks to EU binding Co2 emission targets,  we have to phase out coal and oil-fired stations. By 2023 Britain will lose some 25-30GW of power capacity, roughly 10% of total production.  In Germany, the decision to switch to renewables from nuclear is widely anticipated to cost over € 1tr.in the next 20 years. This is beginning to make itself felt amongst German industry who having looked across to the US see power prices falling and dragging hitherto uncompetitive slugs of US heavy industry back into a position of comparative advantage.  Almost everywhere in Europe the effects of high power costs and austerity measures are provoking a backlash against climate levy costs and have driven large numbers into so-called fuel poverty.

Much of the blame for this mess attaches to faulty policy settings, bad science and outright data manipulation about climate change.  This has not been helped by politically-motivated environment correspondents at the BBC and even the once respected British Met. Office. Climate change is not an article of faith, it is a fact that has dominated life on earth, and indeed it can be argued that it created life on earth. What is undeniable is that it has been used as a stick with which to scaremonger and to harass the public into acceptance of the” incontrovertible evidence” – the laughably entitled Inconvenient Truth that was subsequently exposed as a fabrication of evidence. Perhaps the worst culprit in this sorry saga has been the IPCC; an UN body whose members appointed from member countries are often not even expert in the extraordinarily complex science necessary to understand Earth’s weather.

The end result is that we have over 4,000 wind turbines producing a fraction of their rated power output, whilst benefiting from a colossal subsidy – paid for by the hapless consumer. The true cost of wind power is colossal, some 3-4 times greater than conventional technology and with the likelihood of offshore wind installations being about as difficult and expensive to maintain as oil rigs, it is doubtful whether operating costs are even remotely correct.  Even The National Trust, that beacon of middle class Britain and guardian of its heritage is busy fighting a case against wind farms in Northamptonshire whilst its open-minded leader thinks that wind turbines afford some sort of aesthetic beauty, certainly in the eyes of many they do not.

The real weapon that has torpedoed green economics is of course shale gas. This has been extensively talked down by the Government, the DECC and its advisors, on the grounds that it is uncertain and potentially environmentally problematic, but in all probability because it destroys much of the economic case for renewables. It is obvious that most countries would welcome such a find, as indeed many have. The UK Government remains unconvinced – at a recent Energy Event  at the NEC, an executive for Cuadrilla Resources produced two stones, one which was “good” and the other “bad”. One was from the North Sea where fracking has been in use for decades and the other from Lancashire. It does not take a wizard to establish which was the “bad one”!

Renewables UK, the industry body which used to be called the BWEA (British Wind Energy Association), represented the wind lobby, until it took under its wing, hydro, tidal stream and wave power as well. The obvious opportunity is of course the one that has received the least attention, as per Parkinson’s Law. The UK is uniquely well-placed to exploit tidal energy, yet has done very little to do so: SeaGen a pilot plant in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland has been operating successfully for several years and should have been the get- go for serious commitments. These have all been stifled on fudged cost and efficiency estimates and environmental grounds- the Severn Barrage may be not a good idea as a barrage, but as a tidal stream project,  it could be perfectly viable. There are signs of life in this area in Scotland, both in the Jura/Islay schemes and the Pentland Firth. Repeatedly cost and output calculations have been manipulated to make this obvious resource seem like a pipe-dream. Why then did Siemens acquire SeaGen, surely, because it recognizes the viability of the technology and its worth! It is the wilful misrepresentation and fudged facts that have dogged the whole green energy debate, ably led by the DECC, which should focus on the Energy part of its remit and ditch its Climate Change agenda.

Mmeanwhile welcome to the land of ever rising energy costs, due to a mix of disinformation, mismanagement and political and scientific dogma. It is far less than the UK deserves and time that such matters were made properly transparent.