“We are screwing ourselves”

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On Wednesday (Jan 18th) I attended a dinner-debate in the parliament, sponsored by Eurofer, the European Steel Federation, and entitled “EU ETS Revision: Unlocking low-carbon investments in the steel industry”.  It was a very well-attended event, with many MEPs as well as many from the industry, and we heard seven mini-presentations of various schemes designed to reduce CO2 emissions in steel production.  The industry is acutely concerned about current revisions to the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which provides a limited number of “free allowances” (of emissions permits) in an attempt to protect energy-intensive industries in the EU from international competition, and from the cost impact of EU energy policies.

Several MEPs contributed from the floor after the set presentations.  My remarks (as near as I can remember – it was not recorded) went like this:

Thank you Chairman, and thanks to our hosts.  Thank you also for these very interesting presentations.  But one element was missing from all of them: costs.  So many of the green projects we hear about sound fine to start with, until you look at the costs, and then they turn out to be hopelessly uncompetitive.  That doesn’t save the planet – it just drives emissions abroad.

Several of the schemes claimed the benefit of creating work-in-progress that could be stored, so that the plant could maximise use of renewable energy by producing when the wind blows, and power is available.  This is offered as an indirect method of energy storage, making the most of intermittent renewables.  But we should recall that to use an intermittent energy supply you need to build more capacity than would be needed for continuous operation.  And intermittent operation is bound to be less efficient.  So you have really saved nothing – you have merely transferred the penalties of intermittent generation from the wind turbine to the steel plant.

 But we have spent the evening looking at the small details of our ETS plans.  We should stand back and look at the big picture.  We have created the ETS explicitly in order to increase the cost of energy.  Then we have realised that we are destroying energy-intensive businesses like the steel industry.  So we have given them allowances – which have the incidental effect of transferring more of the burden to smaller enterprises less exposed to international competition.

But the allowances are never enough to maintain the global competitiveness of these industries  We already see steel and fertilisers getting the lions’ share, with other industries like cement crying foul.  You are trying to square the circle, and it just won’t square.  Worse yet, you are planning to reduce the allowances rapidly over time.  We are systematically strangling European industry.

 And you are forgetting the global competition.  We hear a lot about green initiatives in China, but they are still building coal-fired power plants at a rapid pace  Meantime in the USA we have a President-elect determined to make energy, including coal and shale gas, the motor of the US economy.  Both China and the USA will have highly competitive energy prices.  Our current ETS plans mean that European steel producers, and other energy-intensive businesses, will never be able to compete.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are screwing ourselves.  And it is time we stopped.

This speech was greeted with warm applause around the room, at least from the industry side, and I was congratulated by senior industry people afterwards.  But will it achieve a change of policy?  I doubt it.  Another reason why we’ll be Better Off Out.

 

 

 

 

 

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Deutschland discombobulated

 

unnamedA German confused:  On January 18th we had one of those tediously formal debates in Straz to review the results (such as they were) of the Dec 15th European Council meeting.  Not surprisingly, Brexit was on the agenda.  The first speech on behalf of the political groups was given by German MEP Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP Group.  He’s a perfectly agreeable guy, but he seemed deeply confused over the UK’s Brexit plans, despite the admirable clarity of Theresa May’s speech yesterday.  I tried to intervene and ask a question under the “Blue Card” rule.  But the newly elected President of the parliament, German MEP and former Commissioner Antonio Tajani (whom I have quoted so often) decided that in the interests of timekeeping he would take no Blue Cards in the debate.

A poor second-best, but I decided to write to Mr. Weber later.  I thought you might be amused to see my e-mail.

Dear Manfred,

Today you spoke in the debate on the outcome of the European Council of December 15th, and you made some comments about Brexit.  You said that the EU was at heart a Common Market, and you understood that Britain wanted to leave this Common Market, but then to agree a new trade deal that effectively brought it back in.  You added that therefore you could not understand whether Britain wanted to leave the EU or not.

 I am sorry that you found our Prime Minister’s speech of yesterday so difficult to follow.  For myself, I thought it had exemplary clarity.  She said that we will leave the EU.  We will leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.  We will be a fully independent country (like most countries in the world).  We will not be subject to free movement, or European Law, or the European Court, and we will not pay into the EU budget (unless voluntary agreement is reached between the UK and the EU on specific and limited programmes).  She also made it clear that as an independent country we would seek to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU.

 You will be aware that the EU has existing free trade agreements with close to fifty countries around the world.  And apart from the special cases of Switzerland and Norway, none of these agreements involves free movement, or EU budget contributions, or subjection to the European Court and European law.  I believe that Mrs. May envisages a broadly similar deal for the UK.

 Do you clearly understand that these countries with which the EU has free trade deals – Korea, for example – are not in any sense members of any common market, or of the EU Single Market, or of the EU Customs Union, or indeed of the EU itself?  You know, for example, that there is no free movement agreement between the EU and Korea?  Do you in fact understand the difference between a Free Trade Agreement, and membership of a common market?  And if you do, why do you feel any confusion about the UK’s position?

 Best regards.   ROGER HELMER MEP   www.rogerhelmermep.co.uk

 

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Appearing on the JVS Show

Three Counties Radio

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04mjl79#play

On The JVS Show talking about Donald Trump and Brexit – about 16 minutes in

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International Leaders Summit

Delivering a keynote address at the second annual Jerusalem Leaders Summit, December 19, 2016 at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem. Leaders from Europe, India, Israel and the United States affirmed the rule of law civilization based on shared values and principles, advancing economic freedom and peace through strength: http://jerusalemleaderssummit.org/

The Summit builds upon high-level meetings in Europe, India and the United States. International Leaders Summit meetings have brought together US Senators, members of the US House of Representatives, Europe’s elected representatives, and members of Israel’s Knesset joined by think tank and media leaders to address key issues facing citizens and stakeholders on the economic and security fronts.

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MEPs don’t actually work, do they?

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OK guys.  I know I shouldn’t do this.  I know that the anonymous hordes of internet trolls should be simply ignored.  They are unable to string two coherent thoughts together.  Most do little more than hurl generalised and obscene abuse at anyone they disagree with.  Their idea of an intellectual contribution to debate consists of vile language that I can scarcely repeat in a blog post intended for family reading by the fireside.

I should leave well alone.  I should decline to respond to the daily flood of accusations and abuse.  I should deny them the oxygen of publicity.  And yet there is one repetitive and consistent theme that rankles, and I can’t resist setting out a response.  “MEPs don’t do any work” (they say).  “They just sit on their a**es and take the money”.  I recognise of course that critics have every right to believe that the work I do is not helpful or constructive.  They are entitled to their opinion on that.  But they are not entitled to the view that MEPs don’t do any work, because that’s just plain wrong.

So let me set out on some flagrant self-justification, and describe for their benefit what actually happens.  I graduated from Cambridge in 1965, and since that time I have been in more or less continuous employment.  For the first 34 years, I worked in marketing and general management with a succession of companies, mostly multinationals.  That included a great deal of travel in Europe and the USA, plus a dozen years in total working in East and South East Asia.  I worked hard, long hours, and naturally did a great deal of travelling.

Then in 1999 I was elected as an MEP, and later re-elected (head of the regional list, if it matters) no fewer than three times, 2004/09/14.  I had assumed that I should be able to afford to take twenty or thirty days a year out, perhaps to take up a non-executive director rôle.   I soon found I was wrong.  An MEP’s job is 24/7.  Intensive work in Brussels and Strasbourg, often involving twelve-hour days – even fourteen or fifteen hours in some cases.  And then, typically a three-day weekend in the constituency.  But not a weekend as we know it.  Not leisure.  Meetings with staff, constituents, party branches and members, businesses and business organisations, schools and universities, campaigning, media interviews often at unsocial hours.

In short, after a reasonably successful and very busy business career, I find I am now, as an MEP, working harder – longer hours – and travelling far more – than I did previously.

One other troll-criticism is particularly ironic.  Eurosceptics are Little Englanders, they say, who can’t get on with foreigners, and are perhaps down-right xenophobic and racist.  In my case, and taking my business career and parliamentary work together, I have spent a total of 29 years overseas – and travelled extensively in the other 23.  I spent four years in Malaysia running a textile manufacturing business with around 300 employees, where I was the only Westerner.  Did I experience race-relations problems?  I certainly did.  But they were not between me and the Malaysians.  They were between the Malays and the Chinese, and I spent much time resolving tensions.  Perhaps worth adding that during my years in Brussels I have employed several ethnic-minority staffers.

Then there are those who say “MEPs are only in it for the money”.  In my experience, UKIP MEPs at least are primarily concerned with the political objective of getting our country out of the EU, not with the pay-cheque. In my own case, I actually took a salary cut when I left the private sector to become and MEP, and the same is true of Nigel Farage.

Another line of criticism is based on the published statistics of voting attendance, rapporteurships and so on.  Through most of my parliamentary career, I have been top quartile (and sometimes top decile) on voting participation.  True I have never done a report.  But that is because any report I drafted would be eviscerated by amendments in Committee, from the structural pro-EU majority, so there is simply no point in doing them.  A similar point applies to voting.  There is typically an 80% or so pro-integration majority, so it is rather rare that we can swing the outcome of a division.  I do vote, but it rarely makes much difference.

More generally the published statistics simply fail to reflect the priorities of UKIP MEPs.  Pro-EU MEPs are keen to “build Europe”, to “put another brick in the European construction”.  Careers are built on rapporteurships and chairmanship of committees.  But UKIP MEPs are not there for a career, we are there for a result (which we got on June 23rd).  Emphatically we are not there to create new European law, or to “build Europe”.  We are there to get out from under, which means we have different priorities.  Our job is to use our position in the parliament to influence public opinion at home, and I think we have done that rather well.

So what do we do?  In the parliament, I attend meetings of the Industry Committee.  Of course we don’t often win votes in committee – but it is salutary to cut through the group-think, to remind them that there are alternative views.  As UKIP energy spokesman, I also regularly attend meetings of the European Energy Forum (where I’m on the management committee).  While most other MEPs disagree with the UKIP position on energy and climate, I think it is fair to say that I command considerable respect.  Other MEPs welcome challenging alternative views, and industry members frequently thank me for my interventions.

A fair bit of time goes on organisational and party management issues – yesterday for example I chaired both the EFDD Group Bureau (=steering committee) meeting, and the subsequent group meeting.  A great deal of work is done on analysing legislation and drafting voting lists.  Then there is the mass of correspondence that all MEPs receive.  Of course we have staff to deal with routine matters, but many communications require personal responses.  And the working week in parliament is punctuated by media bids, which can range from regional papers and radio stations through to national and foreign media.

Work doesn’t stop at the weekend, with meetings, media interviews, speeches and so on.  And media bids don’t respect the Working Time Directive.  They can come at six in the morning or eleven at night.  I once did a series of hour-long appearances on Five Live’s Steven Nolan show between midnight and one a.m., getting home to bed by 1:30 a.m.

Constituents quite rightly expect their elected representatives to communicate with them.  I do this in a variety of ways:

The Blog:  I trust you’re reading it now.  The origins of my blog are lost in the mists of time, but I have written at least 2,116 blog posts, covering a wide range of policy issues, with an emphasis on (A) Europe; and (B) Climate and energy.  I also maintain a “Climate Interest” list who receive automatic copies of relevant posts (please let me now if you’d like your name added).  And before you ask, apart from one or two guest pieces, every blog post has been written by me personally – as are all my Tweets.

The Web-Site: contains a wealth of material and information, regularly up-dated.

The Newsletter: I publish an electronic newsletter monthly from Strasbourg (e-mail to to go onto the list).  Again its origins are lost in the mists of time – the earliest versions were paper sent out by post in 1999 – but I have done at least 200, mostly six to eight pages, outlining and commenting on current developments.  You can find recent newsletters on my website (see above).

Social Media: I am a regular Twitter user @RogerHelmerMEP (I never worked out how to do Facebook, I’m afraid).  I currently have 15,700+ Twitter followers (a standing rebuke to those trolls who regularly say “No one cares what you think”) and I have issued well over 20,000 Tweets.

Press Office: I maintain a press office in the East Midlands.  My Press Officer Nick Tite deals with media bids, arranges interviews, and maintains contact with regional media on my behalf.

Media interviews: I do frequent interviews (at all hours) with regional media – papers, radio and TV – I have frequently appeared on BBC Sunday Politics.  Plus interviews with national media, Jeremy Vine, 5 Live, LBC and so on.  Occasional appearances on national news channels.  Two successful outings on Question Time – regarded by many as the most challenging political exposure on UK TV.  I have also given interviews to media in many European countries, plus USA, Israel, and Asia.

Speeches:  I speak regularly in parliament and in committee, and these speeches are frequently posted on my blog, and on the UKIP MEPs’ web-site.  I speak at events across my East Midlands region.  Across the UK.  In European countries.  In the USA, the Middle East and in Asia.

At this stage I hope that someone somewhere is asking “don’t you ever take a holiday?”.  And for most of my parliamentary career I never went away for more than a few days.  The longest holiday I can remember was over Christmas and New Year, just recently, when I spent three weeks in Israel – and the first few days of that was a political conference.

So my message to the trolls: you can disagree with what I do – that’s your privilege.  But don’t tell me I don’t do any work.  When did you last work a fourteen hour day?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Ocean acidification”: vocabulary in the service of alarmism

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I have recently been engaged in an absurd Twitter spat over ocean acidification, following my commendation of James Delingpole’s magnificent and forensic deconstruction of the scare.

What does the phrase “ocean acidification” suggest to you?  I think to most people it would imply that the oceans are acidic, and becoming more acidic.  So it may come as a surprise to know that they’re not acidic at all.  They’re slightly alkaline.

Scientists measure acidity and alkalinity on the same pH scale.  There is one spectrum from extremely acid to extremely alkaline.  Unlike other scales (say temperature) this scale has a left, a right and a (neutral) mid-point.  Perhaps confusingly, the mid-point is defined as pH=7, so pH>7 means alkaline, and pH<7 means acidic.  And the pH of the oceans?  According to National Geographic, they have historically averaged pH=8.2, but in recent years that’s fallen all the way to pH=8.1.  So the oceans have been slightly alkaline since forever, and continue to be so – with a slight change.

The alarmists insist that the oceans are becoming “more acidic”, and in the obscure sense that less alkaline might be interpreted as more acidic, maybe they’re sort of right.  It’s like saying that a blast furnace that was at 900oC and is now 890oC has become “colder”.  But “more acidic” clearly and strongly suggests “acidic to start with”, which is clearly not the case.

This is not a statement about science: it’s a statement about semantics.  About the meaning of words, and how people understand them.  If I say I’m going to make my cup of tea sweeter by adding sugar, I clearly imply it was sweet already.  So when Warmists to use the phrase “more acid” and “ocean acidification” it’s a clear and mendacious attempt to suggest that the oceans are alarmingly acidic, when in fact they’re not acidic at all.

Why do they do it?  Because acid gets a bad press.  Acid is scary.  Stomach acids.  Corrosion.  An acidic ocean will dissolve the shells of crustacea (they say), undermining the marine food chain and threatening life on the planet (despite the fact that crustacea have thrived through very varied and adverse conditions for 550 million years).  So “ocean acidification” serves the alarmist cause, as a propaganda term, not a scientific term.

They tell me that as a politician, I should not have the temerity to question the views of scientists (despite the fact that politicians need to take policy decisions based on their understanding of the facts).  But surely it is incumbent on the experts and the scientists to avoid deliberately misleading language designed to alarm the average punter.

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UKIP supports renewables (when they’re economically viable)

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This photograph shows the aftermath of an anaerobic digester accident in Shropshire – both the damage to the installation and the massive leak of sludge

I have written at length about the vast misallocation of resources involved in the dash for renewable energy, and especially solar and wind power.  We see analyses of the costs of solar and wind, with the industry insisting that they have achieved the Holy Grail of “grid parity” – in other words, cost parity with conventional generation.  So this begs an interesting question – why does the industry also insist that it continues to need massive subsidies?

A major part of the answer is that the costings fail to account for the massive costs of back-up, which is essential when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.  You’re effectively paying twice for the capacity – first, for the intermittent renewables, and a second time for the back-up.

Then conventional generation is less efficient when run intermittently as back-up for renewables, meaning higher costs and higher emissions per unit of output.  Worse still, conventional generation is designed to be efficient when run steadily.  You simply can’t make an economic case to build a gas-fired power station if it’s going to run intermittently.  So we now have to offer “Capacity Payments” – an additional layer of subsidy to allow the back-up capacity to be built.

The day may come when solar and/or wind become economically viable.  This would be based on (A) further substantial increases in efficiency; and (B) the availability of very large-scale (and efficient) energy storage.  But even then, if and when that day comes, we shall look back and regret our vast misallocation of resources on wind and solar capacity which by then will be obsolescent, old-fashioned, inefficient and expensive.

So are we in UKIP against all renewables?  Not at all, and the best example to quote is hydro, which (provided you have the right locations and topography) is cheap and controllable.  It also offers the possibility of “pumped storage”, which may be viable despite the inefficiencies inherent in any double conversion of energy.

I have occasionally been asked to comment on another renewable technology – anaerobic digestion (AD).  Popular on farms, the idea is to take agricultural waste, allow it to ferment, take off and burn the resulting methane – and use the residue as fertiliser.  I freely admitted that I didn’t fully understand the economics of anaerobic digestion, but I had no objection to it if it was economic.

It sounds like a win-win.  Free feed-stock.  Free gas.  Free fertiliser.   If only.  It doesn’t quite work like that.  It’s rather like claiming that “The wind is free”, and so it is — if you ignore the costs of converting it to electricity.  Indeed you might say that coal and oil are “free” – they’re just lying there in the ground and waiting for someone to come and take them away.  But again, the costs of obtaining them and converting them to usable electricity are substantial.

I haven’t studied the economics of anaerobic digestion (it’s a minor issue compared to solar and wind) but fortunately the Daily Mail has, and has written and excellent article about it.

Their conclusions are damning.  First of all, there just isn’t enough agricultural waste to feed the available capacity (and to mop up the available subsidies) so thousands of acres of perfectly good arable land are growing maize and other crops explicitly for AD. That was 131,000 acres in June 2016.   Land that could be used for food, to help ensure our food security and reduce our balance of payments.  Then the cost of the methane is three times higher than natural gas.  The subsidies amount to a cool £216 million a year.

And AD has led to a number of leaks or even explosions that have contaminated farmland and waterways and caused the death of dozens of farm animals.  Large-scale AD operations also involve large numbers of lorry movements in rural areas, not just during installation (as is the case with shale gas) but for the whole life of the plant.  And now Dale Vince of Ecotricity wants to exploit AD (and subsidies) by building 1000 new AD plants providing gas for the grid.

It is bizarre that campaign groups and NGOs vehemently oppose shale gas development, on the grounds that it might possibly do some environmental damage, and yet seem to have nothing to say about AD which actually is doing great damage – and costing hundreds of millions in subsidies.

 

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