When you’ve been ploughing a lonely furrow for many months, it’s good to find the big battalions rowing in behind you.
I’ve been arguing for some time, not only that wind makes little sense in environmental terms and none at all in economic terms, but that the government’s over-reliance on wind threatens the UK economy with a major electricity supply crisis a few years down the road, as the government’s heroic targets for wind fail to materialise. Relying on the wind forecasts, we will fail to build the conventional capacity which we will certainly need. I based my ideas on a number of reports by academics and commentators, but it seemed to me that too few folk were paying attention.
Now the CBI has published a new report on energy, called “Decision Time”, just two days in advance of the government’s planned White Paper on energy, which is likely to re-affirm their fanciful targets for wind power (http://climatechange.cbi.org.uk/latest_news/00281/). The CBI report has been commissioned from McKinsey, the highly-regarded management consultants. Accepting the conventional view that we need to meet stringent renewables targets, the CBI/McKinsey report argues nevertheless that the government is putting too many eggs in the wind-power basket, skewing investment priorities and leaving far too little effort behind other more promising low-carbon energy technologies, including nuclear and “clean coal”.
It is notable that environmental zealots like our own Zac Goldsmith love to say that even if they reluctantly accept the need for nuclear power, “it should have not a penny of public subsidy”. Yet they seem relaxed about pouring millions of pounds into subsidies for hugely inefficient wind generation — a technology that raises big questions about acceptability to local communities. Meantime a July 11th report in the Times says that the government’s renewable energy plans will add £230 to the average domestic energy bill, and force some 1.7 million additional families into fuel poverty (defined as having to spend over 10% of family income on energy). Industry estimates, says the Times, suggest even higher figures.
The CBI concludes that we need far more emphasis on nuclear energy and “clean coal”. They are right that nuclear and coal must be the way forward, and form the backbone of our mainstream base-load generating capacity, though I personally doubt that we need the vast extra expense and waste of “clean coal technology”, which has in any case not been demonstrated on an industrial scale.
Given the energy security threats we face, we should of course be addressing a range of energy conservation and renewable energy options, but each option should meet reasonable tests of economic and environmental sustainability. There is no way that large-scale investment in wind can meet those criteria. So well done the CBI. Let’s hope the government is listening.