A while ago I wrote a piece about Angry Old Men (hat-tip to Victor Meldrew), so you won’t be surprised to hear that all too often I open my morning paper to find something that annoys me. Usually a quick outburst on Twitter is sufficiently cathartic to assuage my annoyance, but today’s piece really stuck in my throat, and requires a bit more comment.
The headline on page 2 of the Telegraph read “Cameron backs wind turbines”. I can’t find a link to the piece, but here’s the same story in the Guardian. I immediately Tweeted:
Cameron:”Wind farms increase energy security & keep bills down”. Which is most worrying? The hubris? The folly? Or just the plain ignorance?
This is of course Cameron’s response to the letter from my old colleague Chris Heaton-Harris MP, and a hundred other MPs, objecting to wind. And clearly all that Cameron has done is to pass the letter to an aide to send out the bog-standard boiler-plate response that any protesting voter might get. He hasn’t even had the courtesy to think it through and address the points raised by an enormous block of his own back-benchers. He just doesn’t care — or he is so ideologically committed to green lunacy that he simply can’t entertain alternatives.
Cameron says that wind turbines will increase energy security. This is despite serious warnings from across the energy industry that because of intermittency, wind will require virtually 100% conventional back-up, doubling the capital costs. Cost comparisons never take back-up costs into account. Industry sources also say that the Coalition’s (i.e. Chris Huhne’s) heroic targets for wind turbines by 2020 simply cannot be achieved. But if our energy strategy assumes that they will be built, we shall have a huge capacity gap by the end of the decade. Far from guaranteeing energy security, our wind policies virtually guarantee disastrous power cuts and blackouts by 2020.
I was at a conference on Tuesday organised in Nottingham by Western Power Distribution. An industry expert (not a WPD employee) on my table ventured the view that “The intermittency of these things (wind turbines) will drive the network crazy”.
Recent reports show that because the back-up gas is run intermittently, and so inefficiently, the savings on CO2 emissions may be trivial or zero. In any case, so far as I can see, the back-up is not being built.
On-shore wind today effectively doubles the cost of generation, so the claim that wind turbines bring down costs is just plain deceitful. The industry tells us that over time they will get more efficient. Answer (1) We’ll believe it when we see it, and Answer (2), So why not wait until wind is competitive? Why burden us today with what will soon be, by your own admission, costly and obsolete technology?
The industry has a second line of defence: electricity from on-shore wind may be twice as expensive as gas is now, they say, but as fossil fuels decline and global energy demand increases, gas prices will rise and rise until wind looks positively — well — cheap.
They should get out more, and read the papers. The energy position in the USA has been dramatically transformed in the last five years by shale gas. The USA was a major gas importer. Now it’s self-sufficient, and some estimates suggest that the USA has recoverable gas reserves for five hundred years. Not a misprint. Five hundred years. At the same time the idea of “Peak Oil” — that very soon oil production will start to decline as reserves are worked out — has been blown away by tar sands. Citigroup has just announced that “Peak Oil is Dead”.
Shale gas is available in the UK, although perhaps not 500 years’ worth. We need an urgent programme to recover it and to build gas-fired power stations. Cameron says he’s concerned about emissions. But we could achieve Brussels’ emissions targets more cheaply and more reliably with a combination of nuclear and gas, rather than with wind
The really scary thing is that Cameron just doesn’t understand the problem, so he is determined not to engage with it. We’ll all pay dearly for his obsession with green gesture politics.