I recently wrote about Prof Gordon Hughes’ very thorough and striking report on the economics of wind power, which shows that when you include the essential conventional back-up, wind costs nine to ten times as much in capital terms as a regular gas-fired power station, and achieves little or no CO2 emissions savings. You might just as well throw money into a bottomless pit.
We could achieve Brussels’ heroic emissions targets (if we wanted to) more cheaply, more quickly and more securely by a combination of nuclear and gas, than with renewables. This point was reiterated in a new report from Policy Exchange. This report also makes the key point that “Gas is better than wind for low carbon”. Cheaper, quicker, more reliable.
I’ve often noted that in politics, propositions that seem obvious, intuitive and unchallengeable, prove in reality to be wrong. An example: “We can end poverty by taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor”. But in fact all we achieve is to slow economic growth, discourage enterprise, and create dependency amongst the less-well-off. Similarly, if we get 30% of our electricity from “clean” wind power, that must save CO2 emissions? Surely? Yet according to Professor Hughes, even on the most favourable assumptions, it saves scarcely any, and may indeed save none. It’s also vastly expensive. Don’t trust those estimates from the wind industry. They just look at the output of a turbine on a stand-alone basis, rather than a system of wind plus back-up.
On favourable assumptions, the cost-per-ton of CO2 emissions saved is an enormous £270, while the return on capital employed is less than 0.5% — but may be zero. Environmentalists should be shocked by these numbers, since there are very much more cost-effective ways to achieve the results they want. They (and our government) are spending scarce resources in the least efficient way.
Briefly, this is because the wind is intermittent, and requires back-up. Technically, the back-up with the requisite flexibility is old-fashioned through-cycle gas, which is only about half as efficient as modern combined cycle gas plants. And the efficiency is further reduced by the intermittent running. This means that every KWh generated by the back-up is much more expensive, and emits far more CO2, than if you just scrapped the wind and built modern gas plants. This is increasingly the considered view of professional environmental economists like Professor Hughes, but it seems to have escaped the green zealots.
So how do those doughty green campaigners at WWF respond to these numbers? Do they pause and reconsider? Not a bit of it. Do they start to question their simplistic assumptions? Oh no. Jenny Banks, a policy officer at WWF-UK, says “It’s ridiculous to expect that a dash for gas at the expense of renewables would lead to bigger carbon cuts. This is based on a very idealistic view of the effectiveness of the EU emissions cap”.
Oh no it’s not, Jenny. It has nothing whatever to do with the “EU emissions cap” (she means the EU ETS), which as we all know has utterly failed. No. It’s based on a very realistic view of the economics and ecological implications of wind power. Wind power is a disaster. It’s simply gesture politics. WWF is basing its policy on a simplistic, old-fashioned view of renewables, and is failing to check the reality. It is using the donations of well-meaning people to promote policies which are bad for the economy, bad for jobs, bad for investment, bad for people — and bad for the environment. Ironically, WWF’s prescription is bad for wildlife.
How self-defeating can you get?