Chris Pincher is the Tory MP for Tamworth. And he deserves at least a small footnote in the Great Climate and Energy Debate. Writing on ConHome a couple of days ago, he said “The overall impact of wind power in reducing CO2 emissions is much less striking than some would have us believe”.
He uses very careful and measured language. He makes the usual ritual obeisance to the need to develop “clean energy” (he favours tidal, which would be fine if it were economic). But he’s realised that wind farms don’t cut emissions. He also speaks in very positive terms about the need to develop shale gas, and also to build gas storage capacity, as well as more gas generating capacity. And on gas, of course, he’s right.
Some people object to wind power because of local impact, noise, health effects and housing blight — and they are right to do so. I know. I have four 400-foot turbines within a mile of my home.
Others object to wind because the cost is excessive — and they are right too. My old friend Chris Heaton-Harris MP has been making much of these issues in the Commons, and I commend him for doing so.
But the key insight — which like so much in politics is counter-intuitive — is that wind farms don’t even work in their own terms. The only reason for building them is to save emissions (whether you think that’s a good idea or not). But they don’t save significant emissions. And so far as I know, the good Mr. Pincher is the first MP from a Coalition Party to say so.
The wind industry will simply calculate the amount of electricity generated by a turbine in, say, a year. They will then take the average emissions per KWh across all fossil fuel generating plants (or the less scrupulous will take coal alone, which flatters the figures from their point of view). They’ll multiply that by the turbine output, and they’ll say that’s what they’ve saved in terms of emissions.
But as Pincher seems to recognise, that’s nonsense. You can’t look at a wind turbine in isolation. You have to look at it as part of a system. That system includes back-up, typically gas. And to back up variable wind output, the industry uses old-fashioned single-cycle gas generation, because modern combined-cycle isn’t sufficiently flexible. Single-cycle is about half as efficient as combined cycle. But it gets worse. Because of intermittent running (to complement variable wind), the gas production is still less efficient.
The result is that the whole package — wind plus back-up — saves much less CO2 emissions than the wind industry suggests, and on some assumptions actually saves none at all. We have suffered the visual intrusion, and the health impacts, and the noise, and the housing blight. We are paying twice for the same capacity — first wind, then back-up. We are paying billions to connect new distributed generation to a grid designed to serve large, concentrated generating units. And after all that, we have failed to deliver the declared purpose of the project.
This is failure on a plate, folly writ large. It is doing huge damage to the economy when we can least afford it. A recent report from BIS — a government agency — shows the huge hit to UK competitiveness. By 2020, Britain will have a much higher “green” cost penalty than any other major economy.
For reference on the facts, Pincher quotes Fred Udo’s work. I have been making this point for a long time, and I have been quoting Professor Gordon Hughes’ report. But the conclusions in both cases are similar.
Before I get too carried away in praise of Mr. Pincher, perhaps I should add that he commends the Coalition for reducing on-shore wind subsidies by 10%. But that’s fiddling at the margin. The Treasury’s preferred 25% would have been a little better. But the government should scrap wind and solar subsidies in their entirety, and immediately. It should get behind nuclear, shale gas exploration, and coal.