According to the Press Association, more than 200 green groups, businesses and trade unions have written to the Prime Minister urging the government to back renewables.
They say the potential of renewables to boost growth is “tremendous”, and argue that green sector growth “far outstripped the wider economy last year”. Nothing to do with massive subsidies, I suppose? But the letter was organised by the Renewable Energy Association, so I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.
They want “Team GB” (note the topical Olympics reference) to be “a world leader in green skilled jobs and technology”. This is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to transform our energy system to be fit for the future. They call on the government to ”live up to its promise to be the greenest ever”. “Renewables must not be treated like a political football between the Dept of Energy and the Treasury”, they say. Britain, they added, was “lagging behind virtually all other countries on Green energy”. (This doesn’t accord with the recent report from BIS, which says that by 2020 UK energy prices will have a higher “green” component than any other major economy).
Let’s unpack this stuff. It’s not only untrue. It’s the direct opposite of the truth.
Renewable energy is expensive. Even on the wind industry’s assumptions, wind is more expensive than gas or coal. But the industry simply costs the output of wind turbines in isolation (and gives itself pretty generous estimates of working life, at that). But wind is useless without instantly available back-up — sometimes called “spinning reserve”. This is usually gas.
Two problems. First, we’re not building anything like the gas capacity we’d need to back-up the vast wind capacity the government implausibly plans by 2020. And we can’t use existing gas capacity. With more than 30% of current UK generating capacity closing by 2020 (nuclear because of end-of-life; coal because of the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive) we need all the gas we have for mainstream generation. We’ll need extra for wind back-up, and we’re not building it.
Second problem: gas plants are built for more-or-less continuous operation. Run them intermittently, to complement wind, and they’re hopelessly uneconomic — unless they price their output way over the odds. Who’s going to invest in them? Who’s going to pay the premium? And the average cost of electricity generated by wind+back-up will be much higher than the quoted cost of wind alone. Credible estimates put the capital cost of wind+gas back-up at up to ten times the equivalent cost of gas alone.
So what about the green jobs? Professor Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh University, in a report for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, points out that merely creating extra jobs isn’t necessarily good for the economy. You can create jobs by getting a hundred men to dig holes and another hundred men to fill them up again, but that does nothing for the economy.
He then points to many studies showing that renewables actually cost jobs. One of the earliest from Spain, by Professor Gabriel Calzada Alvarez of King Juan Carlos University showed that each green job cost 2.2 jobs in the real economy. A more recent result from Verso Economics, in Scotland, showed each green job costing four real jobs.
How does this counter-intuitive result come about? Simply because if you divert economic resources into profoundly inefficient generating technologies, you drive up costs — and you face the opportunity-cost of not having invested elsewhere.
We already see the “green revolution” driving up energy costs, forcing pensioners into fuel poverty, sending jobs and industry and investment off-shore. Our current energy policies are a disaster for energy-intensive businesses in Britain.
The conclusion is clear: renewables don’t create Green Jobs. They create Green Unemployment.
And the concluding irony: studies by Prof Hughes and others show that wind turbines actually don’t save significant emissions in the first place. Those back-up gas plants run intermittently and inefficiently, so they not only cost more per MWh. They emit more CO2 as well. And when you take the whole system, wind farms plus back-up, the emissions savings range from not-very-much to zero. Think of the cost. The job losses. The pensioners in fuel poverty. The industries sent packing offshore. The local effects. The disruption. The housing blight. The health impacts. The countryside despoiled. And all for nothing — even if you believed in the Great Carbon Myth in the first place.