A horrendous energy crunch. At least that’s how the Daily Mirror described it, and for once they weren’t exaggerating. The USA may have its Fiscal Cliff, but we’ve got an Energy Abyss, a Power Precipice. And let’s be clear — it was our green pretensions (or rather Brussels’ green pretensions) that precipitated this predicament. And our politicians seem more concerned with playing the blame game than with finding a solution.
I’ve been warning about this for a long time. Back in October I launched UKIP’s energy policy, “Keeping the lights on”. I predicted blackouts by 2020. Now it looks more like 2016, and make no mistake, that’s practically tomorrow in infrastructure terms. New nuclear capacity will take 10 to 12 years to build, while even gas, the default option, takes two or three.
We have most of our nuclear fleet closing, and meantime we’re being forced to close perfectly good coal-fired power stations because of the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive (or LCPD — not to be confused with the Los Angeles Police Department). Remember, as we close our coal-fired capacity, that there are 1200 new coal-fired power stations in the global pipeline, and even Germany is building 25, to replace their nuclear power stations. So our sacrifice will make not a scrap of difference in terms of global emissions. And instead of grown-up electricity generation, we’re relying on a playground technology — wind turbines.
But it’s increasingly clear that intermittent renewables don’t deliver. The power generated, and the emissions savings, are largely offset by the inefficiencies inherent in running fossil fuel generation intermittently as back-up to complement wind. Wind power is not only desecrating our countryside — it’s also failing to deliver, even in its own terms.
This was brought home to me in the Brussels parliament on Feb 20th, when I heard a presentation on “Capacity Payments”. These are, quite simply, massive payments — billions of €uros — which will be made to gas-fired operators just to keep their capacity “available” — and largely idle, on spinning reserve — waiting until the wind drops, and their output is needed. We knew that wind farm operators were paid for doing nothing when the wind was too strong, or when their capacity was not needed. Now we’ll also be paying for the wasteful operation of fossil-fuel back-up.
Maybe, just maybe, a Get-Out-of-Jail Card: Yesterday my attention was drawn to something that perhaps I should have known about — but didn’t. In that LCPD, Article Three Paragraph 4, there is a sort of emergency over-ride clause. If member-state governments face an exceptional problem with coal plant closure, they can apply to the Commission for permission to stretch the capacity limits and/or the time frame. If the Commission says NO, the member-state can appeal to the Council, which may over-rule the Commission position.
Clearly these circumstances have arisen, and we should be applying for an extension. Does our government know about this clause? Have they applied, or do they plan to apply, for an extension for our coal-fired power stations? I don’t know, so I’ve written to Energy Minister John Hayes MP (who holds a seat in my East Midlands Region) to ask. I’ll let you know what he says.