My Oxford Union Speech Jan 2014


Mr. President:

Ladies & gentlemen: It’s a real honour to be here tonight in this very distinguished company in Oxford — an honour I feel all the more strongly as a Cambridge man myself.

May I say first of all that I’m not here tonight to criticise those landowners — some, I guess, in this room — who have accepted subsidies on renewables installed on their properties.  I can say this with complete confidence, as I’ve done the same myself.

I have a 2.4 kw solar PV unit on the roof of my wife’s stable block.  It’s not there to save the planet.  It’s there to take advantage of the preposterous subsidies that are nearly ten times higher than the cost of making the same electricity in a proper power station.

But Mr. President, I hope no one here tonight will doubt my environmental credentials.  I’ve even owned several green cars.  British Racing Green, that is.

My argument is that renewables are economic nonsense.  They are simply gesture politics.  They are allowing politicians to do some green posturing while they damage our economy.

My remarks will focus primarily on wind turbines, though many of the same comments apply to solar PV.  The difference is that with technical developments, solar PV could make sense in a decade or so.  It doesn’t make sense now, and we should not deploy it on a large scale until it does.

I will argue that renewables are probably unnecessary; wholly ineffectual; and ruinously expensive.

Unnecessary, because there are increasing doubts about the theory of man-made climate change, and there has been no Global Warming for the best part of two decades.

Have you noticed that when a Russian Survey Ship gets stuck in Antarctic Ice, or when polar cold strikes in the American Mid-West, that’s just weather.  But when the UK has a wet winter and some floods, that’s clear evidence of climate change?  It’s a very selective analysis.

Renewables are ineffectual, because while we build wind turbines, other countries are building coal-fired power stations.  There are over 1200 new coal-fired power stations in the global pipeline — including a couple of dozen in über-green Germany!  We have to face it: global emissions will rise for decades, and nothing we can do will change that.

And they are ruinously expensive.  Don’t take my word for it: EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger says Europe can no longer afford to pursue a unilateral climate policy.  His colleague Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani says energy prices are creating “an industrial massacre” in

But there are signs of sanity breaking out.  In a remarkable turn-around, the Commission has now told our government that it must cut its renewable subsidies, which constitute illegal state aids.  But they don’t explain how we’re supposed to meet the EU’s eye-watering renewables targets without subsidies.

Meantime across the Atlantic America is enjoying an Industrial Renaissance, a game-changing, transformative resurgence, based on cheap shale gas.  Gas is four times as expensive in Europe as in America.  How are we supposed to compete?  And the US has achieved real reductions in emissions.  Not by wasting money on playground technologies like wind and solar, but by switching from coal to gas.

We in Britain are driving households and pensioners into fuel poverty.  We are forcing industries off-shore, taking their jobs and their investment with them.  They may well go to jurisdictions with lower environmental standards, arguably increasing emissions.

The wind industry assumes that a kwh generated by wind saves the emissions from the equivalent fossil fuel generation.  It doesn’t.  Wind turbines simply don’t deliver.

Wind is intermittent, so the fossil-fuel back-up, usually gas, needs to be intermittent too.  But a gas-fired power station runs most efficiently at optimum output.  Used as back-up, it runs well below optimum efficiency.

And it is constantly ramped up and down to respond to the wind, which makes it even less efficient.  It’s just like your car.  Drive on the motorway at a steady 70, and you get good mileage.  Drive it start-stop through towns and traffic jams, and you get rotten fuel consumption.

You can’t look at wind-farm generation in isolation.  You have to look at the system of wind plus back-up, and when you do that, you find that the emissions reductions are largely offset by the inefficiency which intermittent wind-farms export to the back-up.

And it gets worse.  It is simply impossible to generate a viable business plan for a gas-fired plant run intermittently as back-up.  This is why DECC is planning “capacity payments” — yet another layer of subsidy for a grossly over-subsidised industry.  They’re not farming wind, they’re farming subsidies.

This is a point which the wind industry (and the Green Party) studiously ignore.  I have brought some copies of the relevant research, available at the back.

But if we do look at wind turbines in isolation, the picture doesn’t get much better.  I understand that the industry, investors and government base their plans on a 25 year design-life.  But studies of turbines in the UK and Denmark show a catastrophic decline in output over ten to fifteen years.  Industry sources also talk about alarming increases in operation and maintenance costs as turbines age.

Again, details are available at the back.  But for UK onshore, we see a decline from an average output of 24% of Rated Capacity at the beginning, to 15% at ten years old and 11% at fifteen.  For Danish off-shore, the starting figure is 39%, but less than half of that — 15% — at age ten.

The economics of wind farms are disastrous even as planned, but even more disastrous as experienced.  In only half the planned operating life, shiny new turbines are reduced to little more than post-industrial junk.  As Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England , said “There is a danger that we will come to see wind turbines as redundant relics of our compulsion to do something”.   Indeed.

Think about it.  There are the rents paid to landowners.  There are  “Renewable Obligation” subsidies, the Feed-In Tariffs, and the implied subsidy of the Carbon Price Floor for the operators.  There is the “parasitic consumption” as turbines poach electricity from the grid for their internal house-keeping.  There are the “Constraint Payments” for operators when their production is surplus to requirements.  There are the many billions of pounds to adapt the grid to cope with distributed small-scale generation.  The imbalances in the system impose serious instability on the Grid.   There are the new “capacity payments” to subsidise the back-up power stations.  Now there is talk of further subsidies for large-scale energy storage projects like pumped hydro and compressed air.  Will the subsidies never end?

I daresay that Ms. Bennett will tell you that intermittency doesn’t matter, because “the wind is always blowing somewhere”.  But if you check the weather maps, it is quite common to have high pressure and low wind across most of Europe — and never mind the losses in transmission!

I expect that Ms. Bennett will also talk about green jobs.  But there are repeated studies from several countries showing that by raising energy costs, each “green job” actually destroys several real jobs in the real economy.  I have copies of one such study with me.  Other studies indicate that each green job created costs of the order of £100,000 or more.  And in terms of the manufacture of wind turbines and solar PV, most of the green jobs that are created seem to be in China.

Germany and Denmark have been leading the charge on green investment.  Denmark has largely got away with it, as they have access to massive pumped storage in Norway — though they’re often generating electricity that they have to dump on the market at negative prices.

But Germany is in real trouble.  From having perhaps the most reliable system in Europe, they are now looking increasingly insecure.  And they’re having to export their problems — and their occasional excess production — to nearby countries, creating supply difficulties in (for example) the Czech Republic.

There was a recent study by eminent environmental economist Bjørn Lomborg (who by the way accepts the whole Al Gore/IPCC climate theory).  He calculated that the $130 billion that Germany has invested in solar PV will have the effect, by 2100, of delaying the progress of climate change by 37 hours.  But given that we’ve seen less than 1o of warming in a century, and none for seventeen years, a delay of 37 hours is effectively zero.  They’ve wasted billions of €uros — for nothing.

Mr. President, I have not even mentioned the pressing issues of visual intrusion, impacts on house prices and tourism, the decimation of our birds of prey, or the health impacts on local residents.

I have focussed instead on the futility of wind turbines in delivering their objectives, and the scale of the economic damage they are doing to the UK and to Europe.  I beg leave to move that the green energy game is not worth the candle.

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16 Responses to My Oxford Union Speech Jan 2014

  1. silverminer says:

    Nice work

  2. David says:

    Very well put Roger, I,m with you on all points.

  3. David says:

    And the outcome, the room being full of Intelligents?

  4. 1957chev says:

    Brilliant speech!!!

    • Many thanks. I thought it was good, too! The room was full of farmers (it was the Oxford Farming Conference), and I’m sure that many were intelligent. Sadly, we lost the debate. I suspect the reason was their pocket books. One very effective speech from the floor warned them that headlines saying “Farmers reject renewables” would be damaging to an important agricultural income stream — wind farm subsidies. As usual, follow the money. But it was good to air the issues.

  5. Ex-expat Colin says:

    Any eyes rolling, winces, sighs, head shakes (L to R/R to L), looks of “your wrong m8” ? No walkouts for longer than a bog break?

  6. Kim Terry says:

    Absolutely spot on Roger. Never a truer word spoken. Let’s hope someone with some brains and influence on this stupid energy policy we have hears it and does something about it. I fear all the time we have the likes of Ed Davey running the ship we are all doomed.

  7. Me_Again says:

    Excellent Roger. Do you have Ms Bennet’s counter arguments?

    • Genuinely, Me_Again, No. Just the usual waffle. But her seconder was an excellent speaker, in purely rhetorical terms. On the other hand his arguments were preposterous. He painted a bucolic picture of poor struggling farmers helped to survive by the trickle-down effect of wind farm subsidies — when everyone knows that these subsidies are hugely regressive, taking money from impoverished pensioners and handing it to land-owners and big businesses. And he argued that my policy (of relying on proven energy technologies like coal, gas and nuclear) was fiscally profligate (because he assumes that fossil fuel prices will go up), while totally ignoring the vast resources misallocated to “investment” (or waste) on wind farms.

      • Me_Again says:

        Anyone with a vested interest should have declared it. Now would they come in as just pecuniary or both pecuniary and personal? In which case none of them should have been allowed to vote……and you’d have won!

  8. DougS says:

    Great stuff.
    I celebrate the day you moved to UKIP from the Tories Roger, you are truly a huge asset.

  9. Wendy Warren says:

    Bravo Roger. Talking sense as usual. Turbines will look OK with ivy growing up them – they’ll make interesting ‘trees’!

  10. I want to support all the above remarks. Well written – and well said.

  11. William Adam says:

    Could you send a copy of your speech to Alex Salmond. I know he and his cronies in the SNP

    are unlikely to be diverted from their madness re renewables, but you never know
    Will Adam

  12. FrankF says:

    There’s a bit of text gone AWOL here:
    His colleague Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani says energy prices are creating “an industrial massacre” in…
    That notwithstanding, great speech!

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