On October 3rd, I was invited down to a meeting in Churchover organised by Aswar, the local anti-wind-farm campaign group, and their chairman Lorne Smith, whom I have known, and done my best to assist, for many years. Because of problems in the Church Hall, the meeting actually took place in the Church itself. The other speaker was local Tory MP Mark Pawsey.
Pity the good folk of Churchover, a charming and (so far) unspoilt village in a vital green lung between encroaching Rugby and Lutterworth. They’ve seen off plans for a retail park. And a wind farm. And a second wind farm (although this battle is still in process and may depend on a decision from Eric Pickles). And now they have a new proposal for a large solar farm close by the village. (Technically the site they’re concerned about currently is actually in the West Midlands, not the East, but it abuts on the A5/Fosse Wayboundary between the two).
Is it right that a village should have to fight four separate planning battles, merely for the privilege of being left alone? UKIP says No. That’s why we want local referenda for developments of this kind. But all credit to Churchover for their determined fight — and to Lorne Smith for leading and chairing it. All strength to their elbow.
I made the points that there were huge questions about the theory of man-made global warming; and that wind and solar failed in their own terms, not least because they required conventional back-up to be run intermittently (and therefore inefficiently). Much of the emissions savings envisaged for wind or solar were offset by inefficiencies and higher emissions in the back-up. I argued that the subsidies for renewables were profoundly regressive, frequently (not always) taking money from the general population via their electricity bills (including the lower-paid and pensioners) and giving it (often) to wealthy land-owners (like David Cameron’s father-in-law).
I also quoted EU Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani: “We are creating an industrial massacre in Europe (with energy prices)”, and pointed out that high energy costs are driving energy-intensive industries out of the EU altogether, taking their jobs and their investment with them. Often they go to jurisdictions with lower environmental standards, so we could well be increasing global emissions while we damage our economy.
It was ironic that this meeting took place just days after DECC pointed out that Ed Davey’s predictions of higher fossil fuel prices (which might have made renewables competitive) were unlikely to be achieved any time soon – gas and oil prices are expected to stay low for a decade. And the HoC Public Accounts Committee criticised DECC for extravagant subsidy offers to renewables operators.
I argued that solar farms on agricultural land were immoral when the UKwas heavily dependent on food imports, and across the world many people go to bed hungry. I said that if they had to install solar panels, they would be much better on the roofs of large agricultural and industrial buildings. I recognised that in coming years solar could become so efficient that it would be economically viable despite intermittency — but it would be sensible to invest smaller sums in R&D today to create efficient solar technology, rather than to invest billions in today’s solar panels which are inefficient and will soon be obsolete.
We had a representative of a solar power trade organisation. He said that solar was approaching the Holy Grail of “Grid Parity” (i.e. the cost of its electricity the same as the average for the Grid); that they were already seeking to install on large roofs; that solar panels on agricultural land still allowed sheep to graze under and around the panels. And he told us about the “green jobs” that the industry was creating.
In reply, I pointed out that his “Grid Parity” calculation failed to account for the inefficiencies in the back-up; for the “capacity payments” which allow intermittent back-up gas plants to be economically viable; and for the major investments in the Grid needed to accommodate small, distributed and intermittent generation. I argued that if solar were really competitive, owners of large industrial buildings would be queuing up to install it. Perhaps (I suggested mischievously) the solar industry might demonstrate its sincerity by agreeing not to install panels on agricultural land, but to focus entirely on industrial roofs.
On “green jobs”, I cited the studies that have been done to show that each “green job” has the effect of destroying several real jobs in the real economy, because “green energy” drives up prices, undermines competitiveness, stunts growth and forces energy-intensive businesses off-shore.
But I felt the priceless point was the issue of agricultural land. The design of solar parks is intended to catch as much solar radiation as possible. Put another way, that means maximising the shadow on the ground. But plant growth is driven by two main factors: sunlight, and atmospheric CO2. Cut the sunlight by shading the grass, and less grass will grow. That’s basic physics and biology. The solar industry man insisted that some light reached the ground around the panels. Of course it does. But much less than if the panels weren’t there. The sunlight on the panels is not available to power the growth of grass, and therefore the acreage will feed fewer sheep.
A piece of hilarious irony: if instead we used fossil fuels, not solar farms, to generate that energy, we’d add a little CO2 to the atmosphere. That CO2 would in fact promote biomass formation and plant growth, and the agricultural land could therefore feed more sheep, not fewer. Truly, the world has gone mad.