I’ve always been an admirer of alliteration (as regular readers of my blog will be painfully aware). I’m a great fan of Anglo Saxon poetry with its emphasis on alliteration rather than rhyme, though I regret to say that I have to read it in modern translations.
So I was immediately struck by Ambrose Evans Pritchard’s splendid headline “Policy Paradox pulls plug on wind power”. Having however heaped praise on Ambrose for his alliteration, I find that the headline on the web version of this story (see link) doesn’t alliterate at all, so perhaps the hard-copy alliteration was down to a sharp sub-editor, not to AEP.
The essence of AEP’s piece is that on-shore wind has recently achieved “grid parity”, with its output now priced competitively with main-stream technologies like gas. This, according to the turbine company Vestas, whom he quotes, is the result of rapid technological advances, and increases in the size and scale of turbines.
But he goes on to lament the fact that in the UK, we have planning guidance that militates against very large turbines (140m to the tip, or larger), and the government, in the person of Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, is withdrawing subsidy support (though why the wind industry can on the one hand claim grid parity, and on the other hand demand continuing subsidies, is a mystery).
But AEP makes no mention of the downsides of wind economics. The industry loves to look at the cost of its output at the base of the tower, and it chooses to ignore the very large additional associated costs. These include the economic lifetime (i.e. the cost of maintaining turbines in good working order as they age, and replacing in due course); the proven decline in load factor as turbines age; the massively expensive adjustments needed to the Grid to cope with intermittent and small-scale distributed generation; the direct costs of intermittency, and of running conventional back-up; the indirect costs of the inefficiency of running the back-up intermittently; the “capacity payments” to compensate the operators of back-up plant for the inevitable down-time, which would otherwise make them uneconomic; and the costs and inefficiencies of the nascent power storage technologies which may come on-stream in the future.
But there is another way of looking at it. Suppose (as I do not for a moment believe) that we are moving into a new golden age of competitive wind power based on new technology, even after financing all the extra costs I have outlined. Then the existing fleet of on-shore wind in the UK will stand as a serious reproach to policy-makers. If wind becomes competitive in 2016 (or more likely 2025), how will they justify the enormous sunk costs of existing old-fashioned wind farms, which will be a drag on our economy for years?
We should stop all new subsidies for wind right now, and let the industry compete on a level playing field as and when it is able to do so.
If only we’d waited until wind became competitive. If only we’d chosen to spend millions on technical development, rather than billions on wide-scale deployment. Renewables may or may not come good in the future. But right now, they have given Europe the highest energy costs of any major economic area (apart maybe from Japan). As I have said so often, they are closing energy-intensive industries and sending businesses and jobs and investment off-shore. They are a significant factor in the recent steel closures.
In the Gadarene rush to “save the planet”, we’ve ignored economic reality, and done huge damage to European economies, and to our children’s future prosperity.