Madness


From Christopher Booker:

What is the maddest thing going on in Britain today? There may be many competitors for that title, but a front-runner must be what the Government has made the centrepiece of its energy policy, to ensure that our lights stay on and that our now largely computer-dependent economy remains functioning. Last week, the BBC ran a series of reports by its science correspondent, David Shukman, on the Government’s plan to ring our coasts with vast offshore wind farms.

The nearest thing allowed to criticism of this policy came in an interview with the Oxford academic Dieter Helm, who we were told had “done the sums”. What, Shukman asked, had he come up with? The only figures Helm gave were that the Government’s offshore wind farm plans would, by 2020, cost £100 billion – scarcely a state secret, since the Government itself announced this three years ago – plus £40 billion more to connect these windmills to the grid, a figure given us by the National Grid last year.

Helm did not tell us that this £140 billion equates to £5,600 for every household in the country. But he did admit that the plan was “staggeringly expensive”, and that, given the current extent of “fuel poverty” and the state of our economy, he doubted “if it can in fact be afforded”.

Even shorter on hard facts, however, was Shukman’s report on a monster new wind farm off the coast of Cumbria, where a Swedish firm, Vattenfall, has spent £500 million on building 30 five‑megawatt turbines with a total “capacity” of 150MW. What Shukman did not tell us, because the BBC never does, is that, thanks to the vagaries of the wind, these machines will only produce a fraction of their capacity (30 per cent was the offshore average in the past two years). So their actual output is only likely to average 45MW, or £11 million per MW.

Compare this with the figures for Britain’s newest gas-fired power station, recently opened in Plymouth. This is capable of generating 882MW at a capital cost of £400 million – just £500,000 for each megawatt. Thus the wind farm is 22 times more expensive, and could only be built because its owners will receive a 200 per cent subsidy: £40 million a year, on top of the £20 million they will get for the electricity itself. This we will all have to pay for through our electricity bills, whereas the unsubsidised cost of power from the gas plant, even including the price of the gas, will be a third as much.

It is on the basis of such utterly crazy sums – which neither the Government nor the BBC ever mention – that our politicians intend us to pay for dozens of huge offshore wind farms. In a sane world, no one would dream of building power sources whose cost is 22 times greater than that of vastly more efficient competitors. But the Government feels compelled to do just this because it sees it as the only way to meet our commitment to the EU that within nine years Britain must generate nearly a third of its electricity from “renewable” sources, six times more than we do at present.

The insanity does not end here. The Government talks of building 10,000 windmills capable of generating up to 25,000MW of the electricity we need. But when it does so, it – like the BBC – invariably uses that same trick of referring to “capacity”, without explaining that their actual output would be well below 30 per cent. (Last year, onshore turbines generated just 21 per cent of their capacity.) In other words, for all that colossal expenditure – and even if there was the remotest chance that two new giant turbines could be built every day between now and 2020 – we could only hope to generate some 6,000MW. This is not only way below our EU target, it is only a tenth of our peak demand during those cold, windless weeks last winter, when wind power was often providing barely 1 per cent of the power we needed.

To keep the lights on during such times, for every new megawatt of wind capacity we build it will be necessary for to build a megawatt of capacity from gas-fired stations, kept wastefully running 24/7, chucking out carbon dioxide. This will add further billions to the bill we shall all have to pay, while ensuring that wind power does nothing whatever to reduce our overall emission of CO2. But this, again, is another thing that the Government and the BBC are careful never to tell us. Madness is far too polite a word.

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