July 12, 2009

Don Quixote is English?

FROM-Times On Line

Tilting at Wind Farms
The Government’s plans to concentrate on wind power at the expense of other renewable energy sources could prove to be a costly mistake

If hot air could be harnessed and fed into the National Grid, the environmental rhetoric emanating from Westminster could power London. As an alternative energy source, climate change hot air would be cheap and limitless. Wind power, the great renewable energy hope of the Government, is neither cheap nor bountifulMore...
The Government’s aspiration to increase the amount of energy supplied by renewables from 2 per cent at present to 15 per cent looks increasingly fanciful. To meet its pledge, which will be restated in its Renewable Energy Strategy on Wednesday, the UK would need some 7,000 extra wind turbines. Critics already believe that these are dark Satanic turbines, blighting England’s green and pleasant land. Only a few hundred have been built in the past year, as projects have become mired in planning complaints. The great switch to wind power is a victim of a not-in-my-backyard mentality.

The cost of the move to wind is an even more serious issue. The Confederation of British Industry today says that the cost of meeting Britain’s 2030 carbon-emissions target will take the average British household bill from £1,243 today to £1,615.90. This contradicts yet another fanciful target — the pledge to eradicate fuel poverty entirely by 2016. A pensioner’s not-in-my-wallet defence against even higher fuel bills is compelling.

Britain’s energy needs must be addressed. Years of underinvestment mean that our energy supplies are in crisis, even without the threat of climate change. About 40 per cent of the UK’s power stations were built before 1975 and need to be urgently replaced. Renewed investment in the UK’s energy sector must address carbon emissions. But the setting of increasingly quixotic and contradictory targets is hampering a sensible debate on how to tackle the energy crisis. Besides, where is the evidence that wind works?

In an address to the Royal Society in May, Professor Jack Steinberger, a Nobel prize-winning director of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, said that wind power was an uneconomic waste of resources. His is not a lone voice.

Any solution to the energy crisis must be firmly grounded in principles of economic law. The problem with wind is not just its refusal to co-operate reliably with the needs of the National Grid, but that it remains expensive. A new gas-fired station in Pembroke will cost £1 billion. It would cost six times as much to build a wind farm capable of generating similar power.

Left to the market, wind power would remain a niche element in our energy supply. No sane energy company would, while fossil fuels are still plentiful, voluntarily opt for a more expensive, less reliable energy source. The drive to wind will require a huge injection of public cash, and a new interventionist policy in a hitherto liberal energy market. But if a free market in energy would not support a wholesale switch to a ruinously expensive and volatile energy source, why should the taxpayer, or the electricity customer?

As we move to a planned energy economy which we are expected to pay over the odds for, we have the right to expect a serious, unsentimental debate on what we are paying for. Nuclear power must be brought into the centre of the planned economy, in from the cold. A wind farm producing the same amount of energy as a nuclear plant would cost up to three times as much. The Government is charging ahead with plans for wind farms, while its programme for the nuclear sector is far less ambitious. The aim is merely to replace ageing existing plants.

If the Government wants a target which is, for once, both sensible and achievable, it should aim to double our nuclear energy capacity. Nuclear may be unpopular with the green lobby, but it is still cleaner than coal and cheaper than wind.

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