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Britain’s Dirty Energy Secret: Subsidised Diesel Generators To Prevent Blackouts

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James Delingpole, Mail on Sunday

Thousands of dirty diesel generators are being secretly prepared all over Britain to provide emergency back-up to prevent the National Grid collapsing when wind power fails.

And under the hugely costly scheme, the National Grid is set to pay up to 12 times the normal wholesale market rate for the electricity they generate.

One of the main beneficiaries of the stopgap plan is the Government itself, which stands to make hundreds of millions of pounds by leasing out the capacity of the generators in public-sector property including NHS hospitals, prisons, military bases, police and fire headquarters, schools and council offices.

But the losers will be consumers who can expect yet further hikes in their electricity bills in the name of ‘combating climate change’.

This scheme is a direct consequence of the renewable energy policy adopted by the Coalition but first developed by Tony Blair in response to EU renewables directives to reduce Britain’s carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020.

As more and more wind turbines are built to replace fossil fuels, so the National Grid will become increasingly unstable because wind power is intermittent, unpredictable and unreliable.

Wind now constitutes about ten per cent of Britain’s energy mix. Under current Government targets, the plan is to increase this to 25 per cent by 2020.

However, some experts, such as economist Professor Gordon Hughes in a report for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, warn that such a high proportion of renewables is unsustainable, because of the dramatic ebbs and flows of power being supplied in the grid.

Last year, Professor Hughes estimated the cost of creating this wind capacity by 2020 to be £124 billion. To produce the same amount of energy from gas would cost just £13 billion.

The National Grid’s eye-wateringly expensive solution to counter the instability of wind power is known as the Short Term Operational Reserve, or STOR, to generate a reserve capacity of eight gigawatts (GW) by 2020, the equivalent of about five nuclear plants.

The diesel-generators will provide immediate computer-controlled back-up for that significant period when the wind turbines are not working, but at a hefty premium. 

Currently the wholesale price for electricity is around £50 per megawatt hour (MWh) but diesel-generator owners will be paid £600 per MWh.

At 12 times above the market rate, this represents a bigger cash bonanza even than that currently enjoyed by wind developers, who receive a subsidised price of between two and three times the market rate, depending on whether their turbines are on land or offshore.

Although STOR was devised in April 2007 and modified in December 2010, it has not been widely advertised by the Coalition. Besides making energy considerably more expensive, it would appear to make a mockery of David Cameron’s promise to lead the ‘greenest government ever’.

Any benefits of the supposedly ‘clean’ energy produced by wind turbines are likely to be more than offset by the dirty and inefficient energy produced by their essential diesel back-up.

‘Yes it may stop the lights going out, but as a way of producing energy it’s a complete nonsense,’ said Dr Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

‘Burning diesel is nearly as dirty and CO2-intensive as burning coal. But worse than that, it is so unnecessarily costly and inefficient.’

Not everyone is complaining, though, as canny businessmen have spotted a lucrative opportunity in the Government policy.

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