The Energy and Climate Change Secretary is trying to hoodwink us over the value of wind farms
We may think we are so used to politicians trying to pull the wool over our eyes that we accept that this is just what politicians do. But we are still right to think that deliberately trying to deceive people is wrong – on some occasions more than others.
Two examples of this last week again brought home just what a dishonest and disastrous mess Britain’s leaders are making of our national energy policy. The first was the announcement by Ed Davey, who runs the Department of Energy and Climate Change, of eight flagship projects he has chosen to play a leading role in helping to meet the European Union’s requirement that, within six years, we produce 32 per cent of our electricity from “renewables”.
Five of these are giant offshore wind farms. Three more are power stations burning what is known as “biomass”. And most commentators seemed happy to take at face value Davey’s claims that these will bring in £12 billion of private investment, to generate “4.5 gigawatts” of electricity, create “8,500 green jobs”, help give us “energy security”, and enable us to lead the world in the heroic fight against climate change.
Let us look, however, at what Mr Davey carefully didn’t say. For a start, of course, because the wind only blows intermittently, his five wind farms – covering, incidentally, 200 square miles of sea – will not provide anything like the 3GW of power he mentions. He is playing the old trick of confusing “capacity” with actual output. Even using implausibly generous figures from another part of his department’s own website, we can see that the average output of all Mr Davey’s £12 billion worth of projects would only be around 2.2GW: much the same as that of the single gas-fired power station recently built by RWE at Pembroke for a capital cost of just £1 billion.
Because the wind is so unreliable, we would still need 3GW of power from the fossil-fuelled power stations the Energy Secretary so hates, just to provide back-up for when it isn’t blowing at the right speed (on Thursday, for instance, all our 4,500 existing turbines combined were only giving us 215 megawatts, less than 0.6 per cent of what we were using). Mr Davey may pretend that all his projects will help meet our 32 per cent EU target. But those 2.2GW would only raise our output from renewables from 11 per cent to 15 per cent of the total, so we will still have to spend a further £40 billion before 2020.
Mr Davey is similarly not keen to explain why these wind farm companies, all foreign-owned, are so eager to join the bonanza that has made Britain such a magnet to the world. This is because we pay the world’s highest subsidies for electricity, which therefore costs us, through our bills, more than three times that from conventional power stations (and six times more than that from coal).
Even more absurd are Mr Davey’s “biomass” plants, easily the largest being Drax in Yorkshire. This is being driven by subsidies and George Osborne’s “carbon tax” to switch from coal to burning millions of tons of wood. This is specially grown across the Atlantic, then shipped 3,000 miles, and carried by train to the middle of the now-closed Selby coalfield: a process so energy-intensive that even green lobby groups protest that it ends up saving no CO₂ emissions at all.