The Government's policy on renewable energy is wasteful and counter-productive
Forget the latest proposal by Caroline Spelman, our Environment Secretary, that all hospitals should in future be built on hills, to stop them being submerged beneath the rising seas brought by global warming (even that serial panic-monger Al Gore predicts that sea levels will rise by only 20 feet). A more serious problem is the chaos inflicted on our energy policy by our willing compliance with an EU obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 34 per cent within 10 years.
Behind the fog of official spin, it becomes ever more obvious that the schemes devised to meet the EU target of generating nearly a third of our energy from renewable sources by 2020 – six times more than at present – are a massive self-delusion. Even though they will cost us hundreds of billions of pounds, paid largely through soaring electricity bills, the energy they produce will be derisory – certainly nowhere near enough to plug the looming 40 per cent shortfall in our supplies, as many of our older power stations are forced to close.
Take the Government’s proposed Renewable Heat Incentive, the costs of which could, by 2030, outweigh its benefits by as much as £13 billion. The hope is that by 2020, Britain will have installed two million “heat pumps” to extract warmth from the air and soil. But a taxpayer-funded study by the Energy Saving Trust found that, of 83 air-sourced systems already installed at up to £20,000 each, only one was efficient enough to qualify as “renewable energy”. This was so embarrassing that many of the higher figures have been given as estimates to provide a more reassuring picture.
Equally questionable is our enthusiasm for solar panels. Ignoring the costly disaster of similar schemes in Spain and Germany, we have now copied them by offering absurdly inflated subsidies (“feed-in tariffs”) that force us all to pay their owners between three and eight times the going rate for the tiny amount of power they produce. Last year, solar’s contribution to the grid averaged 2.3 megawatts – so minuscule that it was barely a 1,000th of the output of one large coal-fired power station.
Then there is the generation of power and heat from burning biomass, such as wood and straw. Drax, the giant 3.9-gigawatt coal-fired power station in Yorkshire, has the largest facility in the world for co-firing one of its six boilers with biomass. But so rigged against biomass is the subsidy structure that Drax cannot afford to use much of it, because its cost is a third higher than that of coal, under a system not due to be reviewed until 2013. Drax’s plan to spend £2 billion on three dedicated biomass plants, generating more than 800 megawatts, has now been stalled for the same reason.
Next, there is the farce of those electric cars, which make no economic or environmental sense. Only a few thousand have been sold and, even with a £5,000 public subsidy, the forthcoming Nissan Leaf will cost £23,000 and be able to travel only 100 miles before its battery needs an eight-hour recharge, with electricity derived from fossil fuels, reducing any supposed saving on CO2.
At least the Government has dropped the idea of spending £30 billion on the Severn tidal barrage, which would produce little more electricity than a CO2-free nuclear power station, at 10 times the cost. But it has ruled that permission will be given to build four of the new coal-fired power stations we desperately need only if we pay £14 billion to fit them with “carbon capture and storage”, piping off their CO2 to bury it in holes under the North Sea. This would double the cost of their electricity – and recent studies show it to be no more than a fantasy anyway, because the required injection rates would soon shatter the rock structure.
The Government’s flagship “renewables” policy is to spend £100 billion on 10,000 onshore and offshore wind turbines, adding to the 3,000 we already have (which are so inefficient that their combined output last year was equivalent to one modest coal-fired plant). Apart from the colossal cost (suppliers must buy electricity from wind at double or treble the price of conventional power, passed on through our energy bills), there is no way that more than a fraction of the 6,000 offshore turbines the Government dreams of could be built by 2020, since this would require erecting two such huge structures every day for 10 years, when installing just one can take weeks. Even so, the more turbines we have, the more we will need new gas-fired power plants to provide back-up for when the wind drops – emitting as much CO2 as the turbines nominally save.
If all this sounds like pure lunacy, we must recall that two years ago, our MPs voted all but unanimously for the Climate Change Act. This commits Britain, uniquely in the world, to cutting its CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, at a cost of up to £18 billion a year, or £734 billion in total. This is what our politicians have made the law of the land, although in practice it could only be achieved by closing down virtually all our economy.
Now, no doubt, we have to add in the cost of building all our hospitals on hilltops, to prevent them vanishing under those Noah-like inundations that our Environment Secretary is fixated on. But, of course, none of this will have any impact on reducing overall CO2 emissions. We contribute less than 2 per cent to the global total, while China’s emissions alone increase by more than that every year.