The Devil’s Knife has it wrong on wind

July 29, 2010

I work as a campaigner in the renewables industry. Right, that’s the disclaimer out of the way – although I should stress I signed up because of principles and the planet and bunnies and the green green grass of home and that sort of thing, rather than the derisory sums they pay me.

The Devil’s Knife has posted a piece claiming that Chris Huhne is The Most Dangerous Man in the Country. Huhne is, apparently, a meglomaniac environmentalist bent on bringing British industry to its knees by pursing a demented energy policy based on windmills. Chris (Mounsey, I’m sure DK resents sharing Huhne’s first name) uses an article by Christopher Booker in the Mail denouncing Huhne in similar terms.

Before getting into the fun nitty-gritty of comparative energy policy, it’s important to set Booker in the context of the Daily Mail’s core market. This is predominantly middle-aged, well-off, and living in suburbs or rural areas – exactly the same sort of people who typically view a wind farm near their property as an intrusion. The Daily Mail knows this, and is very good as tailoring its news product to their prejudices – just like the Guardian, in fact. The Mail is also very good at avoiding PCC complaints, which is why it’ll typically push nonsense like Booker’s piece into an op-ed, because, as a response to an earlier complaint I raised against the Mail stated:

“[It] was clearly an opinion piece rather than a definitive statement of fact.”

Even though that op-ed made some statements which were clearly intended to be factual. Booker’s employment by the Mail should be seen in the same context as Polly Toynbee’s by the Guardian: someone who is very good at writing articles that appeal to a particular demographic.

Now, the next ten years. New nuclear is unlikely to be built until 2018 at the very earliest (and that is extremely optimistic in any case), while our current plant will begin shutting down by 2015. We need something to bridge the gap. CCS has not been proven (specifically the ‘storage’ part), and there is absolutely no political support for new coal without it. In terms of deployable renewables, the only technology mature enough to be deployed in sufficient quantities in time is wind. Our remaining option is gas, in new CCGT or OCGT plant.

The question – which DECC’s energy pathways attempt to address – is therefore to do with the balance of wind and gas on the system, rather than pretend we can rely on nuclear. Luckily, gas and wind complement each other very well – OCGT plants in particular are very efficient at handling variability. Left to itself, the market would probably opt for substantial numbers of new CCGT plant, as well as significantly more onshore wind turbines, as both have relatively low capital costs (by ‘leave the market to itself’ I also assume that planning isn’t a factor – it’s funny how fond many anti-state activists are of planning regulations. I don’t include DK in this, of course). Of course, in the real world, the outcome we end up with will involve a certain amount of state intervention.

Luckily for us, OfGem has already done some research on potential scenarios for 2020. It considers the implications of both strong investment in renewables and also the potential level of economic growth. A cursory glance at the document will tell you that in the event of weak economic growth, energy bills are lower with more gas on the system by about 1%. Conversely, with strong economic growth, more renewables on the system coupled with strong energy saving incentives means energy prices 44-30% cheaper. This is largely to do with the likely rocketing price of gas – we’re not the only European country to recognise the compability of wind and gas.

I know which path I’d opt for if lower energy prices for consumers was my aim, quite apart from anything to do with carbon emissions. As a betting man, I know where my money is going.


One Response to “The Devil’s Knife has it wrong on wind”

  1. cuffleyburgers said

    A couple of ad-homs, but you haven’t addressed the chief objections to wind power which are the massive capital cost compared to say gas, and possibly even worse, the fact that when power requirement peaks, wind power production is frequently not available. When the wind does blow hard they catch fire.

    Huhne’s energy policy was a disaster for the British economy. THe man demonstrated himself to be wholly unfit for ministerial office lacking the moral stature to admit he is a liar and a fraud, or the intellectual rigour to try to develop an intelligent energy policy.

    I’m glad he’s gone and sorry he will never pay the price for the damage wrought.

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