James Delingpole: UK’s Wind Power Debacle Reaches “High Farce”
The great wind farm farce
22 February 2015
Ed Davey’s plan for 400 turbines to be erected off the Yorkshire coast will be a heinous burden on the taxpayer
If ever there’s a competition for the most spectacularly pointless and wasteful project in engineering history, you’d be hard pressed to find amore promising candidate than the one announced this week, with great fanfare, by Energy Secretary Ed Davey.
Dogger Bank Creyke Beck is its name – and though it may seem a bit of an unfamiliar mouthful now, in future years it will trip off the tongue very nicely as the answer to any number of trivia questions.
As well as being the world’s largest offshore wind farm (covering 430 square miles), it will be the most expensive to build (£6-£8 billion), the most heavily subsidised (by as much as £900 million a year) and the one that does the most lasting damage to the UK economy.
But before we examine the downsides in more detail, let’s first see how Davey’s Department of Energy and Climate Change is trying to spin this misbegotten venture.
It will, according to DECC, generate enough electricity to power almost two million homes; it is expected to support “up to 900 green jobs in Yorkshire and Humberside and millions of pounds’ worth of investment to the UK’s economy”; and it will, of course, make a key contribution to Britain’s EU-mandated carbon emissions reduction target, whereby 32 per cent of all the electricity we need must come from renewable sources by 2020.
All this sounds superficially impressive. You can understand why a spokesman for industry lobbyist RenewableUK describes it as an “awesome” project. Each of its 400 turbines, when completed will be 600ft tall – one and a half times the height of Salisbury Cathedral spire.
The area they cover, 80 miles off the Yorkshire coast, will be bigger than Dartmoor National Park. And as a profit-maximising exercise it is almost without peer: the consortium building it, Forewind, will probably have covered its costs within the first 10 years. After that it can expect to generate well over £1 billion a year in profit.
These financial details, according to John Constable, director of wind industry analysts the Renewable Energy Foundation, are the project’s most troubling aspect.
“Not since British Leyland has the government awarded this much public subsidy to a single industry – and look how badly that ended,” he says. “It represents an experiment on such a scale that it could seriously disrupt the UK economy.”
To appreciate his concerns, you first need to understand the fundamental flaw of wind energy: being intermittent and unreliable (obviously, because it’s only available when the wind is blowing), it is a poor substitute for those other forms of energy (derived from fossil fuel or nuclear), which can be generated on demand according to consumer need.
This is why wind energy has to be so heavily subsidised. In a free market, no business would want to invest in a wind farm because no customer would want to buy its unreliable produce. So to make wind (and other renewables, like solar) more attractive to big business, the Government has rigged the market with a number of incentives.
Not only are renewables companies paid significantly above the going rate for what little energy they manage to produce when the wind is blowing, but also customers are forced to buy their product whether they like it or not.
Hence the involvement of Forewind (an international consortium ofenergy companies SSE, RWE, Statkraft and Statoil) in this massive capital project. Like sharks to blood, they have been lured by the eye-wateringly generous sweetener being offered by the Government.
For every megawatt (MW) of electricity their turbines produce, they will be paid the special offshore wind rate of £155 – more than three times what generators of fossil fuel electricity receive. In other words, a third of that money represents the market rate; the other two thirds is guaranteed, index-linked subsidy, created by government fiat and slapped on the bills of the hapless consumer.
If you asked DECC to justify this extraordinary £105 per MW surcharge it would give two main reasons. First, like all EU member states, Britain is obliged to fulfil its carbon emissions reduction targets. Second, it is a vital measure in the war to “combat climate change”.
Neither argument, unfortunately, holds much water. So many wind projects have either been built or approved by DECC that Britain has already overshot its carbon emissions reduction target. And, increasingly, most of the evidence suggests that the “climate change” threat is both woefully misunderstood and dangerously overstated.
And even if we take at face value official claims that anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to dangerous and unprecedented “global warming” there is little evidence that giant wind farms like the one proposed at Dogger Bank Creyke Beck could prevent it.
This is because, owing to its unreliable nature, wind power doesn’t actually displace any of the fossil fuel stations that need to remain on standby, continuing to supply the vast bulk of Britain’s energy needs. And also because, since wind turbines are so painfully inefficient it’s quite likely that in their brief lifetime what little “carbon” they save is more than offset by the greater quantities of “carbon” that have been exhausted manufacturing the turbines in the first place.
There are other problems, too. For a supposedly green, clean source of energy, turbines are remarkably eco-unfriendly. They are known to destroy wildlife on an industrial scale: according to the Spanish conservation charity SEO/Birdlife, a typical wind turbine kills between 110 and 330 birds per year. (Taking the lower estimate, that would see Creyke Beck slicing and dicing over 40,000 migratory and sea birds a year.)
On land, especially, they are also notorious for blighting cherished views, and for causing noise pollution, which research suggests can cause not just sleep disturbance but also a range of serious health issues in vulnerable people.
It’s because onshore wind farms are so unpopular with voters that Cameron’s “greenest government ever” now prefers to champion offshore wind. But in many ways, this is even more disastrous. It simply transfers all the environmental damage to equally sensitive marine environments (with wind projects being proposed off Dorset’s beautiful Jurassic Coast and the nature reserve off Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel). And it means ramping up costs to even more prohibitive levels because the sea, by nature, is such a hostile environment in which to erect 600ft-tall towers with bases big enough to anchor them to the seabed.
Research for the Renewable Energy Foundation by Prof Gordon Hughes, a former senior energy adviser for the World Bank, has shown that these structures have a working life considerably shorter than the optimistic official estimates.
Over 15 years, he calculated, the effects of weather and salt corrosion reduce their output from 45 per cent of capacity to barely 12 per cent. So inevitably, they will have to be expensively refitted much sooner than anticipated – or, more likely, left to rot.
Nor can supporters of Dogger Bank Creyke Beck draw much comfort from the experience of Germany where a similar but smaller offshore wind farm has been delayed for well over year with massive, unresolved technical difficulties which have cost it millions in lost revenue.
Given that these issues are in the public domain you might wonder why Davey gave the go-ahead to such a risky, costly and entirely unnecessary experiment. The answer is that for Davey – and the environmental zealots who dominate DECC – the interests of energy users (ie all of us) must always take second place to green ideology.
No doubt when David Cameron first handed the Liberal Democrats the keys to DECC as part of his Coalition sweetener deal, he imagined it was a harmless gesture that would burnish his eco credentials. But in reality, by granting green ideologues such as Davey (and his predecessor Chris Huhne) the power to authorise projects like Creyke Beck, he has caused untold damage to the UK economy.
If and when it is completed, Creyke Beck will cost energy users around £900 million a year in subsidies that will serve no purpose other to enrich shareholders in the Forewind consortium – among them the company’s chairman Charles Hendry who, as a former energy minister, appears to have done very well out of DECC’s ongoing close relationship with the renewables industry.
But this is a drop in the ocean, when you consider how much, in total, we are all being forced to pay to indulge DECC’s renewable energy fantasy. Between 2002 and 2040, the total cost to the UK economy of renewables (subsidies and system costs) will amount to £250 billion.
This expenditure – roughly a third of the Government’s total annual spending – will not have made one iota of difference to “climate change” or the health of the environment generally, let alone made any meaningful contribution to the UK economy. It will simply have enabled a few misguided green ideologues to feel smug; and an even smaller number of cynical, crony capitalists disgustingly rich.