Let me make this clear: I am a fully paid up, public transport using, organic veggie-growing, plastic/paper/metal recycling, compost crazy, low energy lightbulb installing, solar energy producing greenie.
Gemma and I have two homes, one of them in London which we intend to sell (hurrah!) and one in blissful Paradis-sur-Tweed where we stable our only (small) car for use when the village bus won’t do. Our wee Crookham bothy boasts seven water butts and six compost heaps, and when I’ve finished with The Journal, it mulches my leeks. We are wholeheartedly, limp-wristedly, sentimentalist environmentalists.
So much so that until I found out what’s really driving the campaign to turn Northumberland into one giant wind farm, I was all for it. Now, as my old granddad would have said, “I ha’e ma doots”.
Research leads me to believe there is a kind of gold rush going on in this fairest of beautiful counties: the would-be wind farm developers are the prospectors and the bill for this Klondike-without-the-gold rush is being footed by you and me, the taxpayers.
In the world of power supply, there is a kind of stock market for electricity. Generators sell the power they produce to suppliers, who then sell the juice on to us, the consumers. But as traditional fuels – coal, oil, uranium and the like – run out nothing can be quite that simple any more. The Government now demands that a proportion of total sales from suppliers come from accredited “renewable” sources, such as biomass, wind-power or tidal energy. Suppliers failing to comply are fined. Heavily. By 2010, the required proportion of renewable fuel will exceed 10% which is creating, not unnaturally, competition among suppliers to buy certificated power (renewables obligation certificates or ROCs) showing their compliance.
Now, here’s where profit pushes its ugly snout into the trough ahead of the needs of the environment: to encourage renewable energy generation, the Government (using our money) pays the generator a guaranteed subsidy, currently around £35 per megawatt hour (MWh).
With the scramble among suppliers to buy these ROCs to fulfil their obligation, the most recent price at auction – yes, there’s even an eBay-style auction site selling packets of renewable power – was a whopping £46. Now, given that the wholesale price of all electricity is currently about £45, that plus the subsidy doubles the value of wind electricity to more than £90 per MWh.
Given that sort of return, those generator boys are – if you’ll pardon the expression – cooking with gas.
After all, at that price the sort of 120m high mast mooted for dozens of Northumberland sites currently seeking planning permission is calculated to be worth £400,000 a year per turbine to the generating company.
Perhaps something more practical than the prospect of quick and plentiful profits should be proffered before we kiss goodbye to the most beautiful landscape in England?
By David Banks, The Journal
23 March 2007
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