My electricity company has just sent me a handwringing letter, explaining why, despite its best efforts to keep costs down, my bill is set to soar again this year.
The reason – apart from the usual rapacious profits enjoyed by our power suppliers – is a hidden subsidy paid towards the development of wind farms.
In the last financial year, electricity consumers were forced to pay a total of £600million in subsidy to the owners of wind turbines.
This figure is due to rise to £3billion a year by 2020 as vast areas of the most beautiful parts of the country will be pockmarked with 500fthigh windmills.
The sudden growth in this area of energy supply is because the green lobby has convinced many that this renewable power source is the answer to our looming energy crisis.
But the truth is that not only do renewables provide a mere 1.3 per cent of the country’s energy needs but also that this money is being wasted.
The subsidy system works on the principle of encouraging the development of new wind farms by forcing traditional energy companies to pay producers of renewable energy. The firms then recoup the money by charging consumers higher bills.
After an initial surge in the number of new wind farms, few are currently being built. The most obvious sites, far from human habitation, have already been filled and energy firms are now facing delays in obtaining planning permission to build in more environmentally sensitive locations.
As a result, the huge subsidy is concentrated in a small number of hands. There is a rising amount of money for renewable energy and if less is produced each turbine gets more of the pot.
At current subsidy rates, anyone who constructs a wind farm, which is expected to last for a minimum of 20 years, will have paid off their investment in only five years. From then on, its profit all the way to the bank.
John Constable, director of policy at the Renewable Energy Foundation, says that the system “has encouraged underperforming onshore wind turbines in low wind areas. Though of little engineering value, such plants attract speculators because they require little capital investment”.
As a result, consumers will soon be paying billions in unnecessary subsidy to a bunch of sharp-suited businessmen who have spotted an opportunity for easy money.
But the wind farm disaster story does not, by any means, end here.
Even in the unlikely event that ministers managed to get the subsidy system right, there would still remain fundamental problems with wind power. First, the fact
that the turbines stand idle when the wind doesn’t blow. This leaves gas or coal power stations to be switched on and off at a moment’s notice to fill the gap – something that is very environmentally inefficient.
Second, even if you accept that it’s worth desecrating some of the most beautiful parts of Britain in pursuit of a renewable energy policy, you then must transport the energy to a population centre. That means building an expensive infrastructure of new power lines.
The third problem is the potential threat wildlife (including rare birds colliding with the blades) and the damage to quality of life of those people who live near the wind farms.
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors estimates that the price of house located close to a new turbine falls by 20 per cent, if the owners are able to sell it at all.
Of course, none of this much matters while the turbines are out of sight, but that could be about to change. Although Britain currently has nearly 2,000 onshore turbines; ministers have signed up to European targets on renewables that will mean 7,000 more.
The Government claims that most of these will be built offshore, but that’s not true because the costs of building in deep water are still too high.
Finally, there is the revelation that wind farms stop the Ministry of Defence’s radar working, so we can forget about early warning of an airborne attack.
Behind all this is one certainty: Britain is facing a looming energy crisis. Our ageing nuclear power plants, which currently provide 20 per cent of our energy, are nearing the end of their useful life.
The Government, having dithered for years, wants to build new ones but says that, unlike renewables, there will be no subsidies or price guarantees for the nuclear industry. If they really mean this, then the energy companies won’t build any reactors, because the commercial risks will be too great.
That will mean Britain becomes even more dependent on gas power stations, at a time when our supplies of North Sea gas are running out.
We will have to import our supplies from unstable Middle Eastern nations, or from Russia, whose leaders have already shown they are happy to turn off the gas tap to make a political point. Britain could be held to energy ransom; even plunged into darkness.
Meanwhile we waste time fiddling with wind power. The solution in the medium term is a proper commitment to nuclear energy which, like wind power, doesn’t generate greenhouse gases.
Also, we should be funding for research into wave and tidal power – surely the long-term answer for an island nation like Britain.
As for wind, ministers should cut off the funding tap, and use the money to help reduce our obscenely high electricity bills.
By Edward Heathcoat Amory
5 February 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding