The vital issue of energy and CO2 emissions is the subject of much debate. A dispassionate observer might wonder why the debate is concentrating on electricity generation since its contribution to CO2 emissions is about one-fifth of the total, whereas transport, heating and industrial processes account for four-fifths. Casting about for the least unpopular “solution” to the problem, politicians find a seductive answer: wind power.
The wind power debate is full of cant which the bemused public cannot evaluate. Misrepresentation is inevitable where vested interests have so much to lose. Take away the enormous subsidies, and all the wind generation applications would disappear in a flash. If our politicians claim vision and courage, they should concentrate on strategies to generate real economic and environmental benefits and deliver long-term social advantages.
There are more than 50 million private cars in the UK. They emit approximately 200 million tonnes of CO2 annually. A 33% reduction in fuel consumption would save 66 million tonnes of CO2 each year. This is equivalent to the claimed CO2 offset from more than 17GW of wind generation capacity. If we assume that similar gains can be achieved from commercial vehicles, we can see that by reducing road transport oil consumption by a modest 33% alone we can achieve the same reduction in CO2 as is proposed by the government’s plan to install 3000 onshore and 4000 offshore wind turbines at a cost of perhaps £40bn.
The problem is that saving 33% means unpopular choices. It just needs the EU to pass legislation which by 2020 restricts the maximum power rating of private vehicles to 75KW. Even greater savings could be delivered by fitting GPS/GIS engine management to limit speeds. These measures would deliver other benefits; affordable private motoring would be assured a long future, rising fuel costs would be tempered, serious road accidents and fatalities would drop dramatically (no boy racers), and our towns and villages would become much quieter.
Motoring is a cultural passion and governments are terrified to challenge our obsession. We all associate big fast cars with success, excitement, power and prestige. It requires a brave government to say no more Jeremy Clarkson toys.
The government has lost the plot in proposing to spend up to £40bn on wind generation. If renewable subsidies, estimated at £30bn by 2020, were directed at building high-speed rail links and forcing long-haul freight on to rail we would drastically reduce road maintenance costs, increase competitiveness and improve our environment. The present policy will deliver nothing, litter our beautiful scenery, cost us dearly, use North Sea oil and leave us destitute. Is this the legacy we wish for our children?
Why focus on electricity generation, at the risk of bankrupting the UK, when transport (and I have not mentioned flying), heating and industry are the areas capable of making the greatest impact on CO2 reduction and delivering great positive social and economic benefits at the same time?
Norman McNab, Killearn.
7 July 2008
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