You have to hand it to the Duke of Edinburgh. At 90, he is still as incisive as ever. Once again, the Royal family has articulated what ordinary people, without the ear of the media, have long felt. His son might have called the wind farms that are besmirching our mountains and waving their giant arms inanely out at sea “a monstrous carbuncle”. Prince Philip chose “disgrace”. So they are. The politicians who foisted them upon us should be put in the stocks.
Wind farms are Blairism incarnate. Wanting to look big on the international stage, he committed Britain to some preposterously over-ambitious targets for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. As ever, this was glittering, shop-window stuff, the bill for which would somehow be obfuscated by the dour Scot in accounts. After due nail-biting, Brown came up with a system so convoluted that most people have only just realised that the person who ultimately pays is the consumer.
We are all generously subsidising the wind farms which many of us hate through our electricity bills. Why? Because unlike other forms of renewable energy, which would have required the Treasury to build huge civil engineering projects, the cost could be met through a trade in Renewable Obligations Certificates (ROCs). It works like this. Power companies are required by law to provide a proportion of green energy and if they don’t meet the target, they are fined. But they can avoid the fine if they buy-in green energy credits, which are traded in the shape of ROCs.
The money from selling ROCs is far more attractive to the wind farm speculators than the value of the energy itself. The power companies simply pass on the cost to the poor sap who buys their electricity. It’s Machiavellian. Worse, it’s Brownian – and, as the Duke says, a disgrace. But from the Blairite shallows, it was much better than having to confront a decision that might have incurred short-term unpopularity, but is all but inevitable for our future energy security: the building of more nuclear power stations.
Of course, in the boom times, when the economy was growing, this green indulgence might have been like that extra chocolate you shouldn’t have; nobody would notice it when the suit had been let out. We have now found that the waist band isn’t infinitely elastic. But just as belts are being tightened, green energy has bloated our bills by, as Lord Marland from the Department of Energy and Climate Change revealed in the House of Lords last month, a whopping £7.1 billion. Think how many libraries that would keep open. It is due to get worse. According to the Renewable Energy Foundation, whose sums have so far proved accurate, that figure will have risen to some £40 billion by 2020 – that’s between £6 billion and £8 billion a year; nearly all of it taken by wind.
I’m not the first person to have noticed that wind farms only generate electricity when the wind is blowing. On a freezing day, when the country turns up its electric blanket, the ear hearkens to what Robert Bridges called “the stillness of the solemn air”. No wind. However many turbines bristle on Welsh mountain tops or pylons stride through the Great Glen, we’ll only be tickling the nose of our energy crisis. We’re missing those targets to reduce emissions by a country mile. Yet as the winter progresses, life for some of the poorest members of society will become more difficult because of it. Food and fuel are going up in price, fuel by more than it need do because of those wretched wind farms.
We all know about David Cameron’s green instincts: he paraded them before the election as part of the campaign to convince voters that the Tories weren’t simply driven by the bottom line. He even put a windmill on his London chimney, even though there is not enough wind in cities. Now he should go and see that Meryl Streep film, and remind himself of the great lesson that Mrs Thatcher taught us: subsidies for industry don’t work.
We need more research into renewables, to find technologies that will work. But no form of green energy except nuclear is ready to take over from present sources of production. As fossil fuel prices rise, entrepreneurs will find ways of producing energy more cheaply. Wind farms are the modern British Leyland; the Government tried to pick a winner, but picked wrong.
Throw them out. Throw out the windmonger in chief, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, and leave it to the money men. Green MP Caroline Lucas may instinctively defend the interests of people rich enough to put solar panels on their roofs against those of the lowly consumers who have to pay to subsidise them, but the Treasury is, quite rightly, reducing the feed-in tariff for solar panels.
Less attention has been attracted by the intention to reduce subsidies for wind. Not by very much, mind you, and not by enough; but sufficient to send a signal to would-be investors that this rash, fierce blaze of riot cannot last. We can’t go on wrecking the landscape and spending money we don’t have. As the Admiral would have said in Mary Poppins, heavy weather is brewing for wind farms. It can’t arrive a moment too soon.
Clive Aslet is Editor at Large of ‘Country Life’
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