After battering on the doors of government and assailing Ministers about the ears for 20 years, it is very gratifying to acquire the Royal seal of approval.
Strictly, I suppose the Duke of Edinburgh should not have told a wind farm operator, however privately, that turbines are “absolutely useless”, “completely reliant on subsidies”, will “never work” and that their supporters believe in “fairies”.
He has to avoid dabbling in politics. Yet that is where the wind farm operator, Esbjorn Wilmar, of Infinergy, has landed him by reporting his splendidly accurate commentary on the Green icon, what Calderdale’s late MP, Sir Donald Thompson, described as “bog brushes in the sky”.
Only last month Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, described wind power critics as “curmudgeonly, short-termist fault finders”. It is a long time since I walked as tall after reading that. At last, I said, we are beginning to shake his overweening arrogance.
So, whether the Duke has again put his foot in it or not, he could not have done it more usefully. He has drawn attention to the blasted, smoking ruin that is the Coalition’s energy policy.
In analysing the mess, I should declare my interest. For most of the past 13 years, I have been secretary of a small group of individuals called Supporters of Nuclear Energy. I have not had a penny for this from the nuclear industry for several years. Indeed, it seems to find my forthright support for nuclear and criticism of successive governments an embarrassment.
Let us start with what energy policy ought to seek. In my days in the Department of Energy (1974-79) it was security of supply at the lowest possible cost. Now, thanks to the hysteria about global warming, it is security of low carbon supply as cheaply as possible. That is exactly what Huhne’s policy, like Labour’s before it, purports to aim for. But because of the way it is constructed it can never achieve its objective.
Why? It is not just because it is driven by silly Greens whose prescription for today’s economic success is “No coal, no oil, no nuclear and no biomass”. Only one of the policy’s five pillars – nuclear – has any chance of securing the three objectives: competitive, secure, low carbon supply
Wind can never provide security. Leave aside its reliance on public subsidy, it needs an expensive stand-by alternative for when the wind doesn’t blow or blows too hard – preferably gas which, though half as “dirty” as coal, emits 100 times more CO2 than nuclear. Subsidised solar is no good at night.
Tidal power is even more expensive and not continuous. After 40 years’ experiment, wave power is a mere gleam in the eye. Relatively expensive biomass needs so much land that the wood would have to be massively imported.
So not much joy from renewables.
There is no shortage of coal, though not much of it is British-mined, thanks to Arthur Scargill. But it is so carbon intensive – 200 times more CO2 emissions than nuclear – that the Government rules it can only be burned in future if its CO2 can be buried under the North Sea. Nobody knows whether the system can be scaled up to inter for all time 180m tonnes of the stuff each year in the strata. But we do know it could double the price of coal-generated electricity.
As one who tried to persuade the nation to “Save It” (1974-79), I do not expect much from energy conservation or even from its more efficient use since using it more efficiently effectively cheapens its price and so leads to more consumption, especially with all today’s gadgetry.
So, we are left with gas and nuclear. Gas would never be entirely secure, let alone cheap, since most of it would have to be imported, often from dodgy regimes, unless shale gas were to deliver its much-hyped bounty along with the odd earth tremor as already experienced in Blackpool. But shale gas is a UK chicken whose egg has not even been laid, let alone hatched.
Government admits nuclear is likely to be the cheapest source of electricity, Its 55-year operation in this country proves it is reliable and low carbon. Government figures show it is even cleaner than wind. But we have not built a single new-generation reactor because we don’t yet have one licensed for use in the UK.
If this is not a dangerous mess threatening our economy, I don’t know what is. The Duke of Edinburgh has performed a valuable public service. Thank you, sir.
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