Britain’s drive for “green” wind power risks increasing emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for climate change, campaigners claimed yesterday.
Despite the expansion of wind power, Britain is becoming “increasingly dependent” on cheap coal to generate electricity, said the Renewable Energy Foundation.
It cited figures showing that coal-fired electricity increased by more than 30 per cent in the first three quarters of this year compared to the same period last year.
The REF described the trend as “sobering”.
Burning coal emits more carbon dioxide than the other main power station fuel, gas, and undermines the zero emission performance of wind power.
Over the same period imports of electricity from the Netherlands and France rose by 20 per cent and 65 per cent.
The REF says a baseload of electricity has to be produced by conventional power stations to cope with the vagaries of wind.
And the power industry is turning to coal because gas is becoming more expensive.
REF Planning director Dr Lee Moroney said: “The increasing dependence on coal and the striking share of demand now met by imports from neighbouring countries, is sobering, not least because it is happening in spite of rapid growth in renewable generation.
“The majority of renewable generation is from wind which is intermittent and does not provide the ballast necessary to maintain the grid.
“Some stable supply is always needed and the big conventional fossil fuel stations provide that.
“It is likely that CO2 emissions are rising because more coal is being burned and that emits more than gas.
“The fact that we are burning more coal is likely to lead to an increase in emissions in spite of there being more wind farms in the system.”
The findings were backed by Ian Fells, Emeritus Professor of Energy Conversion at Newcastle University, who said that in recent months about half the UK’s electricity had come form coal-power compared to 35 per cent last year.
This was partly due to a rise in gas prices which meant coal was much cheaper and partly due to the need to provide back-up for when the wind energy supply was low.
He said: “If you have to back up wind power with fossil fuels whether gas or coal and if wind happens not to be blowing strongly enough you are bound to increase greenhouse gas emissions.”
Last month a study for the Global Warming Policy Foundation warned that wind power could lead to increases in the emissions it is supposed to reduce.
Professor Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh University said gas power plants that can be turned on and off to cope rapidly with highs and lows in wind are less efficient than those which run all the time.
He described wind power as “an extraordinarily expensive and inefficient way of reducing CO2 emissions”.
The latest study was backed by UKIP Energy and Industry spokesman Roger Helmer who said: “Wind turbines don’t save emissions and drive up energy costs and therefore undermine the competitiveness of the economy.”
The REF study comes as campaigners push for a UKIP-backed petition on the Downing Street website to get the 100,000 signatures needed to force a parliamentary debate on wind power.
The petition, which has 12,400 signatures, declares: “We appeal to our MPs to represent our views and to vehemently oppose these projects. “These plants are an uneconomical and inefficient way to produce electricity and are only pursued by the Government to secure the ‘green’ vote and to keep the EU happy.
“Locally, they industrialise the landscape, have detrimental health, financial and other effects on peoples lives, destroy wildlife and have a negative impact on tourism.
“The billions of pounds wasted on these projects should be used in other areas to improve the lot of the British people.”
But Renewables UK said coal is increasingly being used to generate electricity because gas is becoming much more expensive – and this strengthens the case for using wind power..
RenewableUK Deputy Chief Executive, Maf Smith, said: “Fossil fuels price rises have been hitting all of us hard in the pocket.
“For example, wholesale gas prices went up by 40 per cent last winter. As fossil fuels run out, renewable energy is the best way to keep the lights on.
“Every megawatt of clean British wind energy we generate means that we have to import less dirty, polluting fossil fuel from abroad.
“We now have the capacity to power more than 5 million British homes from wind energy, and we’ll see a fourfold increase by the end of the decade.
“What the REF data actually shows is that as the amount of wind energy goes up, less oil and gas has to be burnt. Unfortunately higher gas prices are causing a temporary lurch to coal, but wind is already helping the UK to break its dependence on these dirty imported fuels.
“As we get more and more of our electricity from wind, the need to rely on damaging high-carbon fossil fuels will diminish even further, protecting the environment as well as generating tens of thousands of jobs.
“We’re boosting our capacity all the time – for example, on Thurs we’ll see the opening of Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm off the coast of Norfolk, which will power 220,000 British homes.”
* The petition is at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22958
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