On Friday morning, I think for the first time I understood what is meant by the “calm before the storm”. The dog and I were walking along an unmade road in an eerie stillness. The sky was pewter with rain, although not a drop had yet fallen. The only sound was the leaves in the trees rustling apprehensively. The whole world felt apprehensive. Waiting. Something wicked this way comes. Even Bingo wanted to cut our walk short and head home before it began.
Dudley, Eunice and Franklin sound more like 1950s librarians in the Midwest than Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse. But a trio of not especially scary storms back to back revealed just how far down the Safety First track this country has travelled. Confronted with the blustery conditions formerly known as “weather”, trains were cancelled (twigs on the line!) and schools hastily closed. I thought back to the seven-year-old me in my green gaberdine mac struggling with my classmates through snowdrifts we sank into up to our skinny thighs. Sodden mittens were put on the old school radiators where they steamed quietly to themselves like horses after a race.
Say what you like about the bad old days; we were good at adversity, regarding it as normal. After Storm Eunice, some friends in Hertfordshire had to do without power for 24 hours. They managed surprisingly well. A wood-burning stove kept them warm. They cooked on gas. And when the broadband went down, they used the old telephone line, complete with BT socket, to keep in touch with family and friends.
Do you reckon some junior minister in the Department for Avoidable Disasters has realised that, if the Government continues with its present ‘Nut’ Zero plans, none of the back-ups that proved so invaluable to my friends will be available? Their idea is to phase out sales of wet wood and house coal. (Bye bye, log-burners!) Producing British gas is now deemed so environmentally unfriendly that we have to import it instead (which creates a giant’s carbon footprint, but at least it’s off our books). By 2025, all new homes will be banned from installing gas and oil boilers and will instead be heated by low-carbon alternatives such as… er, we’ll get back to you on that.
Meanwhile, customers are receiving emails from BT, informing them that there will be a nationwide disconnection in 2025 of the Public Switched Telephone Network and, henceforth, all BT landlines will work through broadband. Even though millions of older customers still rely on phones that have served them well for over half a century, while broadband in a gale is about as reliable as a promise from Vladimir Putin.
As if to prove how reckless is this rush to reach zero carbon by 2050, after a bit of a biffing from a storm, a £20 million wind turbine in Wales fell over. They try to keep this quiet, but turbines don’t really like winds of more than 50 miles per hour. Nor do they work when there’s insufficient breeze. Basically, our entire nation’s future electricity supply depends on the Goldilocks theory – not too windy, not too still, just right.
Most people have no idea how crazy this stuff is. I was astonished to learn that when there is too much wind, and not enough electricity demand, wind generators are actually paid by the taxpayer to refrain from producing electricity. Three large wind farms in Scotland received a total of £24.5 million to fail to produce about half of their potential output. In one case, £7.7 million in “constraint payments” handed to the operator of a 23-turbine scheme in Scotland in 2020 led to the wind farm deliberately failing to produce 51 per cent of its potential output. Farcical, but not at all funny.
Our green (in both senses) Government wants wind to generate a huge chunk of our electricity. The problem is that it is intermittent. In 2020, the UK got 24.8 per cent of its electricity from wind. Last year, that fell due to lower average wind speeds. The resultant cost of balancing the National Grid rose 48 per cent to a staggering £2.65 billion, up from around £400 million in the early 2000s. One industry expert tells me this terrifying increase has been “driven by the need to manage increasing proportions of intermittent wind on the grid”.
As the British people faint clean away upon opening their latest fuel bill, how wonderful to know that our energy costs are likely to go up and up because back-up power stations (gas-fired) have to be ready to roar into action when the wind is too low. Or we have to pay hundreds of millions to stop production when it’s too windy.
Who on earth agrees with this experiment? Politicians talking hot air while families freeze. I reckon we need a referendum to establish whether the British people are happy to see their heat and their light at the mercy of any passing breeze. When Storms Gladys, Horace, Ian and Jehovah hit these isles in the near future, and the power fails, do be sure to take advantage of your gas cooker and wood or coal fire. If we don’t start to fight back against this misanthropic madness, you won’t be allowed to have them for much longer.
After that, well, we’ll just have to rely on a fairytale called Goldilocks.
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