True Eco Scandal – A Coalition of Wealth is undermining the Green Economy

The right wing press’s animosity towards renewable energy has now extended to the whole idea of the green economy, judging by an article in the Daily Mail.     We might have thought that in true patriotic style they might rejoice at the prospects of energy self sufficiency based on home grown, British owned manufacturing businesses, commercialising the world-leading researches of British Universities.  The fact that they don’t is, we might presume, due to the heavy exposure of the paper’s proprietors to carbon investments that would be under threat if renewables began to undermine the supremacy of fossil fuel.

You can read what they say here–insane-true-eco-scandals.html

In its latest broadside against wind energy, the Mail reveals that thousands of ‘dirty diesel’ generators are being deployed ‘in secret’ to back up the grid when ‘the wind fails’.  In order to give this claim credibility the paper over estimates the contribution of wind power to the grid. It states that 10% of electricity is gen120px-Energiaberriztagarriakerated by wind where as the real figure is nearer to 5%.  What they are doing is using ‘wind’ as a euphemism for ‘renewable’, a polysyllabic word deemed incomprehensible to their readership. They also claim that the Government plans to increase this to 25% by 2020.  They may have inside information on the thinking of the Government, but in truth the EU Energy Directive requires the UK to source 15% of its energy from all renewables by 2020.  Note this figure is for energy and not just electricity, it might be the case that the % of renewable electricity is raised to compensate for the current difficulties in supplying renewable fuels.

The Mail reveals this ‘secret network’ of generators as ‘STOR’, the Short Term Operating Reserve. On its far from secret website the National Grid explains why it needs  STOR: At certain times of the day National Grid needs reserve power in the form of either generation or demand reduction to be able to deal with actual demand being greater than forecast demand and plant breakdowns.  That is, demand surges like at half time in the Cup Final, or when there is an alert at a nuclear power station, there is no mention of the wind.

Another reason why many public and private bodies are installing diesel generators is over fears of cyber-security. As the sales blurb for Power Continuity Systems Ltd says, ‘The security of supply can no longer be taken for granted ‘.  This company has been providing energy backup for decades and they are responding to fears over cyber attacks on power utilities rather than the risk of calm days.  The now infamous Stuxnet virus was targeted on a control system made by Siemens that is used to manage pipelines, energy grids and nuclear power stations.  Globally more than 45,000 companies have been affected.  It is not surprising that companies and bodies like the NHS are installing back up power systems to protect valuable hardware, processes, and in some cases lives. There is also concern that the sun is entering a new active phase, big solar storms can knock out electric grids as happened in Canada in 1989.  Installing off-grid backup is prudent.  What we need is a way of doing this that doesn’t use ‘dirty diesel’; solar panels and battery storage for example. 

The variability of wind has been a fall back argument for the anti wind lobby for many years, and in 2009 the National Grid answered this argument in its consultation report Operating the Electricity Transmission Networks in 2020 .  In this report they demonstrated that the grid could be successfully operated with a major contribution from renewable, including wind, without the need for extensive fossil fuel backup.  We presume that the National Grid knows what it is talking about.

In its crusade against wind, the Mail cites a report written for the Global Warming Policy Foundation that says that it would be much cheaper to meet our Carbon Reduction targets using gas generators.  Well now they would wouldn’t they.  This is a climate sceptic organisation operating from a room in the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, headed by a Social Anthropologist and Chaired by Nigel Lawson, Thatcher’s Chancellor in the 1980’s boom and bust days.  Hardly experts on Climatology, this group will be campaigning hard for fracking, and since they don’t accept that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, they won’t see the idiocy of trying to meet our Climate Change obligations by using fossil gas.  Their report claims that using wind to meet this obligation will cost £124Billion by 2020 where as using gas generators will only cost £13 Billion.  The only problem with the calculation of costs is that the figure for gas generation does not include the cost of the gas!  As we humble payers of gas bills know, gas is not cheap, and frack-gas will be expensive because of the high costs of extraction. And no mention of what happens when the gas runs out, doubtless they will turn to nuclear, another option mired in dodgy accounting.

The article then tries to scare its readers off wind with the noise scare, citing a 1989 study from America that it claims has been buried  by the industry.  Buried largely because it has become irrelevant, since it was referring to the old generation of turbines operating in the USA in the 1980’s.  In 1994 the Scottish Office published figures for noise levels for turbines operating in the UK.  This gave the noise level from a wind turbine at 350 metres as 35 to 45 dB[A], equivalent to the ‘noise’ of the rural night-time background, 20-40 dB[A] and that of a quiet bedroom, 35 dB[A].  Since then turbines have become quieter.

Warming to its anti-green rant, the Mail continued in the same article to denounce the Green Economy, claiming that Ministers – by whom they mean the Liberal Democrat component of the Cabinet – have made a £100 Billion mistake in calculating the value of the Green Economy.  The Government claims that this is worth £122 Billion, and the paper claims that this is over inflated to justify handing out hefty subsidies to renewable energy generators in the form of Feed In Tariffs. I don’t quite follow this argument but their source of information to counter the Governments figures is interesting.  They claim to have obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act to show that the true figure is between £16 and £27 Billion.  The needn’t have bothered to use the Act, the information comes from a report from a researcher working for UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom, and it is on the researchers climate sceptic website ClimateResistance. 

UKIP of course take a sceptical view of all things Green and we can’t put too much weight behind their analysis, but some of the points made are valid.  The Government does inflate its figures for the value of the Green Economy by including such activities as landfill and nuclear power. The Government has massaged the figures to give them bragging rightsin International conferences enabling them to claim that the Conservative way of leaving things to the market works and that State intervention is not necessary. We know that the truth is different. Because of under-investment and a lack of leadership from the Government, the UK green economy is seriously under-performing and we are missing a huge opportunity to boost sustainable employment and to create valuable overseas markets for the British low carbon manufacturing sector. 

PrintWe need a Green Economy.  It is the only sustainable economy that can deliver a good lifestyle to everyone while operating within the natural limits of the Earth.  Green economic policies do not focus on growth and wealth but on fairness and well-being for all.  Health is just as important as wealth, personal development as important as business development.  Right wing economics is not interested in fairness or the well-being of the majority.  Its total focus is on growth to make the already rich even richer and therefore more powerful.  Green policies will undermine the supremacy of wealth.  This is why the right wing press will broaden its attack to all aspects of Green policy.

 Mike Shipley

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