Posted 29 October 2010
Climate Fools Day Talk to British MPs, Committee Room 10
27 October 2010
As we have heard, we are today commemorating the second anniversary of one of the most extraordinary events in the history of British politics.
Tomorrow it will be two years to the day since the House of Commons voted almost unanimously for what was far and away the most expensive law ever put through Parliament.
The story of how the Climate Change Act finally passed into law has become legend; the last minute amendment which was to make Britain the only country in the world committed to reducing its CO2 emissions over the next 40 years by 80 percent.
The six hour debate in which MPs almost unanimously declared their belief that the world was dangerously hotting up, followed just before the vote by the news that, outside the Palace of Westminster London was enjoying its first October snowfall in 74 years.
But then 463 MPs voted for the Bill, with only three against, plus two tellers.
Two things were particularly astonishing about this new law of the land, The first was its truly mind-boggling cost to the British people, estimated by the government to be up to £18.3 billion every year for the next 40 years, which if you add it up comes to more than £700 billion. The other was that not a single one of the MPs who voted for the Bill could have begun to explain how such a target could be met in practice without closing down virtually the entire UK economy, almost totally dependent as it now is on computers and fossil fuels.
So how does our government propose that we should set about it? Their main focus of course, – because it is by far the largest single source of our CO2 emissions – is on the way we generate electricity. As a start we have agreed with our EU partners that within ten years 30 percent of our electricity will come from renewable sources. At the moment the figure is about 3 percent, so we will have to multiply that by about ten times, and the chief way the government hopes to do that is by building thousands more wind turbines.
We don’t know just how many turbines they hope to see built, because they keep on juggling around with the figures, but the latest target figure for offshore turbines by 2020 is that these should represent 33 gigawatts of capacity, or 33,000 megawatts, which compared with our maximum demand of 56GW sounds pretty impressive. But with the current going rate for the construction cost of offshore turbines running at around £3 million per megawatt of capacity, to meet the government’s target would cost £100 billion.
So how much electricity would we actually get for that £100 billion? As I am sure everyone in this room is aware, the key word here – the weasel word used in pretty well all discussions of windpower – is ‘capacity’. Those who promote wind turbines love to talk about them only in terms of their ‘capacity’. But this has nothing to do with the amount of power they actually produce. As we all know, the thing about the wind is that it never blows at a constant speed. The speed fluctuates wildly, to the point where quite often it is producing virtually no power at all.
Thus the average output of those offshore turbines on which Mr Huhne wants us to spend £100 billion would not be 33 gigawatts but little more than a quarter of that figure. And the other point about wind power is that it is not only a very inefficient way to make electricity, it is also very expensive. Which is why no one would dream of paying vast sums to build these things unless they were promised a very large subsidy.
In fact, in light of their expense, it is really quite ridiculous how small an amount of electricity is produced by these turbines, When I was putting together these thoughts on Sunday night, the coldest Sunday night in parts of Britain for 17 years, I checked to see how much of the electricity we were using at that moment was generated by the 3,000 turbines we have already built. The answer was 0.3 percent. One 330th of all the power we needed.
There was recently a great blast of publicity when Mr Huhne opened the world’s largest windfarm off the coast of Kent, to make us the largest producer of offshore wind energy in the world. That Thanet windfarm, 100 3MW turbines, costing around £800 million to build, may have a capacity of 300MW.
But its actual output will average at around a mere 75 megawatts. That’s less than a tenth of the output of a single medium size gas-fired 800MW power station.
Yet for the miserable amount of power we will get from that Thanet windfarm, we will be paying through the Renewables Obligation, £60 million a year in subsidies – plus another £40-odd million for the electricity itself. In subsidies alone, over the supposed 20-year life of those turbines, we will all be shelling out, through our electricity bills, £1.2 billion.
The other day in my column I did a few sums on just three items of our fast-expanding renewables portfolio - all based on official figures. I’ve already mentioned the £100 billion the government hopes to see spent on offshore wind turbines by 2020. That’s £10 billion a year, Then Ofgem tells us that over the next ten years we shall have to pay another £40 billion to connect up all our turbines to the national grid. That’s another £4 billion a year. Then we look at the government’s estimate for what by 2020 we shall be having to pay for its Feed-In tariff on solar power. Another £8 billion a year. Even the Great Moonbat of the Guardian went berserk about that one.
Add those figures up and they come to £22 billlon a year. Yet last year the total wholesale cost of all the electricity generated and used in the UK was just £18.6 billion.
In other words, just those three items alone would more than double the price we all pay for electricity – when we are told that already there are 4.6 million households in this country living in fuel poverty. And that doesn’t include the 100 percent subsidies we shall have to pay for the power produced by thousands more onshore wind turbines, It doesn’t include the subsidies we shall have to pay for other renewable sources of energy, such as biomass, And it doesn’t include the cost of all those gas-fired power stations we should have to build, running all the time, emitting CO2, simply to provide instant back-up for when the wind drops and we suddenly need a massive injection of conventional power to keep the lights on.
I will end on just two points.
Firstly, what are we doing all this for?
Even if you believe that global warming is a terrifying threat to mankind - even if we were to reduce our CO2 emissions by 80 percent in 40 years as the Climate Change Act dictates - Britain at present contributes only less than 2 percent to the world’s total emissions. Yet China is now adding more than that to the global total every year, making anything we do just an empty gesture.
Secondly, when we look at the pitiful amounts of renewable electricity we are going to get for all this money, it is equally quite irrelevant to the real problem roaring down on us all here in Britain, as we look forward to that 40 percent shortfall in our electricity supplies when 14 of our major nuclear and coal-fired power stations are in a few years time forced to close. And we are told that we are unlikely to get any nuclear replacements before 2020 and that we cannot build any new coal-fired plants unless they are fitted with the great fantasy of carbon capture and storage, which would double the cost of their electricity - even if the technology could be made to work which, as recent studies have confirmed, is never going to happen anyway.
What I would like to see emerging from today’s meeting is the thought that there might be brought together a group of say, a dozen or 20 MPs who have really done their homework on all these matters, and who could launch here in Parliament a concerted, persistent and properly briefed challenge to all this mad wishful thinking. The Climate Change Act was not only by far the most expensive law ever passed by Parliament, it represented as great a collective flight from reality as this once great institution has ever witnessed. It is time that flight from reality began seriously to be reversed.
And I would like to think that the fight-back for reality might begin here today.
Christopher Booker is a columnist for the British newspaper, The Telegraph.