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UK's top boffin: Renewables targets were 'a mistake'

EU premiers were in the dark: now we all will be

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A former chief scientific advisor to the government has said that EU renewable-energy quotas will cause widespread fuel poverty. Sir David King believes that European heads of state, in agreeing the targets, may have mistaken electricity usage for total energy consumption - leading to overly ambitious and expensive goals being set.

"If we overdo wind we are going to put up the price of electricity and that means more people will fall into the fuel poverty trap," said Sir David, speaking to the BBC.

"Numbers around half a million [in the UK] are not at all unrealistic."

The professor was referring to EU targets which call for 20 per cent of all energy demand - not just electricity - to be met from renewable sources by 2020. As most forms of undisputedly renewable energy are best suited to electricity generation, and wind is the technology best suited to the UK, government estimates suggest that this will actually mean 35 per cent of UK 'leccy having to be from wind.

Wind electricity is significantly more expensive than other kinds, and the UK's system of quotas - the "renewables obligation" - ultimately passes that cost to the consumer via the energy providers. Thus, Prof King believes that a large amount of wind power will mean even more electricity price rises, hitting poorer people especially hard.

King believes that the EU heads of state may only have meant to sign up to 20 per cent of electricity being renewable, not 20 per cent of all energy used.

"I think there was some degree of confusion at the heads of states meeting dealing with this," he told the Beeb.

"If they had said 20 per cent renewables on the electricity grids across the European Union by 2020, we would have had a realistic target... saying 20 per cent of all energy, I actually wonder whether that wasn't a mistake. I was rather surprised when I heard what the decision was."

The prof believes that the EU should change its mind, as it is doing on biofuels.

"This is an issue which needs to be revisited and I say this as somebody who feels that we really have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions very substantially... it is an expensive, and not a very clever route to go for 35 to 40 per cent on wind turbines."

Predictably, the British Wind Energy Association dismissed the prof's thoughts.

"We don't have to pay for wind power - it just comes to us naturally," BWEA chief Maria McCaffery told the Beeb.

"It will in time drive down the basic cost of energy and actually help the fuel poverty situation, that certainly is our expectation."

The Beeb's report will be broadcast on Radio 4 tonight at 8pm UK time. ®

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