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Old Greek wisdom powers Yorkshire dales

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Proof, if it were needed, that technical illiteracy is now well and truly out of control in the UK has been furnished in the last 24 hours by a rash of news reports on a small hydroelectric power plant. The Linton Falls generating station, built on the River Wharfe in the Yorkshire Dales in 1909 but out of action since 1948, is to return to service.

The Linton Falls project is being run by English Heritage and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. It will be fitted with Archimedes screws, designed by the famous ancient sage for lifting water but in this case to be used to generate electricity from the fluid's fall.

"Climate change is a major challenge for everyone and that includes the heritage sector. We need to relearn the old wisdom of self-sufficiency and sustainability," said Maddy Jago, Chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Historic Environment Forum. The Linton Falls station was put out of business by the nasty old National Grid, but now it will go back into action.

This, the Guardian tells us not once but twice, will provide "enough power for 100 local homes". The Daily Mail falls into the same trap. But the hard reality is that the twin screws will produce just 510,000 kilowatt-hours of energy each year.

An average UK home actually uses 22,795 kilowatt-hours of energy annually as of 2001 - probably a bit more by now, but no matter. So in fact the Linton Falls project will produce enough power for about 20 homes. Even in the Yorkshire Dales, that's not a lot of homes.

As usual, the standard renewables fudge has been employed - pretending that our homes only consume energy in the form of electricity. In fact, we only use electrical energy when we have to, because it costs more per kilowatt-hour ("unit") than fossil fuel does, owing to the inefficiencies of electric generating stations.

Mainly, for our big energy-hungry tasks - heating, hot water, a lot of our cooking - we use gas or oil. That's how we consume energy at home in this country.

So, if we want to seriously cut our carbon emissions or avoid future dependence on possibly untrustworthy overseas fossil suppliers in future, we need to tackle this. But, while we're all very willing to fool about turning the TV off standby (saving a single measly kilowatt-hour over the course of six weeks or so) most of us think that clean clothes, washed dishes, decent personal hygiene, cooked food and warm houses are things we should be allowed.

If we aren't going to burn gas for these things, we will have to do most of them with electricity. People are also expecting to electrify as much road transport as possible, or generate clean road fuel using electricity.

That's going to be an awful lot of 'leccy. If we're all going to keep on living as comfortably and healthily as we do now, it's going to need to be cheap, too - certainly no more expensive that it is now, and ideally cheaper as we're used to buying much of our energy in the form of cheap gas.

But maybe the Linton Falls Archimedes screws are a cheap way to make 'leccy?

Perhaps they are; but it would be very unusual for a project of this sort to be able to beat bigger facilities with proper modern equipment and economies of scale. We can't say for sure, though, as the quangocrats in charge haven't released any cost figures. ®

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