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Windfarm Britain means (very) expensive electricity

Renewable energy at normal prices 'is a myth'

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Politicians are reluctant to tell you all this. So is the BBC.

This notion of seriously increased electricity prices might cast some doubt on the desirability of electric cars and railways, with unfortunate consequences for low-carbon transport. (Perhaps not so much in the case of cars, owing to the enormous taxes on motor fuel.) Expensive electricity would also tend to make domestic users favour gas and heating oil over electricity even more than they do now. (A kilowatt-hour of gas is already much cheaper than one of 'leccy, which is why we tend do everything we can with it: hot water, heating, cooking. A normal home already uses significantly more kWh of gas or oil than of 'leccy as a result.)

Gas-powered fridges, gas-powered air conditioning, combined-heat-and-power microgen plants, increased industrial use of gas and other such things might come into vogue with a vengeance in the future Windfarm Britain, further worsening our national carbon burden and gas-supply problems.

It's also worthy of note that experts believe that the fossil sector would become significantly dirtier than is now projected under these circumstances, as fuel-efficient but capital-intensive combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) would be replaced by tougher, cheaper, carbon-spewing gear more able to stand being thrashed on and off all the time. That's why the Renewable Energy Foundation's Dr John Constable, commenting on the new report, told the Beeb:

"Less ambitious levels of wind would almost certainly result in a system which is not only just as clean but is also more robust and affordable."

Amazingly, given all this, Beeb environment correspondent Roger Harrabin has lately chosen to report:

A major obstacle to wind was demolished when a study from National Grid last week concluded that the electricity distribution grid could cope with on-off wind energy without spending a lot on back-up fossil fuel power stations.

This conclusion countered a key argument used by opponents of wind power, who suggested that the UK would still need to build extra fossil fuel power stations in order to bridge the gap between demand and supply when the wind did not blow.

A study to be published next week, by consultants Poyry, will suggest that by 2030 wind will be the dominant source of electricity for the UK.

Actually the Pöyry study says no such thing - even in the Windfarm Britain scenario envisaged by the government, a majority of 'leccy would come from thermal sources rather than renewable (and part of the renewables would be tidal rather than wind, but pass on). The report also says, as we have seen, that massive extra costs over and above those of the windfarms themselves will hit the thermal sector if the lights are to be kept on.

But Harrabin of the BBC goes on undaunted:

The [Pöyry] study amplifies a recent paper from National Grid itself stating that a move towards wind power would not necessitate widespread investment in expensive back-up power plants fuelled by gas or coal.

This is a key finding which helps remove one of the main barriers to the advance of wind...

Harrabin does eventually admit that Windfarm Britain is going to cost a lot, though it's hard to see where he thinks all the extra cash on the electricity bill - over and above that for the windfarms' ROC money - is going, if not to "expensive back-up power plants fuelled by gas or coal".

Anyway, it's all the government's fault, it seems.

Politicians are still reluctant to pass on this message to the public.

They are, as witness their ongoing pretence that the ROC scheme is somehow a "subsidy" rather than a tax levied on electricity users.

But consider Harrabin's headline - "Wind 'can revolutionise UK power'" (Who's he quoting? Himself?) and his opening lines:

Research from analysts Poyry says that the UK can massively expand wind power by 2030 without suffering power cuts or a melt-down of the National Grid.

No it doesn't. And then:

The cost of electricity would then be determined not by consumer demand, but by how hard the wind is blowing.

When it is windy power will be so cheap that other forms of generation will be unable to compete, the report says.

But the power won't be cheap to users even when it's windy, thanks to the ROC system. And when it isn't windy, power will be so expensive it'll make your eyes water. Overall, your electricity bill will be a great deal higher than it now is.

It's not just politicians who are reluctant to tell the expensive truth about wind power, it seems. Perhaps Harrabin was afraid of another bitchslap from the orthodox greens if he reported the news himself. ®

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