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UK geothermal gets a tiddling little boost

As money's thrown at wind farms

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Geothermal energy, one of the few renewables with promise, has been given a small boost from the government. The Department for Energy and Climate Change has announced a £1m fund to help locate sites for small power facilities, producing up to 2MWe.

It's a very, very small boost, though. The size of the plants envisaged and the subsidies available are both minuscule - particularly compared to the gravy train that is wind turbines. And the grant only enables the bidder to go site-hunting, or in DECC's words "carry out exploratory work needed to find viable sites", rather than start digging bores and laying pipes.

To get a perspective on just how small this is, 2MWe is about what a single large wind turbine can churn out, optimally. And the £1m fund pales besides the £1bn in subsidies paid out to UK wind power operators, according to Ofgem. Much of this subsidy comes from us, via our fuel bills. Over half of what a wind turbine "earns", comes not from the value of the electricity sold, but as a direct wealth transfer from citizens to the private operator.

The earlier round of geothermal funding was a little more generous, with a £4m pot. A project in Cornwall received £1.475m for a three-well plant generating 10MWe and 55MWth - enough, the company says, to heat 20 schools and 2,000 homes for a year.

Geothermal energy is far more reliable than wind, cheaper, and doesn't need a base load backup (usually coal-fired), since the earth doesn't "go out". Denmark recently called a halt to its wind power program, which saw 4,000 onshore turbines built. The Danes pay twice as much for the electricity as rivals, despite importing their base load from neighbours.

But somebody is bound to complain. They always do. Particularly when the metaphor - our precious Mother Earth being penetrated by wicked mankind - is so potent. Don't you think? And besides - we might upset the otherwise peaceful Silurians. ®

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