Political electricity

Environmental campaigner Angela Kelly attacks proposals to increase the number of wind farms in the UK

UK government policy on wind power encourages the pursuit of financial gain. An artificial market created by huge subsidies props up the industry at enormous and totally unwarranted cost to the environment and society.

DTI's Energy White Paper makes it clear that all consumers pay heavily for this subsidy via their bills.

Green tariff consumers believe they are saving the world. In fact they are causing a heavy penalty to be transferred to all other consumers as their green electricity costs up to three times what they actually pay. "By 2010, it is estimated that this support& will be worth around £1bn/year to the UK renewables industry," according to the paper.

First it was the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation. Now it is the Renewables Obligation, the Climate Change Levy exemption and Renewable Obligation Certificates, which even Ofgem does not like.

A DTI correspondent recently said that the ROC is now up to £50 (from its start at £30 two years ago). Together with Levy exemptions this pays an effective "subsidy" on wind electricity that more than doubles its value. As the Energy White Paper spells out, this is 'bled' from all consumers' electricity bills.

Consumers landed with huge costs

Public opposition to wind farms in the UK has risen rapidly as the facts about wind power become known and consumers realise that they will be landed with the huge cost. Danish electricity prices are the highest in Europe thanks to wind power. Investment and insurance in such risky projects can prove difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. This has led to reports appearing in newspapers of "city financiers urging the government to underwrite £12bn of investment in wind energy or face the possibility that it may be forced to scrap its ambitious plans to have 4m homes powered by wind by 2010" (The Times). According to the Danish media, Vestas, one of the world's largest wind turbine companies, has announced that every last one of its wind turbines installed offshore at the flagship Horns Reef project will be dismantled for tests and repairs due to ongoing problems. "All 81 of the V80 2MW turbines will be dismantled, including all of the units installed offshore and the test nacelle located on land near the city of Esbjerg," a report stated. No wonder a windfarm developer in Scotland has recently said that offshore wind is not proving as lucrative as expected!

"Green energy flops!" Die Zeit announced on 30 October 2003 in an article illustrated with turbines with drooping blades. Consumers will no doubt be bled once more when similar high risk ventures in the UK also failå.

Fuelled by subsidies

All wind farms in Europe are fuelled by subsidies. And the UK's plans to rely more heavily on wind power will bring extra costs - vast new wind farms in Scotland must be connected with England, where demand for energy is high. But existing transmission lines have no more capacity. Grid improvements will cost £1.3bn up to 2010, and even more if a proposed cable is laid the length of the Irish Sea. Planned offshore wind farms, proudly announced in July by trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt, will be even more expensive. The estimated cost of building them is £17bn, but the same money could pay for new gas turbines producing five times as much energy, according to John Bower, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

A Der Spiegel article, Windmill Madness, confirmed the huge cost of windpower and the very strong opposition to wind farms all over Europe: "The dream of environmentally friendly energy (has led) to the highly subsidised devastation of the landscape," it claimed.

Power companies in Germany are forced by law to hook up with wind turbines, buy their power and distribute it. If the capacity of the grid is insufficient, distributors have to build additional transmission lines at their own cost. They have to pay over twice as much for renewable power, even if they don't need the energy.

Because of the unreliability of wind power, 8-900kW of 'non-renewable' energy has to be kept in reserve for every 1,000kW of wind power. At the end of 2003, European distributor E.ON Netz raised the grid users' rate by 10% because of the growing burden of wind energy on the grid.

Germany's installed wind power capacity grew faster than the amount of electricity actually produced by wind energy plants in the last six years, the national VDEW power industry group has stated. The result translated into a national load factor in Germany of about 14.8% - an economic catastrophe!

Banks reconsider

The growth of the wind sector in Germany is now slowing as banks reconsider investment strategy after disappointing results. The intermittent nature of wind means energy providers are forced to buy power on the market at up to 20 times the wholesale cost, yet sell surplus power very cheaply.

Helmut Alt, a science engineer at RWE, one of Germany's largest utility companies and a big provider of nuclear power said that: "Even if the wind fails to blow for no more than one hour a year we can't afford to shut down existing plants." A blackout of just one millisecond causes chaos in computers and timing devices. Without power, hospital patients are at risk, central heating stops, freezers thaw out, and home electronic equipment goes haywire.

The extra cost of "balance" power in Germany is about e500m/year. But keeping power plants idling to maintain supply is more polluting, like a car stopped at a traffic light. Engineers have reported that wind turbines have an insignificant impact on pollution reduction and in some cases even increase it.

This fact strikes at the heart of wind energy's promise and explains why not one power station has yet been replaced by the thousands of turbines already operating.

Frantic negotiations

Reports from Denmark talk of frantic negotiations to buy energy from neighbouring countries to maintain supply when forecasted wind doesn't eventuate. This has led to the vehemently anti-nuclear Danes buying nuclear power from Sweden and Finland. To make matters worse, when there's too much wind, surplus power is given away. In fact, in one case reports claimed Denmark had to pay Sweden to take electricity of its hands.

Expensive disaster

Business people, economists and politicians lined up to make their disdain for wind energy clear in a Readers' Digest article: "In green terms, windmills are a mistake and economically they make no sense," Niels Gram of the Danish Federation of Industries, said. "In just a few years we've gone from some of the cheapest electricity in Europe to some of the most costly," said Jytte Kaad Jensen, chief economist for Eltra, Denmark's largest electricity distributor.

And Aase Madsen MP, who chairs energy policy in the Danish parliament, was even more emphatic: "For our industry it has been a terribly expensive disaster." No reduction in CO2 emissions

"Windpower would be a non-starter without the hidden subsidy of the Renewables Obligation and the Climate Change Levy exemption. These effectively make a small charge on all electricity generation and transfer it as a subsidy to the tiny percentage of renewably generated electricity.

The Renewables Obligation is also a tradable commodity. Including this market increment, the total subsidy is worth twice the wholesale value of the electricity. This seems complicated, and indeed it was intended to be. It is difficult to explain or understand, yet is one of the biggest premiums there has ever been on the entire product of a single industry. It increases the price paid for wind electricity to over 7.5p/kWh compared with about 2.5p/kWh for wholesale thermal electricity.

Two years ago we had RO of £30/MWh with ROC market increment of £17, giving a total of £47/MWh and also the £4.30/MWh of CCL exemption. So wind was effectively in receipt of a subsidy of £51.30/MWh - you could call it a premium to silence critics. This is seven times the subsidy which nuclear power received and 27 times the subsidy which coal receives, according to Doctor John Etherington, anti-wind campaigner and former Reader of Ecology at the University of Wales.

What about the target to reduce CO2 emissions? These have risen in Denmark and the UK. Targets should be set to encourage energy efficiency rather than targets to produce more energy from a source which is neither sustainable nor a true alternative. And it destroys the ultimate finite resource - our rural heritage. American academics are also not impressed. In fact, Howard Hayden, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Connecticut was scathing when he wrote: "In recent years, the little country Denmark has gained a certain amount of fame with its wind turbines. No, they don't get much electricity from them. They sell them to suckers."

The Danes, with an economy heavily dependent on the export of wind turbines, aptly describe windpower as "political electricity". ELSAM, one of Denmark's largest energy utilities, in its presentation at Copenhagen, on 27 May 2004, stated: "Increased development of wind turbines does not reduce Danish CO2 emissions." Reading this, is it conceivable that our political masters will continue to invest electricity consumers' money in 'windmill madness'?


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