Greenpeace-WWF Wind Claims Blown Away
By Peter C Glover
There are some charities to which I would not give a ‘wooden nickel’ (and I am a passionate charity giver). Top of the pile: Greenpeace and the WWF. Had they stuck to the task they were originally set up for things would be different. But they haven’t. Both are today highly politicized groups – as Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore confirms – spending large chunks of donations campaigning on issues about which their sum knowledge could fill the back of a postage stamp. Climate science and associated issues, for instance.
The dynamic duo charity campaigners have just published a new report A study into the economics of gas and offshore wind conducted for them by the consultancy Cambridge Econometrics for New Economic Thinking.
A headline for Bloomberg Businessweek which recently covered publication of the report read “UK Offshore Wind Better Boost for Economy than Gas, WWF says”. The report suggests that the UK economy would be better off by £20 billion come 2030 if it majored on wind power and ignored gas, especially the UK’s enormous shale gas reserves. The essence of the report’s key finding is that “large-scale development in offshore wind would impact UK GDP and employment” to “increase GDP by 0.8 percent”. If the rate of current windfarm developments was sustained, the report claims that it would create 100,000 jobs by 2525 “falling to 75,000 by 2030”. Given the current abject failure to create green jobs in any numbers thus far, and the fact, as studies elsewhere conclude, that green jobs destroy real jobs, not to mention the inability to cut the umbilical cord of public subsidy, that’s quite a claim.
But then the claim does depend on a whole bunch of ifs. They include the presence of local infrastructure supply chains; boosting the “import content” of offshore wind projects (i.e. building far more windfarms than are currently planned); and the UK becoming a “major global centre” able to attract investment. The report further assumes that gas prices will inexorably rise and that investment in UK shale gas would only “replace” reducing North Sea gas reserves. We’ll take the wind claims first.
The reason the report focuses on offshore windfarms is that onshore turbines are proving an abysmal failure. Wind turbines generally only operate around 20 to 30 percent of the claimed capacity and are hugely unpopular. They also require the costly extra back-up of gas-fired generators to kick-in every time they fail (not least at the coldest period of the year) and have to be turned off when the wind blows about 30 mph. And all for a paltry power generation return on investment. No private investor in their right mind would risk their own money to invest in wind power if the government was not guaranteeing market-skewing high prices. Neither does the new report factor in other major costs, such as the considerable investment in the National Grid necessary to accommodate wind’s variability.
The report authors should first have read John Etherington’s The Wind Farm Scam to grasp the inherent and costly associated problems of wind. Etherington is both an ecologist and a specialist researcher into the implications of intermittent renewable electricity generation, especially wind power. “Wind power is remarkably expensive in capital investment for a given output,” says Etherington who goes on to provide a raft of key statistics that reveal just how poor the investment-to-return ratio of wind power is, with offshore proving twice as poor as onshore (p.74). His book highlights how the UK’s energy watchdog Ofgem identifies that the National Grid would require £20 billion of investment, equal to its current capital value – and oddly the same figure by which the report maintains the UK would be better off – “to cope with the dispersed and remote nature of wind power and other intermittents.” An impressive array of hard data, prompts Etherington to conclude that the “wind monsters turbines will do nothing useful for us, will spread environmental harm and above all have only one serious function – of minting money for the undeserving, aided and abetted by the uneducated”.
The reality is it that when it comes to harnessing any potential energy resource this never comes free. The physics of energy density coupled with the economics of extraction, infrastructure costs, support mechanisms, transport and delivery all each need to be factored in. That’s precisely why we ditched unreliable and uneconomic wind powered sailing ships in the nineteenth century for far more efficient and cost-effective steam power. And we might also note the power generation chaos that Germany’s over-investment in renewable wind power has caused after they went down the same path urged by this new report.
But what of the report’s claim that natural gas prices can only rise?
Anyone familiar with the transformation that the shale gas boom is having on the US manufacturing industry and soaring job creation – 600,000 by 2011 alone – and on the economy can only wonder at the reluctance of Europe to pursue the same path. The switch from coal to gas in electricity generation has not only put the US within sight of achieving complete domestic gas self-reliance, but has cut the cost of electricity per se. As a direct result of the shale gas revolution, Americans now pay half of that paid by Europeans and Britain’s for their natural gas. And as UK shale gas expert Nick Grealy has consistently shown, shale gas development can only cause UK gas prices to fall. It ought to be a no-brainer.
Britain has world class shale gas reserves, the extraction of which would mean less reliance on imports, significant real (not subsidized) job creation and a potential £1.5 trillion energy boost to the UK economy. Equally, shale gas would not merely “replace” reducing North Sea gas reserves, they would actually overlap for some considerable time negating even further the need for imports. As I have pointed out elsewhere, new discoveries and new technologies continually make North Sea gas and oil the “gift that just won’t quit giving”.
The UK Government are currently considering tax incentives to get the UK shale gas industry under way. That’s about all it would need as companies and potential private investors are already champing at the bit having seen the impact of shale gas development in the US. The simple fact is that the UK has, at the very least, 200 trillion cubic feet of the stuff, as much as is in the North Sea. It would be economically criminal not to exploit it. Indeed, if the government had not skewed the market to make wind appear commercially ‘viable’ by subsidizing it almost exclusively from government handouts, energy bill-hiking feed-in-tariffs and forcing power companies to buy renewably-sourced power at artificially guaranteed prices – further hiking energy bills to customers – there would not be any substantial wind power industry. Nor would we be bothering with the absurd claims of the political activists and social engineers masquerading as charity workers at Greenpeace and the WWF.
Fair enough. But at least the Greenpeace-WWF study was ‘independent’, right?
In fact Cambridge Econometrics, which bills itself as providing “independent economic analysis”, is wholly funded by its parent organisation the Cambridge Trust for New Thinking in Economics. The Trust was founded by Dr Terry Baker. Baker is currently the Director of Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research and was a lead author of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report in 2007. Anyone wanting to know what manner of shambolic, incoherent and highly politicized body the UN IPCC actually is will get chapter and verse from Donna Laframboise’s excellent book exposé. Dr Baker, it transpires, is patently a dyed-in-the-wool global warming alarmist and committed to the cause. He also happens to be chairman of Cambridge Econometrics.
Computer pioneer John McCarthy once said, “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense”. Or become politicized tin-shakers pushing absurd “independent economic analysis” it seems.
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