Archive for March 2nd, 2010

Hot air doesn’t cut carbon emissions (with petition)

March 2, 2010

My collegue James Jennings just alerted me of this news item:

Apparently micro wind turbines could now be one of the many tools that will be used by local councils that are getting into the energy business. Apparently this news comes as Local Councils will be allowed to start generating and selling back electricity to generate green power in Miliband. All of this is a plan to curb emissions…

You don’t need a degree in media study to know that a paragraph of Government sponsored pseudo-news that contains the word “apparently” twice is “apparently” very dodgy.
Because Miliband gets new plan to curb emissions is “apparently” just that.

But the article contains also another tell-tale of apparentlyness, it tells us that:

The London borough of Lewisham wants to begin generating energy

Now, the London Borough of Lewisham has been for decades at the cutting edge of the production of hot air, so the step to micro wind turbines is only natural, but I really think we should object to it.

In his yesterday’s Guardian article explicitly entitled are we really going to let ourselves be duped into this solar panel rip-off? George Monbiot eloquently explains how incredibly inefficient this scheme is:

The people who sell solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and micro wind turbines in the UK insist they represent a good investment. The arguments I have had with them have been long and bitter. But the debate has now been brought to an end with the publication of the government’s table of tariffs: the rewards people will receive for installing different kinds of generators. The government wants everyone to get the same rate of return. So while the electricity you might generate from large wind turbines and hydro plants will earn you 4.5p per kilowatt hour, mini wind turbines get 34p, and solar panels 41p. In other words, the government acknowledges that micro wind and solar PV in the UK are between seven and nine times less cost-effective than the alternatives.

It expects this scheme to save 7m tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020. Assuming – generously – that the rate of installation keeps accelerating, this suggests a saving of about 20m tonnes of CO2 by 2030. The estimated price by then is £8.6bn. This means it will cost about £430 to save one tonne of CO2.

Last year the consultancy company McKinsey published a table of cost comparisons. It found that you could save a tonne of CO2 for £3 by investing in geothermal energy, or for £8 by building a nuclear power plant. Insulating commercial buildings costs nothing; in fact it saves £60 for every tonne of CO2 you reduce; replacing incandescent lightbulbs with LEDs saves £80 per tonne. The government predicts that the tradeable value of the carbon saved by its £8.6bn scheme will be £420m. That’s some return on investment.

This is one of the worst possible uses of our money in the name of the curbing carbon emissions and saving our environment. It doesn’t stimulate the green economy, it doesn’t produce appreciable amounts of energy, and most of all, it doesn’t have a meaningful impact on the environment for the money spent.

Those that get into this scheme will make some good money out of it. Only that you’d be accomplice to a gigantic scam, as Monbiot explains:

Buying a solar panel is now the best investment a householder can make. The tariffs will deliver a return of between 5% and 8% a year, which is both index linked (making a nominal return of between 7% and 10%) and tax-free. The payback is guaranteed for 25 years. If you own a house and can afford the investment, you’d be crazy not to cash in. If you don’t and can’t, you must sit and watch your money being used to pay for someone else’s fashion accessory.

It’s one of those pacts with the devil that ultimately damage the same reason they claim to be supporting, like selling weapons to Saddam Hussein to further stability in the Middle East. That worked!

Those who hate environmentalism have spent years looking for the definitive example of a great green rip-off. Finally it arrives, and nobody notices. The government is about to shift £8.6bn from the poor to the middle classes. It expects a loss on this scheme of £8.2bn, or 95%. Yet the media is silent. The opposition urges only that the scam should be expanded.

Monbiot is right, this is about people living in flats paying more for their electricity in order to subsidize the solar panels and wind turbines of those that fitted them on top of their house. The environmental impact of this grotesque parody of environmental policy is negligible. Those countries that have gone down this route years ago are now getting out of it as all evidence shows that the amount of energy generated is minuscule, emissions cut are nil.

We don’t need to guess the results: the German government made the same mistake 10 years ago. By 2006 its generous feed-in tariffs had stimulated 230,000 solar roofs, at a cost of ¤1.2bn. Their total contribution to the country’s electricity supply was 0.4%. Their total contribution to carbon savings, as a paper in the journal Energy Policy points out, is zero. This is because Germany, like the UK, belongs to the European emissions trading scheme. Any savings made by feed-in tariffs permit other industries to raise their emissions. Either the trading scheme works, in which case the tariffs are pointless, or it doesn’t, in which case it needs to be overhauled. The government can’t have it both ways.

A week ago the German government decided to reduce sharply the tariff it pays for solar PV, on the grounds that it is a waste of money. Just as the Germans have begun to abandon their monumental mistake, we are about to repeat it.

We must say no.

This scheme appropriately starts on 1st April. There isn’t much time left to try and oppose it.
At local level we can ask Lewisham Council, which is an enthusiastic supporter of this scheme, to withdraw from it. If that would happen then the Government may decide to take notice of the criticisms moved towards this wasteful, even counterproductive, ill-conceived policy.
Sign the petition here.