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

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.


7 Responses to “Hot air doesn’t cut carbon emissions (with petition)”

  1. Sue Says:

    Hi Max
    Rather pushed for time right now, but Andy Cooper, one of our Green councillors in Kirklees has written a response to this.

  2. Max Says:

    Hi Sue,

    thanks, good points, and I strongly agree with all points put forward, I only disagree with the conclusions drawn from them.
    I think that there are other arguments to consider besides and that once all is taken into consideration the scheme looks less attractive from the point of view of public investment.

    Primarily I support the idea of microgeneration so that people can make their own energy and sell the eventual surplus to the grid, what I don’t support is this device of the inflated set tariffs to square the circle because panels are so expensive that the electricity gains are not financially worth their installation. It is a lot of money that’s thrown at something that on paper is inefficient. I understand that out of economic considerations it’s desirable, but if money are spent on that then they are not spent of something else.

    The tariff system works out much like a regressive tax, and Monbiot’s point is rather that large government led efforts paid equally by everyone should try to target what has the largest impact and aim at having the same impact for all, and this scheme does not do this because those that take the offer and install the micro turbines or PV panels receive a much bigger benefit than those that don’t, that only receive a share of the bill instead.
    Monbiot’s point is that those money could produce a much bigger gain in renewable energy that is equally enjoyed by all if it was for example spent on large offshore plants.

    I think he’s got a point. Small individual actions can happen without government support, large investment can only happen with government support, so when money are tight a choice must be made, and if money are spent on supporting small individual efforts then they are not spent on the large schemes.

    I read on the blog you link that:
    “Costs of solar panels are directly related to the current small size of the market. The aim of the feed in tariff/clean energy cashback policy is to develop a mass market for solar panels which will reduce the unit cost and therefore the cost of saving carbon.”

    I agree that this is a desirable outcome, but it is essentially a bribe to some in the public to take it on and make everyone else pay for it.
    It may work to an extent, and let’s hope it does well because this is a desirable outcome and the amount of money thrown at it is very large indeed so it better do something, but as many say it’s not enough then we’re really looking at either a lot of money spent for not much result or much more money spent on it in the future which means less for other investments in renewables.

    There is also a strong risk that a government set tariff works as a disincentive to come up with more affordable competing products. It will surely make people that want to invest in some form of renewables in the first place choose that instead of other forms just because there is this incentive, as a consequence it will therefore reduce other markets of competing and emerging products that instead stand on their own two legs without government support.

    I read on the blog you linked that:
    “Because the Clean Energy Cashback can be ‘assigned’ to the installer or social landlord who is installing the solar panels, the capital costs for installation could be met in their entirety by the revenue gained.”

    I didn’t know this and I like it, not a hole in the flank but a good address at what Monbiot says. But then I thought “hold on, there can’t be much surplus energy produced to pay it back in those schemes”, so I read more around and I learned that the cash back is earned on the energy produced, even if it is not put into the grid but used up, a clever thing that allows people to have a cake and eat it. I don’t like it but at least it allows many more people to take on the scheme.

    To sum up my position, I do support micro production and the idea that the energy produced can be sold to the grid, I am critical of the inflated tariff and have mixed feelings about the ‘have your cake and eat it’ mechanism.
    But I wouldn’t mind all that if I wouldn’t also agree with Monbiot that there is a major risk that this policy means giving up on large investments that would result in more benefits for more people.

    There could be other ways to support people that want to invest in small scale renewables, these are measures that add value to properties, and the government owns much of the banking system now, so it could be easily done differently.

  3. Lee Roach Says:

    Another argument is microgeneration is more efficient as energy is not lost in transmission, as it is when tranmitting energy around the grid. Transmission losses are between 2.6 – 12.2% or on average 7.7%.

  4. Max Says:

    Thanks Lee, that adds to the argument in favour of micro generation, but not much in favour of selling back to the grid, which anyway I think is only realistically considered as notional just to justify the cash back mechanism as there would be a negligible effect to the grid.

    Another thought that I had is that since we are in the European Union, that has already a very well stimulated pv panels market in Germany, we are in fact already benefiting from that stimulus. We can now buy pv cells at German prices and use the technology that’s available after their effort.

  5. Sue Says:

    Jeremy Leggett’s response to Monbiot in yesterday’s Guardian.

  6. Max Says:

    Hi Sue,

    I had already read it, and there are good points.
    But. I do wonder about the impact and the availability.

    Please convince me.

    On availability.
    I am a (mortage paying) home owner with a decent amount of south facing roof.
    On top of this I haven’t got any spare cash.
    Can I do it?

    On impact.
    If that sum would be spent on large scale renewables would it produce more or less energy?

  7. Max Says:

    And here’s Monbiot’s own response to that:

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: