The energy firm NPower has been caught out dodging its taxes. Of course predictably the tabloid press immediately began spinning this as an anti-wind farm angle…ignoring the fact that 81% of the power generated by NPower comes from fossil fuel plants and not wind farms.
Admittedly NPower didn’t help matters by mumbling lots of excuses, citing their green energy commitments as one of those, which inevitably set off the tabloids, but clearly this is just another hatchet job by said rags.
My response as always to critics of wind power is to ask, what’s the alternative? Gas from the North Sea is running out and there’s climate change to consider. Shale gas, as I’ve described in a previous post on my energy blog is vastly over-hyped and possibly worse than coal for carbon emissions. Coal is dirty and polluting and given that Thatcher destroyed the UK coal industry, it would have to be imported. Whether we’re addicted and beholden to Russian coal, oil or natural gas I suspect is something of a moot point.
Nuclear power actually requires a higher level of subsidy than wind power (and the UK lacks the means to build and run the reactors itself). Indeed for the Tories perhaps the biggest obstacle to nuclear power is the fact that they’d need to nationalise the nuclear industry to make it work. For as this document from Citigroup Bank demonstrates, the markets have largely abandoned nuclear power as an economically viable alternative.
But hasn’t wind power driven up the price of electricity? Actually the bulk of recent price increases have been due to the rising wholesale price of gas. Not to mention price gouging by utilities, such as NPower. They are often very quick to pass on rises in gas prices to consumers but slow to put them down when the price falls.
Subsidies? Actually the subsidies paid to renewables are dwarfed by those paid out (directly and indirectly in the form of tax breaks) to subsidise fossil fuel consumption. The whole idea of subsidising renewables was always part of a messy compromise by government as they didn’t want to make the unpopular decision of removing the subsidies on fossil fuels, nor impose a carbon tax and force consumers to pay something closer to what fossil fuels actually cost.
Wind power these days represents one of the cheapest ways of generating electricity. While people will mumble about intermittency as an obstacle to wind power, this is as I describe again on my energy blog a red herring, and merely demonstrates how little they know about how electricity grids operate. Furthermore only about 20% of the UK’s energy consumption is electricity, the rest is heating and transport fuel and feedstock to various industries.
Portugal recently achieved a 70% renewables output on its grid via a combination of hydroelectic pumped storage and wind power over the last winter. I’m not suggesting wind power is a silver bullet, indeed a policy of wind, wind and yet more wind is doomed to failure, but they certainly are part of the solution.
So if anyone starts sounding off to you about the bane of windfarms, ask him this simple question, okay and what do you propose as an alternative?