Energy and climate change

Energy and climate change – a costly policy

Chapter summary

  • In 1990 the UN’s climate panel predicted twice the global warming that has occurred since.
  • Higher prices, not energy efficiency, are the reason for falling electricity consumption in Scotland.
  • Wind farms are costly, inefficient, intermittent, polluting killers of birds and bats by the million. They have no place in a modern Scotland, and are a tourism-destroying intrusion on its landscape.
  • Making global warming go away via “renewables” is 10-100 times costlier than letting it happen, even if it were to happen at the predicted rate and cost. Mitigation today is nothing like as cost-effective as adaptation the day after tomorrow.
  • The cost of “renewables” in higher fuel and power prices is a poll tax on low-income families.
  • Scotland would be dependent on England both to buy its surplus power when the wind was blowing andto supply power to it when the wind was not blowing. England would dictate the price in both directions.

Windmills: a 14th-century solution to a 21st-century non-problem

The notion that it is essential to forestall global warming driven by rising industrial emissions of greenhouse gases depends not so much on observations as on predictions. Observations show that there has been little or no global warming distinguishable from the combined measurement, coverage and bias uncertainties for a decade or two. The chart below, for instance, shows a zero least-squares linear regression trend on Remote Sensing Systems’ satellite lower-troposphere temperature data for the past 17 years 10 months.

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The computer predictions of future global warming on which the policies of nearly all nations are founded have not proven skilful. For instance, the orange region on the chart below shows the range of near-term predictions made by the UN’s climate panel, the IPCC, in its 1990 First Assessment Report. The centrally-predicted trend is shown as a thick red line. However, the bright blue trend on 25 years of real-world temperature measurements, here taken as the mean of the two satellite and three terrestrial datasets, shows that in 1990 the models predicted double the warming that has occurred since then.


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Economic studies have shown that the cost of measures to forestall global warming today is typically greater (IPCC, 2013), and can be 10-100 times greater (NIPCC, 2014) than the cost of permitting global warming to occur at the predicted rate of 2.5 C° this century and paying to adapt to any adverse consequences.

Since significant global warming has not occurred for close to two decades, since predictions have proven greatly exaggerated over as long as a quarter of a century, and since mitigation today is many times costlier than adaptation the day after tomorrow, a rational economic policy would be to wait for a further 5-10 years to observe whether predictions of global warming continue to exceed observations.

The political imperative for the SNP, however, has been to seek support from the Greens, since all other parties are implacably opposed to separation. Accordingly, the party has adopted an aggressive and expensive policy of spending on windmills – 14th-century technology as a 21st-century non-solution to what may be a non-problem.

The damage to the water-table in western China caused by pollution from the acid that leaches the neodymium from the ore for the motors, the killing of rare birds and bats in significant numbers, and the scarring of the beautiful Scottish landscape, should also be counted as part of the cost of the dash for “renewables”, as should the excess winter deaths caused by the doubling of electricity prices in recent years, to which the extravagant cost of “renewables” has made no small contribution.

The opportunity losses from the diversion of substantial resources to unproductive wind farms and the increasing uncompetitiveness of power-intensive industries as electricity prices pointlessly rise as a result of inefficient, subsidised green-energy sources, are also substantial negative externalities consequent on that policy.

The chart below shows one effect of higher power prices and the shutdown of power-intensive industries: a long-term fall in mean annual domestic electricity consumption that owes little to improvements in energy efficiency.

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The dash for renewables, illustrated in the chart below, represents the largest and fastest transfer of wealth and power from the poor to the rich in the history of Scotland.

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The administration plans eventually to generate the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s power by windmills. As the chart below demonstrates, the fraction of Scotland’s electricity supplied in the most expensive form – “renewables” – continues to increase rapidly.

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Energy shortages have become a serious risk as administrations on both sides of the Border have failed either to commission new nuclear stations or to defend existing perfectly viable coal-fired stations from closure via the European Union’s costly and largely purposeless Large Combustion Plants Directive.

The Scottish example shows that any climate mitigation policy that is cheap enough to be affordable will be ineffective, while any such policy costly enough to be effective will be unaffordable.

Subsidies to the development, installation and operation of renewable-energy systems in Scotland are among the most generous in the world. The extent to which Scotland, the United Kingdom or the European Union will be willing or able to countenance or maintain such levels of subsidy in the medium term is questionable.

In Spain, Denmark, and Germany, desubsidisation has already begun, and some renewable-energy investors who had hoped to receive long-term subsidies at today’s rates have consequently gone out of business. Some desubsidisation has also been attempted by the UK Government, but was overthrown in the courts. Desubsidisation is very likely to occur in Scotland too, as the cost-ineffectiveness of “renewable” energy becomes apparent to all.

Notwithstanding certain recent ambitious statements by politicians to the contrary, desubsidisation may begin quite soon in Scotland as an inescapable emergency response to excessive and refractory public-sector deficits.

The modalities of subsidy are inexplicit and opaque. Neither Ministers nor officials show awareness of how much the subsidy regime is costing. The costs, which are substantial, fall both on taxpayers

through levies and direct subsidies and on the general economy through artificially and excessively elevated electricity and gasoline prices.

The regime of subsidy to “renewables” represents a significant and damaging market distortion, arbitrarily increasing costs of manufacture and especially of transport across Scotland’s long distances, and unduly favouring existing wealth, particularly among landowners, at startlingly great expense to the general population, and particularly to the very poorest.

Overpriced fuel and power represent a savage poll-tax on low-income households – a poll-tax costlier, more pervasive and more pernicious than the local-government poll tax that Scotland opposed so vigorously when the government of Margaret Thatcher introduced it in the 1980s. The rate of fuel poverty in Scotland is thrice that in the UK as a whole.

Scotland’s capacity for wind generation (at mean wind-speeds >5.5 m s–1) is considerable, but only at heavy and already visible detriment to the landscape that is Scotland’s chief tourist attraction. Destruction of rare predatory birds and also of bats is perhaps the most serious environmental consequence of Scotland’s needless dash for wind.

Capacity for tidal power (at mean tidal stream velocities >2 m s–1) is also not insignificant, and, according to HM Government’s chief scientific adviser, is widely seen as less environment-unfriendly than other renewable species. However, tidal capture is an infant technology with negligible Scottish output to date, though a few new schemes will soon be in the water, and the coastal environment is hostile even to installations with no moving parts. The capital costs both of installation and of grid connection are heavy, and the current-account costs of maintenance are also excessive. The Betz limit on the output of tidal stations, taken with slack-water downtime and the limited number of sites with sufficient tidal flow for viability provide little hope that affordable tidal power will make a significant contribution to Scotland’s electricity supply.

Capacity for large-scale hydro-electric generation in Scotland has already been fully exploited: most future hydro developments will be small-scale, or will be improvements to existing larger developments. Solar electric power is unviable anywhere in Scotland. Ground-source heat-pumps are of limited, local value only. Other such technologies are on too small a scale to be noteworthy. This report accordingly focuses on wind power, which may be less cost-ineffective than other renewables.

Wind power is not cost-effective for taxpayers, though in certain circumstances profits for investors in development, construction and operation are achievable, but only while subsidies remain at today’s imprudent and unsustainably high levels.

In Scotland it is becoming ever harder for electricity suppliers to meet demand, particularly at peak times, because capacity is dwindling faster than demand and the administration’s policy prevents the design or commissioning of new base-load power, whether nuclear or fossil-fuelled.

The current Scottish administration opposes civilian as well as military uses of nuclear power, refusing to countenance the replacement of Torness and Hunterston at the approaching end of their useful lives. The administration also opposes fossil-fuelled power. It has no plans to replace the four major coal-fired plants that must be shut down within the next decade to comply with the Large Combustion Plants “Directive”.

Paradoxically, the dash for “renewables” reduces Scotland’s independence from the rest of the United Kingdom, in both directions. Since Scotland within the decade will be unable to generate enough base- load power to keep the lights on when the wind is not blowing, it will be compelled to buy up to 40% of its electrical power from England, at whatever cost England decides to charge. England will become the monopoly supplier of base-load energy to Scotland.

Since Scotland plans to generate the equivalent of 100% of its electricity consumption from “renewables”, during periods when too much wind is blowing it will be compelled either to pay heavy subsidies to owners of wind farms to go offline or to sell the surplus electricity to England via the interconnect at whatever price England is prepared to pay. England will become the monopsony customer for surplus electricity production from Scotland.

This bi-directional dependence upon England both as a supplier and as a consumer of Scotland’s electricity is not only a further instance of a separated Scotland’s lack of true independence: it is also, in a business sense, imprudent. In certain circumstances, it poses a strategic threat to Scotland and provides England with a strategic opportunity. It introduces uncertainty and instability to the supply of electrical power in Scotland, and inflicts needlessly heavy costs on both industrial and domestic users of power. Finally, it inflicts upon the Scottish exchequer an unnecessarily costly expenditure commitment whose net effect on the climate will scarcely be detectable, but whose effect on the already unsustainably wide fiscal gap will be unquestionably adverse.

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