Monday 15 October 2007


As well as fighting in Europe for his fabled ‘red lines’, Brown’s hapless troops must play their part to defuse one of Blair’s little Euro time-bombs. As picked up in Mr Unslicker’s weekend roundup below, in his last attendance at the Council of Ministers in March Blair was party to the agreement that the EU would collectively meet a ‘binding’ obligation for 20% of its primary energy needs to be met by ‘renewables’ by 2020.
Which country is to do what, and how ? The ‘burden-sharing’ negotiations are beginning in earnest. With the UK presently getting less than 2% of our energy from so-called renewable sources (laughably, this includes the burning of foot-n-mouth carcasses etc, surely a reductio ad absurdum), it is deeply implausible the UK could get anywhere near the 20%, irrespective of how much money is thrown at it.
Civil servants have all manner of weasely advice for ministers, leaked in August, as to how we can wriggle off this 20% hook. The UK’s devious position is angering several of our EU ‘partners’, not to mention assorted greenies and of course the greedies - the renewables industry, anxious for ever more massive subsidies for its ridiculously uneconomic schemes.
Underlying all this faffing about is a much more serious issue. Not only does the ‘Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’ have no idea how the target could be met in practical terms – it doesn’t even know where our electricity will be coming from at all beyond around 2020.
Certainly it can summon up scenarios for future ‘generation mix’, but given the certainty of nuclear and ‘old-coal’ plant closures, and the long lead-times for new developments (especially - don't laugh - nucs and dream-schemes like the Severn Barrage), they all look highly optimistic. So much of future capacity must come in large chunks of new-build that if we are going to meet our needs at all it will be from good old coal and gas, not the relatively tiny (as well as expensive) increments in which renewables come. There is nothing concrete behind the optimism: merely blind faith in a poorly understood laissez-faire philosophy that the market will provide.
Perhaps they might like to get off their empty nuclear fixation and sort out the bread-and butter issue of being sure the the lights will stay on, before committing us to their fantasy feel-good targets.


Newmania said...

Meanwhile we are destroying precious beautiful landscpaes soemtimes untouched for centureies by filling them up with big ugly concrete windmills .

Its a crime against the soul

Old BE said...

I quite like windmills they are impressive structures. Not sure if they are the way to go for generation.

There was a relatively free market in new-build power stations until NL brought in their gas moratorium as a sop to the coal miners.

Nick Drew said...

Ed, I am with you on the aesthetics (sorry Mr M), its the economics I abhor, which are a crime of another sort (this is £££-central over here !)

That market might have been relatively free, Ed, but it was highly distorted, with a hidden subsidy. The Regional Electricity Companies had explicitly been given regulatory approval to load the cost of the fairly expensive electricity purchase agreements (from the Dash-for-Gas power plants) onto the residential customers, who until the end of the '90s had nowhere else to go.

But it certainly resulted in very large-scale new build and a healthy capacity margin. If NuLab wants another such wave of investment-in-a-hurry they will need to figure out the market mechanism they are going to employ.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Scrap subsidies for windmills (however beautiful) and build coal-fired power stations like billy-o. There's plenty of coal in them thar hills.

And sod the EU's 20% target, we can just leave, can't we?

Mark Wadsworth said...

Oh, and scrap the hidden subsidies for nuclear power as well.

Nick Drew said...

Mark - always good to meet a man who cuts to the chase!

It will indeed be interesting to see what new sub they dream up for nucs

Anonymous said...

The industry has already made up its mind. Due to the high risk involved in build of nuclear or fossil fuel stations in the longer term (i.e. a future government might decide to abolish such noxious things) the industry is going ahead with plans with a variety of wind-farms. The target, however, is extremely aggressive given the UK's dependency on gas for heating.

Nick Drew said...

'extremely aggressive' - AKA infeasible !

but, yup, there will be a lot of (subsidised) wind farms along the way to the dénouement. Private equity is pouring in

Anonymous said...

I should point out that the UK is unlikely to have to cut by anything like 20% since it has such low CO2 output anyway. The burden is likely to fall on countries like Germany with huge industrial complexes belching out massive quantities of CO2. The question is, will the UK be forced to pay to subsidise improvements in CO2 output in Germany, Poland and the like? It seems quite likely....

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