Wednesday, 4 April 2012


Here's a suggestion. If it'll shut the nimbies up ... let's put a stop to ALL subsidies. Not just the quote-subsidies-unquote available for renewables. No: let's stop subsidies to all forms of energy generation, and especially the subsidies to gas and nuclear - you know, the subsidies that actually do exist.

If nothing else, that would mean that the delirious "Stop Subsidised Windfarms Around Tamworth" campaign would have to change its exceptionally silly name.

Given the nimbies' love of violent language and imagery, you'd have thought they'd plump for "SWAT". But no. Taking a giant leap into the realms of idiocy, the fools of SSWAT went a bit more sibilant than that. Because they're against "Subsidised Windfarms". Presumably, non-subsidised windfarms are okay. It's just the "subsidised" variety that they can't stomach.

Incidentally, "Stop Subsidised Windfarms Around Tamworth" are currently up in arms over a planning application for a 60-metre anenometer (wind-speed-measuring) mast. According to the woeful literature they've been thrusting through doors in the area, this very slim mast will be positioned in a "rural area of exceptional natural beauty" (aren't they all?). The mast is an "industrial structure" - typical nimby-speak, that - the appearance of which "will have a signficant impact on this outstanding and unspoilt countryside". Yeah, we get the picture: every nimby likes to think that they live in midst of the virgin forest.

"On a clear day", state the Tamworth nimbies, "the Peak District can be seen in the distance." This is probably one of the main reasons why anyone would want to live in the area: so that, every now and then, they might be able to catch a glimpse of somewhere that's even more "outstanding and unspoilt".

But here's the thing. Anyone familiar with anenometer masts knows that, unless you know what you're looking for, they can be pretty hard to spot. "Industrial" is only an effective description if you accept that a needle is "industrial". The impact of such a mast on the landscape is about the same as that of a tall needle standing upright. Very difficult to see at the best of times. The view of the distant Peak District (only on a "clear day") will not be affected in the slightest. The country-dwellers of the Tamworth area will still be able to see somewhere that's even more extraordinary than their own mind-blowingly attractive landscape. Chances are, they won't even notice the mast.

Of course, all this self-serving gibberish about the meterological mast is a cover. The nimby fools of SSWAT think that, if they can stop the mast, they can stop any future attempts at installing a windfarm. Which will still not obliterate the view of the faraway Land of Narnia. But that's immaterial because any such windfarm (unlike the met mast) will be "subsidised".

Okay, so let's play the SSWAT idiots at their own demented game. Let's consider the implications of removing all energy subsidies.

First of all, there aren't any direct government subsidies for windfarms. The Renewable Obligation Certificates, which utility companies pay to create a level-playing field for the massively under-subsidised renewables industry, are not paid for out of our taxes. They come out of the profits of the utility companies, which means they are added onto energy bills. Last year, the ROC payments to wind power added less than five pounds to the average household annual energy bill.

Meanwhile, the rising price of gas in the international markets added £120 to the average household bill. But gas already gets five times as much subsidy - from the government - than wind does, mostly in the form of VAT reductions.

So, if we removed the genuine subsidies for gas - along with the rather imaginary subsidies for wind - then the average consumer would have paid £4.68 less last year for wind energy top-ups (thereby saving themselves 9p per week), but would have had to pay more than £20 extra to cover the increased costs of gas. Not much of a saving, is it?

And what about nuclear? Forbes magazine recently revealed John Rowe's thoughts about new nuclear. As far as he's concerned, nuclear is no longer an economically viable power source in the United States. So who is this raging green called John Rowe? Well, a few days ago he retired as CEO of Exelon, America's largest producer of nuclear power.

If even the industry insiders recognise that nuclear power is no longer economically viable, what would it be like without the massive government subsidies the industry has traditionally relied on? Two German companies have recently withdrawn from the UK's new nuclear programme because - well, the numbers just don't add up.

The coalition government in the UK is eager to pretend it can get its new nuclear power stations without any public subsidies. Clearly, that's not so certain, if major companies are backing out of the deal because there's no money in it. And there will be government subsidies for nuclear: at least £50 million a year for each power station (part of the deal for low-carbon sources), plus free connection to the grid (a tax-payer subsidy for nuclear which is denied to the wind industry) and, of course, the costs of any accidental nuclear disaster will be borne by the tax-payer. Even with all that government largesse, though, nuclear is still a non-starter in economic terms, unless it is massively subsidised by the tax-payer. And it is a massive subsidy, as the current budget overruns and extensive delays in building new nuclear power stations prove.

Being realistic, the tax-payer gets a remarkably good deal out of wind, because he or she doesn't pay a penny towards them in tax. And even as energy consumers, we get an extraordinarily good deal, because the costs of wind generated energy are coming down, leading to a decrease in the ROC payments, while the costs of everything else (nuclear, gas, CCS) go through the roof. Remove the subsidies for ALL forms of electricity generation, and nuclear becomes no longer available, gas gets even more cripplingly expensive, CCS doesn't even exist yet, and renewables continue to go down in cost.

You have got to be a TOTAL LOONY to pretend that windfarms are "subsidised", or that they are "subsidised" any more than any of the conventional energy sources.

In fact, the problem of "subsidies" only exists because of the policy of privatisation which, it's a fair bet, most nimbies actually voted for back in the Wild West days of Maggie Thatcher.

Nimbies grouse about "foreign-owned" energy companies building windfarms on our "green and pleasant land" (yep, especially if they read the Telegraph they really are apt to use that godawful cliche). But who sold our electricity industry to the foreign companies in the first place? Who decided that electricity companies should be driven by the pursuit of profit? Who made sure that we'd all end up paying more than we should be for our electricity (nothing whatsoever to do with the "costs" of renewables)?

Privatisation is the reason why windfarm operators have received "constraint payments" when their turbines have been producing large amounts of electricity but, by bringing a nuclear power station back online, the grid found itself with a surge and had to ask the windfarm operators to power down their turbines for a while (it's a lot easier to do that than to faff about with nuclear, which is a bit of a dinosaur). The private companies who operate windfarms are entitled to compensation - "constraint payments" - whenever the grid asks them to stop producing so much energy because a bloody nuclear power station finally made its mind up to work. If the industry was still nationalised, though, no such "constraint payments" would be required.

Anyone who bangs on about windfarms being "paid to not produce electricity" is effectively campaigning for the re-nationalisation of the energy sector in the UK - which would also put an end to the so-called subsidies which don't actually get paid to wind, but do get paid to oil, gas, coal and nuclear.

The maniacs of "Stop Subsidised Windfarms Around Tamworth" clearly imagine that they're onto a winner by trying to fool their neighbours about the whole subsidy issue.

To which we will only say - okay, go ahead, remove ALL subsidies for energy.

And then, you blinkered, blithering idiots, you'll thank your lucky stars for windfarms.

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