Wind power now UK’s cheapest source of electricity – but the Government continues to resist onshore turbines.
That was the headline in the Independent this time last week. I’m not suggesting for a moment that you’re an Independent reader but suppose for a moment you were: what do you think your reaction might have been?
Mine, I suspect, would have been not dissimilar to that of the eight thousand readers who decided it was worth sharing – and indeed that of the two or three who used it to needle sceptics on Twitter.
“Take that, evil deniers!” I would have gone in my smug, Independent-reading way. And it would never have occurred to me to question the premise for a number of reasons.
1. It was written by the Environment Editor on a reasonably well-respected national newspaper. And people with responsible jobs like that don’t make shit up, do they?
2. The data came from Bloomberg New Energy Finance – “the world’s leading provider of information on clean energy to investors, energy companies and governments.” Well if they say so it must be true. Bloomberg – they’re kind of a big deal in financial information, right?
3. It wasn’t just the left-leaning Independent that ran with the story. The story also appeared in the Guardian which, though also pretty parti-pris where environmental issues are concerned, does tend to pride itself on its accuracy and integrity (relative, say, to its arch-enemy the Murdoch press) and its willingness to rectify even the slightest mistake in its Corrections section. And more significantly, it ran in the unashamedly free-market City Am which, you might have imagined, would never dream of writing a headline like “Wind power now the cheapest electricity to produce in the UK as the price of renewable energy continues to drop” without first checking to see whether the press release was accurate.
Well, since the story ran, Paul Homewood has been doing a bit of homework. And guess what? Yes, that’s right. Wind power isn’t the cheapest source of electricity in the UK or anywhere else in the world. Not by a long chalk. It’s at least twice the price, for example, of electricity generated from that hated but remarkably cost-effective fossil fuel, gas.
How then did Bloomberg New Energy Finance manage to concoct so flagrant a lie?
Why, of course, by doing what cunning financial types will refuse ever to admit is a lie. They prefer the phrase “creative accounting.”
Basically what Bloomberg’s analysts have done is to pretend that all the subsidies paid to the wind industry are effectively free money which comes from a magic money tree and that all the levies imposed by government on fossil fuel industries in order to level the playing field for renewables aren’t really a tax but are more like lovely little bunnies with cute floppy ears which bounce up and down harmlessly outside the headquarters of Shell and BP and Exxon contributing nothing but wholesome springtime joy to the companies’ balance sheets and shareholders’ dividends.
God, I wish I could get a job as a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst. The stuff they put in their pipes must make Carlos Castaneda look like Henry James. Plus, I imagine, their after-work chat-up lines must be something else: “No that wasn’t a wedding band you saw me hastily remove from my ring finger and slip into my pocket. It was the personal teleportation device with which we Bloomberg masters of the universe are all issued for being, like so totally amazing, and which I don’t want to use right now in case it transports us to Bora Bora before we’re ready for hot incredible sex with my twenty inch penis.”
Meanwhile, in the real world, here are the stubborn facts.
Wind energy will always be more expensive than fossil fuels because even though the raw material – wind – is free, the initial capital outlay required to dot the hills and seabeds with enormous bat-chomping, bird-slicing crucifixes is far greater, per MWh than that required for fossil-fuel-powered stations.
And also because it is so incredibly inefficient and intermittent, only being available when the wind is blowing, which means that it has to be backed up constantly by fossil fuel power.
Once these factors have been taken into account, the real figures, according to Homewood, look something like this:
CCGT (Combined Cycle Gas Turbine) cost per MWh – $80.45
Onshore Wind cost per MWh – $157.55
Offshore Wind cost per MWh – $238.37
Or – a simple fact to keep in your head next time you’re lying awake and trying to calculate how much you loathe and despise Dale Vince – onshore wind costs you twice as much as sensible energy and offshore wind costs you three times as much.