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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

RE < C ? Is Renewable Energy cheaper or more expensive than fossil fuels?

I am publishing this post in the interest of getting discussion going.

"The Thanet wind farm will milk uk of billions"

The media remain conspicuously silent about the real price we pay for wind
energy, says Christopher Booker.

By Christopher Booker

The Telegraph

Published: 6:04PM BST 25 Sep 2010

Blown out of proportion: the wind farm at Thanet Photo: REUTERS

In all the publicity given to the opening of "the world's largest wind farm"
off the Kent coast last week, by far the most important and shocking aspect
of this vast project was completely overlooked. Over the coming years we
will be giving the wind farm's Swedish owners a total of £1.2 billion in
subsidies. That same sum, invested now in a single nuclear power station,
could yield a staggering 13 times more electricity, with much greater

The first all-too-common mistake in the glowing coverage accorded to the
inauguration of this Thanet wind farm by the Climate Change Secretary, Chris
Huhne, was to accept unquestioningly the claims of the developer,
Vattenfall, about its output. The array of 100 three-megawatt (MW) turbines,
each the height of Blackpool Tower, will have, it was said, the "capacity"
to produce 300MW of electricity, enough to "power" 200,000 (or even 240,000)

This may be true at those rare moments when the wind is blowing at the right
speeds. But the wind, of course, is intermittent, and the average output of
these turbines will be barely a quarter of that figure. The latest official
figures on the website of Mr Huhne's own department show that last year the
average output (or "load factor") of Britain's offshore turbines was only 26
per cent of their capacity.

Due to its position, the wind farm's owners will be lucky to get, on
average, 75MW from their windmills, a fraction of the output of a proper
power station. The total amount of electricity the turbines actually produce
will equate to the average electricity usage not of 240,000 homes, but of
barely half that number.

A far more significant omission from the media reports, however, was any
mention of the colossal subsidies this wind farm will earn. Wind energy is
subsidised through the system of Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs),
unwittingly paid for by all of us through our electricity bills.
Our electricity supply companies are obliged to buy offfshore wind energy at
three times its normal price, so that each megawatt hour of electricity
receives a 200 per cent subsidy of £100.

This means that the 75MW produced on average by Thanet will receive
subsidies of £60 million a year, on top of the £30-40 million cost of the
electricity itself. This is guaranteed for the turbines' estimated working
life of 20 years, which means that the total subsidy over the next two
decades will be some £1.2 billion. Based on the costings of the current
French nuclear programme, that would buy 1 gigawatt (1,000MW) of carbon-free
nuclear generating capacity, reliably available 24 hours a day
- more than 13 times the average output of the wind farm.

The 100 turbines opened last week cost £780 million to build, which means
that the £100 million a year its owners hope to earn represents a 13 per
cent return on capital, enough to excite the interest of any investor. And
these turbines are only the first stage of a project eventually designed to
include 341 of them, generating subsidies of £1 billion every five years.

A final claim for the Thanet wind farm (which Mr Huhne boasts is "only the
beginning") is that it will create "green jobs" - although the developers
say that only 21 of these will be permanent. These are thus costing, in
"green subsidies" alone, £3 million per job per year, or £57 million for
each job over the next 20 years. The Government gaily prattles about how it
wants to create "400,000 green jobs", which on this basis would eventually
cost us £22.8 trillion, or 17 times the entire annual output of the UK

If all this sounds dizzyingly surreal, the fact remains that we must begin
to grasp just what the green fantasies of Mr Huhne, the EU and the rest are
costing us. Even the Queen, we learn, tried to claim a "fuel poverty"
allowance for her soaring electricity bills, which have risen 50 per cent in
the past year. But a crucial first step towards getting some grip on reality
must be for those who report on these wind farms to stop hiding away the
colossal price we are all now having to pay for one of the greatest scams of
our age.


  1. My reply:Unfortunately we know nothing about the massive subsidies that the oil and nuclear industries receive from governments around the world, nor how the oil and coal industries reduce countries exporting these commodities to ruin.

    It is convenient for the "powers that be" to let us know the "true" cost of renewables whilst ignoring the "true" cost of fossil fuels.

    For example, it is impossible to insure a nuclear power station and if you read the small print on your home insurance you will see that a nuclear accident is excluded. Why was only 1.4GW of new nuclear (net) installed last year - whereas China installed 37GW of renewables and Germany is installing photovoltaics on a huge scale? I believe that one reason is actually that renewables are cheaper than other forms of energy and that in a few years time, Germany will be one of the lowest cost producers of goods worldwide. Another reason is the decentralised nature of renewables, ie many small power producers rather than few central power stations. This means that governments and big business have reduced control over electricity and pricing and lose income. One of the reasons why the City of Cape Town doesn't want Renewables is because of this perceived loss of income. Whilst it is true that the electrical division of the City of Cape Town will lose income, it will be more than made up for by the huge increase in jobs and taxes and the associated huge decrease in unemployment benefits and crime.

    Another problem is that many industries have received subsidies to get them going. Why has it been ok for these, whereas it's not ok for renewables.

    The overall costs of fossil fuel use are only now coming to light, not just the pollution to the air, but the huge damage being done to our water resources.

  2. Here is an article about the subsidies the fossil fuel and renewable energy industries receive: $500 billion to FF; $66 billion to RE. Per Annum. http://www.earth-policy.org/data_highlights/2011/highlights24