Chris Huhne: Beauty, Tranquillity and Power Stations?

Thanks very much. I’m delighted to be here today.

Eighty-five years ago, a small group gathered here in London changed the landscape of Britain forever. Led by a reluctant statesman, they published a document whose impact on the countryside is felt to this day. I am not referring to Sir Patrick Abercrombie and the pamphlet he wrote that brought the CPRE into existence.

No, I speak of Stanley Baldwin’s government – and the Electricity Supply Act of 1926. In creating the Central Electricity Board and the first national grid, the Act brought Britain into the modern age.

Our history

For electrification is one of modernity’s defining achievements. It is the cornerstone on which our technical progress rests; everything from the washing machine to the scanning electron microscope depends on it. And when the world’s first public electricity supply was connected – in 1881, in Godalming – it marked a fundamental change not just in our landscape, but in the social contract. From that day, it became increasingly clear that government had a core responsibility to ensure electricity supplies are safe, secure and affordable. In the past, we did so with coal and gas.

Now, we are looking toward a low-carbon future. One where clean, green power keeps the lights on and the skies clear. There are many different paths to that destination. Each will bring about real changes. The energy choices we make now will determine the shape of the landscape for generations to come.

Primary fuel

This is nothing new.

Throughout our history, our choice of energy has affected our environment. The fuel that has driven economic and social progress has also driven change on our landscape.

Six thousand years ago, three quarters of Britain was woodlands. By the time of the Domesday survey, forest cover in England had fallen to just 15%. Trees were cleared to make way for food; to build houses, weapons, and ships. By 1700, we were dependent on imported timber. Britain’s ancient forests were stripped bare.

When the Industrial Revolution began, charcoal was used to smelt the iron on which Britain’s prosperity was built. The Forestry Commission estimates that a single furnace needed 10,000 acres of deciduous woodland to run.

A new addiction

In the nineteenth century, everything changed again. Industrial progress meant coke and coal were now the fuels of choice. And so our landscape was altered again.

By 1900, over 200 million tonnes of coal were being mined in Britain. Nearly a million people were employed in over 3,000 mines. Surface coal mining only peaked twenty years ago. In 1991, 17 million tonnes of coal were open-cast mined at 135 sites across in the UK. Our hunger for coal left deep scars upon the landscape, some of which remain to this day. And it brought serious consequences for the wider environment. It is no coincidence that the term ‘acid rain’ was coined in Manchester by a Scottish scientist. Nor that coal – and its contribution to London’s ‘Great Smog’ – resulted in one of the first pieces of modern environmental legislation, the Clean Air Act of 1956.

Changing, again

In the half century since then, our energy mix has become more diverse. As British coal production tapered off, nuclear power and natural gas plants have helped provide us with cheap and secure energy. And with full electrification in the 20th century came the National Grid, power stations and pylons.

Now we face another change. Over the next decade, we must rebalance our energy system. A quarter of our nuclear and coal power plants will shut down by 2020. In the face of tough global competition and a difficult financial environment, we must attract record investment in new energy. More than £110 billion is needed for new power stations and grid upgrades over the next decade. Not just to meet growing demand and shrinking supply – but also to meet our climate change targets.

By the end of this decade, the UK must cut its carbon emissions by 34% on 1990 levels. And we must generate 15% of our energy from renewables.

English impacts

It’s important not to forget why we are doing this. As the Chief Executive of Natural England said, climate change is ‘the biggest issue facing the natural environment’. I am, of course, am preaching to the converted. Two years ago, the CPRE supported a study that looked at how a changing climate could change the landscape. In South East England, beech trees could be badly affected. Pomegranates and olives could replace potatoes and onions. And the hedgehog could disappear from the South East in just 15 years time.

This isn’t just about future risk either. It’s already happening. As Natural England has observed, the timing of natural events is changing. Spring comes sooner. Autumn lasts longer. Habitats are changing and species distribution is changing with it. And earlier this year, researchers found that human greenhouse gas emissions may have roughly doubled the chances of the autumn 2000 floods. We can now clearly link extreme events and their effects to the rise in man-made greenhouse gases.

So let’s be realistic: climate change is not just a far-off possibility, unlikely and impossible to foresee. It is happening now, with every barrel of oil we burn and every tanker of gas we use. The threat posed by climate change is simply too big and too close to ignore. It is a global problem with local consequences.


That means yes, we must do everything we can on the international stage to get an agreement to cut carbon emissions. But we also have to make the case for the low-carbon revolution here at home.

We need a diverse, secure and sustainable energy mix, delivered with long-term strategic oversight. Providing clean, green energy to 2050 and beyond.

Electric demand

Our plan for low-carbon energy rests on four pillars.

The first is renewables – like onshore and offshore wind, biomass, energy from waste, solar, marine and micro hydro power.

The second pillar is new nuclear – without public subsidy, and with liabilities covered by developers, who will pay the full cost of waste disposal and decommissioning?

The third pillar is clean coal and gas, delivered by carbon capture and storage. Giving us flexible and reliable energy – without the carbon consequences.

The important thing is to spread the risk, rather than putting all our eggs in one basket. It’s the same principle as managing a pension fund. To encourage low-carbon investment, we are changing the electricity market. Under our proposals, all low-carbon technologies will benefit from support by virtue of being low carbon. Pioneer technologies like wind, wave and tidal stream will get extra support. There will be a capacity payment, to make sure we can meet peaks in demand – like the infamous ad break in Coronation Street, when everyone gets up to put the kettle on. We’ll send out a clear signal with an emissions performance standard to keep our power plants clean. And the Treasury has announced a carbon price floor to underpin our signal to the marketplace – and to encourage low-carbon use of existing plants.

Saving energy

The final pillar of our plan is energy saving.

We have the oldest housing stock in Europe. We use more energy heating our homes than Sweden, which is nearly five degrees colder on average. That’s why our flagship programme is the Green Deal, a nationwide home improvement scheme to bring our houses up to 21st century energy efficiency standards. It is the most comprehensive energy-saving plan in the world. And it can make a real difference.

Heating is the second biggest driver of energy demand in Britain. Better insulated buildings can help us cut into that carbon overhead. So can renewable heat. That’s why we’re supporting renewable heat technologies like biogas boilers, solar thermal and electric air and ground-source heat pumps. The key thing about our plans is that they will be flexible, letting us choose the lowest carbon energy sources at the lowest possible cost. That flexibility will be critical. Because nobody knows what the energy mix will look like in forty years time.

Early stage technologies like tidal power may be long established. Interconnectors could flourish, allowing us to trade natural resource strengths with our European neighbours. Concentrated solar power in the Sahara could create enough electricity for two continents. A technological revolution could deliver deep offshore wind at rock-bottom prices.


We cannot predict exactly what combination of energy technologies will power Britain in 2050. But we know the carbon boundaries we must stick to if we are to keep global temperatures to within two degrees of pre-industrial levels. And we can estimate the kind of energy demand we will need to meet.

Once we know where the finish line is, we can start to trace backwards and discover what the course might be. And then we can begin to engage the public with the scale and shape of the changes that will deliver it. When the challenges are better understood, then we can have a meaningful discussion about how we will get there – and what kind of trade-offs we might have to make along the way.


That’s the fundamental premise of DECC’s 2050 Pathways project, which looks at the choices and compromises we must face on the way to our energy future. There is no silver bullet that will solve our energy problem. We will have to make some difficult decisions. There will be trade-offs. Because every energy resource has its plus points – and its drawbacks.

Onshore windfarms demand careful location and siting. Tidal stream and wave power are still in their infancy. For biomass to make a meaningful contribution it will need to cover much of the countryside. Hydroelectric power can help us get to a greener future. But it cannot deliver the level of clean energy we need. Our analysis shows that at the very top end of ambition, hydro could deliver just 3% of today’s electricity.

Nuclear power means tight safety standards and a long legacy. Carbon capture and storage is yet to be demonstrated at scale. Interconnection needs interconnectors.

Some technologies will fall by the wayside as costs or progress make them unsustainable. Others will improve fast. A few weeks ago I visited Delabole, the UK’s first windfarm. Ten turbines have been replaced by four – at twice the height and double the output. And once electricity has been generated, it must be transmitted. Again, there are no simple solutions. Whether you wish to see electricity carried above ground by pylons or buried within the earth in cables, there are environmental – and economic – consequences.

And in a world with more renewable energy, balancing the grid becomes more challenging. We’ll need to look at pumped storage, demand management, smart grids and capacity payments – all the things that can help even out the peaks and troughs. Even energy-saving measures have a price. Air source heat pumps could change the way our homes look.

To make our consumption and production add up, we will need a portfolio that includes a little bit of everything – and a lot of some things. The Pathways project is looking at some of these options. So far, it has unearthed many different possible routes to 2050. At the moment, there are no cost projections. But the point of the Pathways project is to get people engaged with what is physically possible – and what the implications are for our homes and our natural spaces.

The 2050 calculator lets you figure out your own energy mix. Whether you want a little more wind, or a lot more nuclear, or extra energy saving. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend having a go. It can help put our energy choices into context.


Because the reality is that the scale of the problem – and the potential solutions – means our landscape will change again, just as it did during previous industrial revolutions. It is inescapable. But we must keep remembering the rationale. You cannot keep things the same based on unsustainable energy. If we are to conserve the best of our past, we have to embrace the low-carbon future. Done right, energy infrastructure can enhance the landscape.

The most popular tourist attraction in my constituency, as I never tire of telling my more sceptical Parliamentary colleagues, is a windmill. It grinds corn rather than generates electricity. So our challenge is to make sure this energy revolution is more sustainable – and more beautiful – than previous revolutions. But how can we deliver new energy infrastructure with the least impact and the most sensitivity?

The first step is to listen to the experts. CPRE have been intelligent and vocal advocates for their cause, offering realistic and detailed criticisms and responding to consultations. I know that the uncertainty I mentioned about which technologies will get us to the future can be anathema to the conservationist.

But in fact we share a similar aim: to manage change. Just as England’s landscape evolves, with CPRE and other conservationists taking on the mantle of stewardship, so our energy system will evolve. And we want to make sure we leave as small and as soft a footprint as we possibly can. And although I talked about letting technology and innovation decide where our electricity will come from, we are not simply letting market forces loose upon the countryside.

We may be flexible about the exact method of travel, but we are clear about the rules of the road. We do not wish to impose energy solutions on anyone. Wherever possible, we will make balanced decisions that take account of landscape and environmental impacts.

So on offshore wind, new developments will be assessed strategically as part of a rolling programme of offshore energy strategic environmental assessments, and will be checked again at the consent application stage when environmental impact assessments are carried out for specific projects. When it comes to onshore wind, communities should be protected from unacceptable impacts. The new National Planning Policy Framework will apply to energy developments up to 50 megawatts; the Department for Communities and Local Government will be consulting on it over the summer, so get in touch and let my colleague Eric Pickles know what you think. Sites for potential new nuclear power stations are subject to a strategic siting assessment. As part of this, the Government looks at impacts on cultural heritage and landscape value. Where a site falls down, such as at Braystones and Kirksanton in Cumbria, it may be rejected.

And when it comes to how electricity will be moved around the country, we need to strike a balance between the economic and environmental impacts. To meet our 2020 renewable energy targets – and make that contribution to fighting climate change – the transmission system will have to expand to allow new renewables to plug in to the grid. Grid costs can sometimes mean wind farms are put where the electricity is needed rather than where the wind is strongest. Ofgem is looking into this as part of its review into transmission charges, which will conclude later this year.

We’re also making big changes at the top level. Once finalised, our consultation on the revised draft national policy statements will form the policy framework for big decisions on nationally significant infrastructure projects. The national policy statements will bring together social, environmental and economic policies in one clear, robust and transparent system. It’s about developing a consistent and a coherent strategic rationale for the way we decide on new infrastructure. This kind of clarity and openness is a first. By getting public and stakeholders like the CPRE involved, we are opening up big decisions more than ever before – and working with people so we can get buy in.

Sometimes, national need will mean we have to sit down and take a tough decision about local impact. I know CPRE is acutely aware that it’s where we draw the line between need and impact that matters. But with a more consensual framework drawn up with our partners and the public, you will always have a voice in the room.

I want to thank CPRE for taking the time to offer such a detailed response to the consultation. And I want to reassure you that we are not going to wantonly plant windfarms across the country at random. In the next few months, we’ll publish the Renewables Roadmap – the first detailed step-by-step plan to deliver renewable energy. It will take a practical approach, looking at deployment systematically, identifying specific barriers and setting out how to overcome them. It will show how we will meet the 2020 renewables target. And it will set out milestones and metrics that enable us to monitor deployment progress and respond if we are falling behind our ambitions. Rather than being a fixed document, it will be flexible; evolving and changing as renewables come online.


I hope today I have given you a sense of how we might deliver clean, secure energy to 2050 – and what it might mean for our landscape. By way of conclusion, and before we get to the Q&A, I want to ask a few questions of you.

Firstly, I would ask you all to think about the trade-offs you would make to guarantee the long-term survival of our landscape, the security of our energy supplies, and the affordability of our electricity for all. It is a question of where we choose to draw the line. That is a personal decision, but one that means thinking about the wider consequences.

At the moment we buy gas that is easily extracted. But under some scenarios, we could end up relying more on shale gas. If we choose to rely on imported energy, we run the risk of ignoring the embedded costs. Is it morally sustainable to simply outsource our energy impacts to another country?

What is conservation?

And I wonder whether there is a more basic question here: what are we actually conserving?

As the President of the CPRE said in his inaugural speech, the English landscape is ‘almost entirely manmade’. This is not a pristine natural environment, preserved in stasis. Rather, the CPRE is protecting a series of snapshots taken throughout our long and mutable history. And from the beautiful medieval field patterns of Devon to the causeways of East Anglia, human fingerprints are plain to see. Rural England is often a vision of how we want things to be; a vision that we have exported across the world.

Perhaps energy infrastructure can be part of that vision. Norfolk’s windmills, Kent’s oast houses and Westmoreland’s watermills are an integral part of our countryside. If we strike the right balance, perhaps the next generation of green energy will leave a similar legacy.

Conclusion: a return to sustainability

We know the choices we make about energy infrastructure stay with us for generations. For proof, you need look no further than Dean’s Yard, two miles away to the west. It is still lit with gas lights. Our current energy system is costing the earth. That is why it is so important to get it right.

Think about the grand prize. Cleaner air. More affordable energy. Less risk of climate change. A greater degree of energy independence. For the first time since the 18th century, we have a chance to return to a true sustainability: one that does not see low-carbon generation as destructive to the economy or the environment, but as fundamental to the integrity of both.

Thank you very much.


39 responses

  1. Brian Skittrall

    As the minister in charge of policy that could result the greatest ever destruction of the countryside it was brave of you to come to speak to us.

    It was good to hear you acknowledge that there were no silver bullets, that technologies have limitations, that it is important that technologies are demonstrated at scale and even that solutions to the intermittency of wind are important.

    Sadly, the strategy inherited from the previous Government seems blind to these concerns when they apply to wind – whether it be onshore or offshore. Its predicted contribution to the energy mix treats it as the silver bullet, there is no consideration of the limitations of wind or its wider impact on the grid and no account has been taken of the experiences of the ‘demonstrations at scale’ in Denmark, Germany and Spain where the delivered environmental benefits of wind have been at best extremely disappointing.

    Intermittency is, of course the greatest issue for wind and you referred to pumped storage as a part of the solution. Sadly the opportunities for pumped storage are limited and, of course, there are significant energy losses every time you convert one source of energy into another and pumped storage requires two conversions. I only hope that the 2050 Pathways Project accounts for these impacts and does not credit wind with unrealistic carbon savings based on the grid average as is currently the official position.

    If we are to reap the benefits of wind, we need to acknowledge its limitations and work with them. We need solutions both to match supply and demand and to manage short term fluctuations in supply. For example, should we electrolyse water to create hydrogen as a fuel instead of pursuing electric cars? Should we have a grey power distribution network to be used in applications where a constant and regulated supply is not necessary? Should we spill the wind when the electricity produced would not benefit the grid or might even increase carbon costs at balancing power stations?

    As Prof Mitchell suggested we must come up with new approaches that match the new situation.

    When speaking about onshore wind farms, the picture that you painted would be very welcome and a sea-change from the current situation. Rural communities have been crying out to be protected from unacceptable impacts, for wind farms to be carefully sited, for development to be managed and for turbines to be sited where the wind blows. However with wind farms as with Col Gadaffi we will judge you on what you do and not on what you say.

    The indications to date are not promising. The response of your department to consultation on the NPS for Energy (EN3) to requests for better protection of communities was a distinct case of “business as usual” – where the need for development trumps the needs of communities. The inaction or outright resistance by DECC on concerns over acceptable noise, the effects of blight and setting rules for separation from dwellings are also not healthy indicators. (Nobody is fooled by the diversionary study by HMP into how ETSU-R-97 is being implemented). In fact DECC have stood idly by while the wind industry have effectively reduced the protection of communities from noise whne they introduced a more lenient noise modelling methodology.

    In Northamptonshire we have the perfect example of what is wrong with current policy. We already have operational wind farms that exceed the county’s 2026 target for wind, we have approvals that will deliver four times that 2026 target yet developers are still pursuing at least 18 more proposals. This might be understandable if Northamptonshire was an ideal location for wind farms, but we have one of the poorest wind resources in Britain. Even here developers can make well over 20% return on investment because the ROC subsidy levels are so high – all with virtually no risk. Councils are forced to spend large amounts on planning officers, independent consultants and the inevitable appeal every time that they refuse applications – all because even a small chance of such enormous profits is enough to make developers pursue proposals to the bitter end.

    These disproportionate profits for onshore wind are bad for everyone outside the wind industry. They are fueling speculative applications that are clogging up the planning system, they are inhibiting the development of other technologies and they are unnecessarily increasing the price of electricity for years to come.

    The current situation is publicly unacceptable and as a result it is bringing the whole green agenda into disrepute and fuelling climate scepticism.

    Urgent action is needed or it will simply be too late.

    25 March, 2011 at 12:26 pm

  2. In his speech the Secretary of State says that ‘Sometimes, national need will mean we have to sit down and take a tough decision about local impact’.

    Equally, I hope that he would agree that sometimes the national need for protecting our finest landscapes will mean that we have to sit down and take a tough decision about energy policy or infrastructure?

    25 March, 2011 at 3:48 pm

  3. Brian Gallagher

    Dear Mr Huhne,

    There is so much wrong with your rhetoric it deserves a response. These are some of the choicest quotes with brief comment.

    “A technological revolution could deliver deep offshore wind at rock-bottom prices.” – Reality: hugely subsidised offshore wind is cripplingly costly – at the consumers’ expense. Think fuel poverty.

    “But we know the carbon boundaries we must stick to if we are to keep global temperatures to within two degrees of pre-industrial levels.” – While the US, China, India etc continue as before?

    “Onshore windfarms demand careful location and siting.” – Tell that to blighted communities across the UK.

    “For biomass to make a meaningful contribution it will need to cover much of the countryside.” – Good news … no room for bird mincers – shame about food production and tourism.

    “Some technologies will fall by the wayside as costs or progress make them unsustainable.” – The sooner that logic is applied to wind factories the better.

    “And in a world with more renewable energy, balancing the grid becomes more challenging.” – Experts state anything much above 5% wind penetration will destabilise what’s left of our proper power generation.

    “Done right, energy infrastructure can enhance the landscape.” Plan to bury it?

    “The most popular tourist attraction in my constituency, as I never tire of telling my more sceptical Parliamentary colleagues, is a windmill. It grinds corn rather than generates electricity.” – What a bizarre comparison – like calling the QE2 a rowing boat. Good to know some “colleagues” have joined the dots.

    “So our challenge is to make sure this energy revolution is more sustainable – and more beautiful – than previous revolutions.” – Delusional.

    “And although I talked about letting technology and innovation decide where our electricity will come from, we are not simply letting market forces loose upon the countryside.” – Which is precisely what subsidised wind developers are doing.

    “We do not wish to impose energy solutions on anyone.” – But that isn’t stopping you.

    “Where a site falls down, such as at Braystones and Kirksanton in Cumbria, it may be rejected.” – The word “may” says it all.

    “And when it comes to how electricity will be moved around the country, we need to strike a balance between the economic and environmental impacts.” – Unreliable, remotely located, wind turbines are being connected by pylons over precious countryside. Don’t ask about power loss over such distances.

    “Grid costs can sometimes mean wind farms are put where the electricity is needed rather than where the wind is strongest.” – Carbon traders erect turbines wherever they can profitably get away with it.

    “And I want to reassure you that we are not going to wantonly plant windfarms across the country at random.” – Then stop doing it.

    “Norfolk’s windmills, Kent’s oast houses and Westmoreland’s watermills are an integral part of our countryside. If we strike the right balance, perhaps the next generation of green energy will leave a similar legacy.” – Let’s leave a legacy of something that works.

    This was written in 2009 about the banking crisis, but applies equally to climate and renewable energy opportunism. Please share it with the rest of the Cabinet.

    “For the world to go truly insane, leading to what the Bank of England has called “possibly the largest crisis of its kind in human history”, two things are needed. The first is the intellectual capture of the Establishment, so that everyone — politicians such as Gordon Brown, regulators such as the SEC and the FSA, and academic and media commentators — is persuaded that a new way of thinking is in the public interest. The second step is when vested interests exploit the intellectual capture and take it to extremes.”

    26 March, 2011 at 1:53 pm

  4. John Penfold

    I attended the lecture and found it very interesting.The debate on our need for new “green” energy and it’s effect on the countryside is well-timed.

    I am in the process of starting a new business which will provide a complete biomass heating service,based in West Sussex,but including SE Hampshire (the Minister’s constituency )and Surrey.
    We will provide woodfuel (pellet and chip) from local,sustainably managed woodlands and will install heating systems across the area.

    I have a question for the Minister,concerning the controversial proposal for a large biomass-fuelled power station at Southampton.
    Is he concerned that the huge amount of woodfuel needed for this plant would take out so much local timber that other potential,smaller,individual installations will be starved of material ? Also it would be an inefficient use of biomass and large-scale electricity generation without a use for the waste heat should be discouraged.
    Can he put any control conditions on this plant if it goes ahead,
    to safeguard local biomass supplies by insisting on only imported
    Can he insist on the use of the waste heat for a local district heating system ?
    I would appreciate a comment from Chris Huhne if possible.

    Many thanks for an interesting lecture.

    Yours sincerely
    John Penfold
    Forest Heat Energy Ltd.

    31 March, 2011 at 6:22 pm

  5. Dr Phillip Bratby

    Huhne response

    “By the end of this decade, the UK must cut its carbon emissions by 34% on 1990 levels.” I hope when you say carbon, you actually mean carbon dioxide. We do not emit carbon. This is sloppy language – we don’t say hydrogen when talking about dihydrogen monoxide (water), so why say carbon when talking about carbon dioxide?

    “As the Chief Executive of Natural England said, climate change is ‘the biggest issue facing the natural environment’. I am, of course, am preaching to the converted”. The Chief Executive of Natural England was wrong and you most definitely are not preaching to the converted. CPRE is a broad church and many members of CPRE, at the grassroots level, particularly those with hard science and engineering backgrounds, such as me, do not accept the hypothesis that humans are changing the global climate. The hypothesis that recent climate change is natural has not been disproved. There is no evidence that human emissions of carbon dioxide are changing the global climate. If you have such evidence, please publish it here.

    Everything you state under the heading “English Impacts” is pure nonsense and is not based on any evidence. The climate is changing naturally, just as it has for the 4.5 billion years that the earth has had a climate. The main threat from a naturally changing climate is that of a colder climate; either a return to conditions similar to those of the Little Ice Age, or as many are predicting, a return to ice age conditions. It has to be remembered that a warm climate with a carbon dioxide rich atmosphere is beneficial to plants and animals (including humans).

    “We must do everything we can on the international stage to get an agreement to cut carbon emissions”. Do you mean carbon dioxide emissions? If so, why not say it? We should be increasing carbon dioxide emissions as I have stated above.

    “Providing clean, green energy to 2050 and beyond”. What do you mean by clean, green energy? Gas-fired and nuclear power stations are clean and green, aren’t they?

    “The first is renewables – like onshore and offshore wind, biomass, energy from waste, solar, marine and micro hydro power”. From a purely physics aspect, these technologies can never provide more than a tiny fraction of out energy needs because they rely on a diffuse source of energy (low energy density) and thus are unsustainably expensive and unreliable.

    “The third pillar is clean coal and gas, delivered by carbon capture and storage. Giving us flexible and reliable energy – without the carbon consequences”. Again, I assume when you say carbon, you actually mean carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide capture and storage will never work. It is energy intensive, prohibitively expensive and potentially dangerous. It should be consigned to the dustbin before more money is wasted.

    “And the Treasury has announced a carbon price floor to underpin our signal to the marketplace – and to encourage low-carbon use of existing plants”. A carbon price floor, without international agreement from all countries, will add to our energy costs and make the UK uncompetitive. Jobs will be exported overseas and yet again, the poor will suffer most.

    “Early stage technologies like tidal power may be long established. Interconnectors could flourish, allowing us to trade natural resource strengths with our European neighbours. Concentrated solar power in the Sahara could create enough electricity for two continents. A technological revolution could deliver deep offshore wind at rock-bottom prices.” Pigs may fly. Offshore wind can never be delivered at rock bottom prices. The reason is yet again due to the low energy density of moving air. This means large (expensive) structure, operating in a harsh environment where maintenance is nigh-on impossible and connection to land is difficult and expensive.

    “But we know the carbon boundaries we must stick to if we are to keep global temperatures to within two degrees of pre-industrial levels”. What is a carbon boundary? I assume you mean atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. We have no idea how much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will result in a two degree rise in global temperatures. The projections are based on computer models which have zero validity. The climate is a non-linear spatial and temporal chaotic system which is impossible to calculate. Even the IPCC admits that climate models have no validity.

    “Onshore windfarms demand careful location and siting”. In that case why does the planning system allow wind farms to be located in most inappropriate locations in the countryside too close to dwellings and in many cases where wind resources are poor?

    “Nuclear power means tight safety standards and a long legacy”. Nuclear power currently has unnecessarily tight safety standards (that is why nobody has been killed in the west by a nuclear accident at a nuclear power station). Other power generation systems regularly result in deaths – wind, hydro, coal, gas, oil, etc. The nuclear legacy is finite, due to radioactive decay, whereas the legacy from many alternatives is permanent.

    “Some technologies will fall by the wayside as costs or progress make them unsustainable”. Wind (onshore and offshore) have costs which are currently unsustainable.

    “And in a world with more renewable energy, balancing the grid becomes more challenging”. The first pre-requisite of the electricity network is ensuring that there is sufficient despatchable capacity to meet the peak demand. This means having sufficient despatchable capacity to provide baseload, to enable load follow and to respond to peak load. Despatchable renewables such as hydro can perform this despatchable function, whereas intermittent renewables such as wind, solar and tidal cannot. Therefore these non-despatchable renewables should be secondary aims of the UK’s future electricity supply.

    “When it comes to onshore wind, communities should be protected from unacceptable impacts”. When will the “should” be changed to “will”. At the moment communities are having inappropriate wind farms imposed on them.

    “It will show how we will meet the 2020 renewables target”. Getting 15% of our energy from renewable sources is an impossible political dream, committed to by Blair in a moment of madness. Without large hydro capability in the UK, the major emphasis is on wind power and already there are papers showing that any wind power beyond about 8 to 10GW will result in grid problems due to the intermittency and unpredictability of the wind. 10GW of wind power at a generous capacity factor of 30% will provide an average of only 3GW generation or 26TWh per year, i.e. less than 10% of electricity supply, which itself is only about 1/3 of total energy use. Hence 15% is a pipedream.

    “Think about the grand prize. Cleaner air. More affordable energy. Less risk of climate change. A greater degree of energy independence. For the first time since the 18th century, we have a chance to return to a true sustainability: one that does not see low-carbon generation as destructive to the economy or the environment, but as fundamental to the integrity of both”. It is not evident how subsidising inefficient renewable energy such as onshore and offshore wind and solar PV will lead to more affordable energy. The experience of Denmark and Germany is that wind power does not lead to cleaner air or reduced carbon dioxide emissions because of the constant need for operation of coal and gas-fired power stations as back-up for when the wind falls. Where has the coalition examined the implications of the operation of conventional power stations in back-up mode on the cost of electricity and on carbon dioxide emissions?

    Why is the coalition wasting money on ineffective and expensive wind power when future secure supplies of clean and green electricity could be obtained from thorium MSRs at a fraction of the cost?

    1 April, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    • Dr Gavin Rider

      How refreshing to see someone speaking out against this mantra on Climate Change. The UK could become “carbon negative” and it would make not one iota of difference to the global climate, even if the premise that humans are changing the climate were true, which I seriously doubt.

      There is no conjecture, however, over the fact that humans are changing the environment. We should be looking more closely at whether the changes we make to the environment are really necessary and if they are, whether we have minimised the negative consequences of those changes.

      We should put more emphasis on preventing immediately tangible and visible detriment to the environment and less on supporting entirely speculative concepts such as anthropogenic climate change, especially when focusing on the latter potentially has such serious consequences for the former.

      7 April, 2011 at 9:18 am

  6. Dr Tom Kelly

    I attended the lecture and I thought Chris Huhne presented the options available to us for energy supply in this century without getting into any technical detail with pro’s and cons. Since then the world seems to have turned its back on the nuclear options but I believe they will turn out to be absolutely essential, not primarily because of wanting to reduce CO2, but simply because carbon based fuel sources will become less and less available and more and more expensive.
    I note that Chris’s reference to the possibility of harnessing Africa’s solar energy, was not included in the write up of his speech, and I remember David Bellamy once suggesting this option and being laughed out of court because the costs of connecting Africa to our grid would far exceed the benefit even if there was enough copper left in the Mother Nature’s cupboard.
    The most intriguing part of the proceedings for me came in the Q & A session after the lecture, when Chris was asked by Mayer Hillman for his views on the role rampant consumerism might play on future energy demand. Chris did not answer the question directly but went on to give an example of how a road accident which required the assistance of breakdown services, on the way home from the lecture, would, in a small way, increase the UK’s GDP, underlining the fact that GDP was a measure of economic activity in total. This was obviously a spontaneous response to an unexpected question, but it had a profound effect on me as I drove home, thankfully accident free.
    I don’t think for a moment that Chris was suggesting that we could dig ourselves out of the economic hole we are in by becoming the global centre for road accidents, but it clarified for me that factors which can increase the GDP figure, which politicians of all colours seem to rely on, to attack or defend their economic position, can be good or bad for the well-being of the country. If this is true, then why on earth should we rejoice when GDP increases or despair when it decreases, without having a properly balanced picture.
    Getting back to Mr Hillman’s original question, maybe our politicians should look at energy needs for 2050 and beyond not just in terms of identifying targets based on projections from where we are now, which would involve increased population and increased demand for goods and services, and start to ask how this ever growing demand can be minimised by lifestyle changes, which may even result in reduced GDP?
    Two years ago a government sponsored think tank produced a 136 page report with the title “Prosperity without Growth”. In my view it set the scene for a massive rethink of how we should be dealing with the future, instead of blindly driving towards the edge of a cliff, and I would thoroughly recommend it.

    2 April, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    • colin friar

      Dear Philip Foster,

      Thanks for emails and I pray that those m aking decisions will not be fooled, (like the last govenment), concerning windfarms etc.

      Keep the pressure up,

      3 April, 2011 at 6:39 am

  7. Dr Phillip Bratby

    Mr Huhne,

    I suggest you spend 30minutes watching the presentation by French Geophysicist Professor Vincent Courtillot at and inform CPRE why any rational, independent person would consider ruining the countryside and the economy and massively increasing fuel poverty and unemployment for a few parts per million of carbon dioxide in the case of the UK, and a few hundred parts per million in the case of the rest of the world.

    Remember that carbon dioxide is essential for plant growth and thus all animal life. The increase in carbon dioxide is benefiting the environment by “greening” the planet.

    3 April, 2011 at 4:18 pm

  8. Leonard Beighton

    Chris Huhne said that the Government’s plans for low carbon energy rested on four pillars.

    The first – the use of renewables – is essential. The first step should be to reverse the Chancellor’s decision to restrict the feed in tariff. CH’s defence of this was very weak. But on any basis we are so far behind many continental countries that we shall struggle to make sufficient progress for many years.

    The second – nuclear – was always doubtful because of our failure to find an answer to the many problems, especially that of dealing safely with the waste. It is no good leaving a decision on that to our successors. Although the particular problems at Fukushima may not arise here, they show only too clearly the perils which can be involved.

    The third – clean coal and gas – will be fine when the problems of carbon capture have been resolved. But that has not been achieved yet and we should not go ahead with any more coal fired stations until it has.

    So the fourth pillar – energy saving – should be the first and most important pillar to which much more attention has to be given. Not only have all practical steps, such as improving insulation, got to be taken, but the Government has to explain far more clearly why every single one of us has to cut our demands much more than we have done so far – in transport as well as in energy – so we can get to the carbon neutral future which is essential.

    Nothing else will do if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

    4 April, 2011 at 1:29 pm

  9. Henry Best

    It sounds that on this occasion Huhne has probably got it right on wind generators. They could be seen as objects of great beauty and are reminders to the public that fossil fuels, and time for us humans to do something about it, are running out. CPRE is making a fool of itself, like the proud mother watching the parade and saying “Look, they’re all out of step except our Johnny!” Does the anti wind generator lobby really believe that the govts of Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany etc are all stupid or victims of chicanery?The comparison between the costs of conventional and wind generation are pointless because conventional will rise and rise (rising demand and falling reserves equals higher prices); so what matters for any renewable energy source is a comparision between energy in and energy produced over the expected effective life of the investment. Incidentally, I was told by someone at a firm putting in applications for PV solar farms that they would find it more profitable to have wind farms but organisations like CPRE made it almost impossible (eg recent refusal for wind generation at Silton in North Dorset)

    Don’t forget that agriculture can continue under wind generators whereas it can’t under a solar farm (save for a few sheep between the banks of panels). Don’t forget either that ONS forecasts 10 million more people in UK in the next 20 years and England is already the most densely populated country in Europe, so even if our govt succeeded in reducing energy demand per capita (and how about a maximum speed limit of 60mph for a start, which might also reduce injuries and demands on emergency services and hospitals?) any saving would be offset to some degree by the demands of those extra people, who will also need to be fed in a time when food prices are likely to be rising, because food production costs are highly influenced by oil prices.

    You can’t get away from population. More people mean more demands on everything, including what’s left of rural England. That’s why South Somerset DC proposes to allocate Best & Most Versatile land between Yeovil and East Coker for 3,719 dwellings plus all the trimmings (23 hectares employment, schools, infrstructure etc) because they think anywhere else would be even worse.

    6 April, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    • Dr Gavin Rider

      “You can’t get away from population” eh? Not if it is implanted onto the farmland outside your village through a rural exception site development scheme, you can’t.

      In the South West as a whole the natural population change is negative, according to the ONS and the latest West of England Strategic Housing Market Assessment, so there should be no need to build huge new housing developments on prime quality farmland to satisfy the needs of the local population, as you indicate SSDC are apparently proposing.

      Strategic planning for housing is based on the familiar metric of projected economic growth, but the region’s economy cannot grow fast enough by itself to meet wider objectives, so growth has to be “imported” such as by relocating businesses from other parts of the country.

      Housing construction is touted by house-builders and even now by the government to help promote that growth, but that is false logic. As has been demonstrated in Ireland, it only works as long as there is a continuous supply of new customers for the end product, which also means promoting inward migration. To achieve a positive effect on economic growth, the inward migrants need to be economically active, so you have to introduce new industries to support them (“all the trimmings”) and that is how all the pieces of the perpetual growth machine fit together.

      At the time of the next strategic plan cycle, the population will have risen due to this inward migration (population increase in the South West was ENTIRELY due to inward migration in the last strategic review) thus further inflating the strategic targets for new housing construction over the following planning period. It is a perpetual growth machine with inbuilt positive feedback!

      That self-perpetuating cycle will only end when there is no farmland left for house-builders to exploit, or no more migrants available to be attracted to the region.

      I don’t see either as a particularly appealing end result.

      7 April, 2011 at 10:08 am

  10. An impressive and wide ranging speech from the Minister – thank you CPRE for making it happen.
    Friends of the Lake District would add three major asks stemming from this speech:
    * Firstly, please, please, please surely we’re smart enough now to de-couple growth from ever increasing energy production and use. Cutting out energy wastage, which includes moving it greater distances, and improving energy technologies should be the FIRST not final strand of policy. The ‘thriving green economy’ section in the forthcoming Natural Environment White Paper provides the perfect opportunity to establish this new direction.
    * Secondly, local low carbon economies at the city-region and sub-regional spatial scale should aim for energy self-sufficiency within our economies and local communities. Within our finest landscapes, the National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), energy production must be of a scale to focus on meeting local ‘needs’ not wider ‘demands’. This creates the opportunity ‘win-win’ that energy infrastructure is not of scale that would destroy the beauty and assets of these special landscapes. The National Policy Statement son Energy could capture this approach.
    * Thirdly, the settings of our National Parks and AONBs within Cumbria are becoming the dumping ground for too many large-scale energy generation plants. Current regional level planning policies have provided a degree of strategic protection and its FANTASTIC news that Government have dropped the two proposed greenfield sites for new nuclear power stations to the west of the Lake District. With regional planning policies going once the Localism Bill gets enacted, we would hope that the forhcoming National Planning Policy Framework supports the national and international value of our National Parks and AONBs and affords them strong protection against damaging individual, or cumulative, developments.

    Jack Ellerby, Policy Officer lead on Energy.

    ps. We represent CPRE in Cumbria so cover the whole of Cumbria, as well as the Lake District National Park.

    6 April, 2011 at 3:44 pm

  11. Dear Mr. Huhne,

    No, no, no , no, no! No more overhead power lines and cables. Your policy on this is unsustainable – we need to protect our countryside, not vandalise it. I know that our country is in crisis and short of money thanks to the previous administration, but you’re making it worse, not better. And as for your policy of coating our fierlds with photovoltaic panels, this is the surest way to devastation of our coutnryside ON TOP of your ill-thought-out power-line policay. Listen to David Cameron, who is creating a ‘happiness index’ which, in many ways, is more important than money. Power lines must be buried – not just for the look of the coutryside but for safety as well – they create magnetic fields as well as being a blight on the countryside. THINK AGAIN! And, while I’m on about this: forget nuclear power and introduce THORIUM power stations. Cheaper, far less dangerous, easily controlled, a fraction the half-life of plutonium – and, best of all, it doesn’t need to be imported as it’s found in vast quantities in Cornwall, which would also bring much-neede jobs to the area and save dangerous imports. THINK THORIUM – JUST DO IT!

    Simon Holder.

    6 April, 2011 at 5:33 pm

  12. Peter Watson

    It’s pretty clear that Chris Huhne envisages a major expansion of heavily subsidised onshore wind irrespective of any local or national concern and CPRE needs to be in the forefront of opposition to this industrialisation of our remaining countryside. Perhaps if we could encourage the use of the more accurate term ‘wind factory’ rather than the euphemistic ‘wind farm’ it might be more difficult for the wind ‘farm’ industry, whose interest is subsidy not ‘farming’ or tourism, to expand the degradation of our remote areas. As to the need for continuity of supply it is quite illogical to subsidise wind which is inherently erratic and not nuclear which is consistent and reliable.

    6 April, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    • Will Jameson

      Nuclear is heavily subsidised too – Chris Huhne has said that over half his department’s spending goes on dealing with nuclear waste. And why should we subsidise a technology that has had nearly 60 years of development and public support? If you want reliable power, and if we can get it to work, we should subsidise carbon capture and storage instead, which is at least new.

      15 April, 2011 at 9:35 am

  13. Stephen Franks

    Some thoughts on onshore wind turbines:

    Chris Huhne’s citing the example of his local windmill was of key relevance to this debate.

    Until the advent of steam energy the British Countryside was strewn about with Wind mills, built to grind corn, harnessing natural energy to meet man’s needs. They gradually disappeared as we learned that it was cheaper to dig up fossil coal and burn it than to harvest natural energy directly.

    When I was a boy, on trips around the English countryside I can remember frequently seeing wind powered water pump towers in many farm steadings. These were built to provide irrigation for dry farms before cheap Grid electricity extended to rural areas. Again, these gradually disappeared as we learned that it was cheaper to dig up fossil coal, oil and gas and burn it than to harvest natural energy directly.

    Most people today would not decry the old English Windmill as an object of ugliness than despoiled the countryside; rather the reverse: an archetype of the Rural Idyll. Likewise, I was always struck by the slender attractiveness of the farm water turbines.

    I really cannot see what is so different in quality about the latest need-born wind turbines; indeed in both form and motion I think they are rather graceful objects, and the few times I have driven through a “wind farm” I have been struck by the sense in which they create a new but rather impressive landscape of their own. I am convinced that in future generations we shall come to accept them as did our ancestors, and appreciate their contribution to our wellbeing.

    I look forward to the day when once again we see wind turbines, and also solar heating panels and other “holistic technologies” both large and small, all around us, incorporated into our communities and come to accept that this is part of the price which we must pay for the continued sustainable prosperity of Humankind on this planet.

    6 April, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    • Dr Gavin Rider

      I suspect your admiration for wind factories stems from the fact that you only drive through them and don’t have to live with them in your field of vision 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

      I believe the primary objection to wind factories is visual. Unfortunately the visual impact is imposed on rural communities a long way from where the demand exists for the energy that is being produced. That is totally unlike the situation of a windmill that produces flour, where the local visual impact is offset by the benefit of having a mill available to process locally-produced wheat.

      Likewise power transmission pylons have a visual impact on rural environments a long way from where the demand for the power exists. I believe it is totally wrong to destroy the inherent beauty of a largely unspoilt rural environment to satisfy the energy demands of cities hundreds of miles away. There the consumers probably don’t care about the environmental impact of their energy use so long as their shops can run fan heaters full blast with the doors wide open to attract passing customers in off the street.

      If we have to have remote power production due to the nature of the technology, we should ensure that the impact felt by communities that are not benefitting directly from the schemes is minimised, and that means running the power transmission lines underground to minimise the visual detriment to the environment.

      7 April, 2011 at 10:26 am

  14. Richard Cowen

    So much has been said that I do not wish to repeat but would like to build on.

    I like Phil Bratby am sceptical about the causes of climate change. CH is wrong to think that everyone believes that climate change is purely man made and I am very concerned about the more extreme claims about it. Frankly I find the term “climate chaos” offensive. Even the IPCC has been forced to admit that not all its predictions are justified eg the speed of the melting of Himalayan glaciers

    But if I am wrong about that, are we doing the right things to correct it? The argument about wind farms (or factories) rages while their effect on the landscape escalates. Whether you like them or not, these are intrusive features in our countryside and should only be allowed if they do the job that is claimed for them.

    I do not live in the shadow of a wind farm. But there are so many in my area of NE England that I can hardly help seeing at least one wind farm at any given time. And the number of times that they are still, not generating electricity, is alarming. It is claimed that the UK is the windiest country in Europe. I believe a wind contour map would not necessarily prove this, but even if it is true, it only means that the wind does not blow for considerable periods even in the windiest part of Europe. This winter has been a stark reminder of this fact. It has been cold but frequently with very little wind as we have been covered by high pressure. The thought of relying on wind farms to generate our electricity in such circumstances is ludicrous.

    And I believe this winter has shown that we cannot rely on a claimed “smoothing effect” in that the wind will always be blowing somewhere. High pressure has occurred over the whole country and wind output from all parts of it have, on occasions, been negligible. If wind becomes more prevalent, as is promised, this total effect will become worse (ten times nothing is still nothing). One can only imagine the effect this will have on industry and as a consequence employment.

    But what about when the wind is blowing? Does that mean conventional power stations are standing still, waiting to come on line at the press of a button when the wind drops?

    Wind power may replace conventional power (never, as I understand it, nuclear power) but conventional power, especially coal fired power stations, are still burning coal as they shadow the wind turbines. E.On has said that this amounts to 90% of installed wind capacity. So how much fossil fuels are we saving? Should we not listen to what an electricity generator, not some rabid agitator, says?

    A new study by the John Muir Trust examines how wind power is operating. The figures if true are alarming, both regarding the amount of electricity generated and the savings in CO2 as a result. I have been saying for some time we now need a proper, independent examination of this source of power. DECC must bite this particular bullet and detach itself from its mantra that wind power is essential to reduce CO2 emissions. There is strong evidence that it may not do this to any significant effect and indeed there is evidence from studies in the States and Netherlands that it may even be increasing CO2 emissions. In my opinion, this needs fully examining as if this is true it completely negates the whole purpose of wind farms.

    It should also examine the evidence concerning the pollution created by the manufacture of the magnets required for wind turbines. Again I cannot vouch for the veracity of the claims, but claims there are that this (especially the extraction of the raw materials) is so polluting that only China does it and the area where the “rare earth” minerals are extracted is now grossly polluted.

    We also need a reassessment of PPS 22, which places the provision of renewable energy as the target in planning applications. This appears to be contrary to the purposes of the Climate Change act which requires targets to reduce CO2 emissions. Yet in planning appeals PPS 22 still holds sway.

    Whatever the causes and effect of climate change, I want as clean an environment as possible. Wind turbines may use a natural resource to generate electricity that at that point leaves no contaminating traces, but there is strong evidence that the manufacture of the turbines is very polluting, that they do not generate electricity to the extent claimed, that they do not reduce CO2 emissions to any meaningful extent and may even, when all aspects are considered, increase them.

    9 April, 2011 at 1:10 am

    • Dr Gavin Rider

      I agree with much of what Richard says, but there is also a counter-argument.

      Wind turbines do generate power, and this can be used effectively near the point of generation to temporarily reduce the local demand on the national power supply system. This will undoubtedly reduce our overall consumption of fossil fuels. The need for main power stations to be operating in “stand-by” mode is no different from the normal situation that exists due to fluctuating demand at peak times (the Coronation Street tea break syndrome) so this cannot reasonably be used as an argument against supplementing our energy supply system with wind-generated power or any other temporally available source such as solar or tidal flow.

      But there is a balance to be struck. Unfortunately with the Climate Change theory receiving such strong political support here, and with “carbon footprint reduction” being so dominant in policy making, balance has been lost. As with rural Affordable Housing, the balance has been tipped so far in favour of it by government policy that almost no amount of reasoning can ever succeed against it.

      This is something that CPRE must fight hard to correct. We need to restore balance and reason without becoming dogmatic opponents of progress and change. Opinion will always be divided, but when CPRE has hard evidence of the harmful effects of any government policy on the rural environment, or has evidence to show that policy is not being properly implemented and is simply being exploited for corporate gain, it must speak up and be insistent about correcting it. We must not give up on battles we could and should have won simply to remain ‘cosy’ with those in power. Once we lose just one of our battles, the unspoilt countryside somewhere is lost forever.

      9 April, 2011 at 7:38 am

  15. Dr Phillip Bratby

    Dr Rider, you are wrong in your second paragraph. Although there is a fluctuating demand for electricity, because of the statistical effect of large numbers of consumers, the demand is highly predictable. The National Grid is thus able to cope with the known fluctuations by having despatchable power stations prepared to alter output to meet the changing demand. For situations like the Coronation Street effect, fast response power generators, such as the pumped-storage scheme at Dinorwig, are used. Dinorwig for example can run up to 1800MW in 16seconds (source Wikipedia) to handle Coronation Street events. Gas turbine generators are also used for fast response applications. Combined-cycle gas and coal-fired power stations are used in load follow mode to meet the normal and predicted electricity demand changes that occur throughout every day.

    However, this is totally different from using such power stations (and older less-efficient coal-fired power stations) to shadow the unpredictable rise and fall in power produced by wind factories. If, for example, we have 10GW of installed wind capacity, then to accommodate a fall in wind output of 10GW, approximately 9GW of conventional power stations have to be on standby (burning fuel to maintain the boilers full of steam and the turbines hot and turning – spinning reserve) ready to spring into action. This is a very inefficient form of operation and is very expensive (in terms both of fuel consumed and wear and tear, and thus on extra maintenance requirements). It is the reason we cannot afford to close down conventional power stations even if the countryside is filled with wind factories and it is one of the contributory reasons why wind turbines undoubtedly don’t reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

    10 April, 2011 at 6:39 am

    • Dr Gavin Rider

      The point I was making is that power from renewables does have a beneficial input into the overall energy budget and the more of it that is produced, the less need there will be for fossil-fuel power. That won’t be replaced entirely, but using more renewables will allow the finite resource of fossil fuels to last longer.

      I don’t believe it is true to suggest that for every 10GW of wind power produced there has to be 9GW worth of coal-fired power station capacity “ticking over” on standby somewhere just in case the wind stops blowing. As I understand it, baseline power demand is met with slow-response power stations, medium-response stations are used to supplement them and can satisfy fluctuations in peak period demand, while “instant” supply stations such as Dinorwig can meet rapid surges in demand due to the Coronation Street type event and grid failures. Every type of power source has a role to play in a well designed supply system and the more of it is renewable, the better it will be in terms of reduced consumption of fossil fuels. Whether you believe the story about climate change or not, that will be beneficial in terms of energy security for the future.

      As I said, there needs to be balance in the argument, just as much as there needs to be balance in the national grid.

      10 April, 2011 at 9:46 am

  16. Brian Gallagher

    Dr Rider, I gently suggest that you should respect Dr Bratby’s observations because they are based on fact rather than belief.

    The Guardian article “E.ON warns over backup for renewables” confirms the 90% figure During UK-wide anticyclonic conditions when wind factory output drops to zero or close to it, there will be a need for 100% backup if we hope to keep the lights on and our economy functioning. As for extra capacity for charging all those shiny new electric cars …

    To make matters worse, the latest fossil fuel carbon penalty will cause the closure of desperately needed conventional baseload power stations. The Times 27 March article states:

    “The introduction of a carbon tax in the Budget to penalise coal-fired power stations that emit greenhouse gases threatens to accelerate the closure of generating plant, potentially creating a serious energy supply gap in the middle of the decade.” It is reported that this will also apply to older gas plants.

    For wind facts read Analysis of UK Wind Power Generation November 2008 to December 2010. It points out:

    During the study period, wind generation was:
    • below 20% of capacity more than half the time;
    • below 10% of capacity over one third of the time;
    • below 2.5% capacity for the equivalent of one day in twelve;
    • below 1.25% capacity for the equivalent of just under one day a month.


    The 2 March Daily Telegraph report “Era of constant electricity at home is ending, says power chief” explains the severe threat we face by blindly following the dead end ‘green renewables’ agenda.

    The wind industry admits that but for the (unsustainable) subsidies onshore, and double for offshore, not a single commercial wind factory would have been built. Consumers are footing the £billion pa plus bill which is rising year on year. Turbines generate plenty of money, little electricity, and fail to reduce Co2 – the whole point of the expensively pointless exercise.

    Wind isn’t working. The Nation can’t afford to keep on throwing money down the drain on this scale.

    PS: Mr Huhne should engage Christopher Booker as a special advisor – see today’s Sunday Telegraph

    10 April, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    • Dr Gavin Rider

      The argument argument against wind power being an effective source of supply seems to be based around the fact that to operate a conventional power station, you have to keep it running because it cannot cope with rapid changes in demand and it is not practical to turn such stations on and off according to whether or not the wind is blowing.

      So, regardless of which other forms of energy production may be used to supplement conventional stations and boost supply at times of high demand, those supplemental methods won’t reduce fossil fuel consumption, which is defined by the existing power station mix.

      Despite this, I cannot believe that wind power is not an effective way of helping to satisfy our power demands, because it seems intuitively obvious to me that it must be. I will have to go and think about that more deeply…

      15 April, 2011 at 10:01 am

    • Dr Gavin Rider

      I have read the Guardian article and it does not support the statement that a power station needs to be running in idle mode to back up a wind farm. Paul Golby was talking about the available power station capacity that the country would need to ensure a given level of assured output.

      What the article says is “it would require up to 90% of this amount as backup from coal and gas plants to ensure supply when intermittent renewable supplies were not available”.

      This means that 90% of the nominal wind generation capacity would have to be available from coal and gas plants to replace the lost wind power IF THE WIND WAS NOT BLOWING. I do not interpret that to mean that those plants would be burning fuel but not producing power while the wind WAS blowing.

      I fully support the sentiment of the article and the perspective of Paul Golby, which is to get better balance into the debate and to confront the single-issue campaigners. That was what I said earlier on.

      15 April, 2011 at 10:28 am

      • Brian Gallagher

        The Windfarm Scam by Dr John Etherington corrects wind propaganda put out by the money-driven industry and misguided government. You may find the Amazon reviews of the book helpful.

        As Richard Cowen rightly points out, there must be enough data to prove or disprove whether or not wind generation is cost effective. Any objective assessment leads to the inevitable conclusion it is not. That is before environmental damage and other unacceptably bad wind factory issues are properly considered.

        As Christopher Booker pointed out in his 10 April article “Less attention was given, however, to figures put out by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, showing that the 3,168 turbines we have built, at a cost of billions of pounds, contributed on average, if very irregularly, only 1,141 megawatts to the national grid last year – less than the output of a single large coal-fired power station. From the DECC figures it is possible to work out that, for this derisory contribution, we paid through our electricity bills a subsidy of nearly £1.2 billion, on top of the price of the electricity itself.”

        15 April, 2011 at 12:30 pm

  17. Richard Cowen

    I know I started this particular argument so think some explanation from me should be given. And perhaps I should readily admit that I am not a scientist.

    However my source for saying that conventional power stations need to shadow wind power to the tune of 90% of installed wind capacity comes from the E.On Wind Report of 2005 (see ). I believe E.On should know what they are talking about. If this is correct, then the savings on use of fossil fuel while wind turbines are generating even to full capacity must be very limited.

    What I have asked for is an independent examination of the effects of wind power. We now surely have enough turbines erected to be able to say whether or not they are working as claimed. There is evidence that they are not. That evidence may be wrong, but it does appear to me to be strong. It can be found at

    The John Muir Trust survey entitled “Analysis of UK Wind Power Generation – November 2008 to December 2010” and issued in March 2011 also makes some disturbing findings about the effectiveness of wind power (see

    The Australian Senate is now conducting an Inquiry regarding various issues about wind farms (see ). Numerous responses have been sent including some from the UK. Is it not time we did the same?

    If a truly independent inquiry should find that wind is working as claimed, both in generating electricity and saving CO2 emissions, I will certainly reconsider my own position on this subject. I believe this would be the responsible course for DECC now to follow, without reverting to its usual position of claiming this is all well established. If DECC is in fact wrong about the effectiveness of wind power, we are potentially heading for a major problem in the future regarding electricity generation that will have disastrous economic consequences.

    10 April, 2011 at 6:45 pm

  18. Dr Margaret Gregory

    I asked a question at this event. It was addressed to Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. If you listen to the pod-cast you will note that he did NOT deal with the substance of the issue I raised.

    DECC leaves the method of connection to the national grid entirely to the monopoly provider: National Grid. In what other circumstances are developers allowed to do exactly what they want to at the lowest cost and without any real thought about the visual or indeed the noise and health impacts of development?

    This Government will have the dubious honour of driving a coach and horses through the policies introduced post-WW2 which were designed to protect the open countryside from development. What a legacy that will be.

    11 April, 2011 at 11:22 am

  19. Gareth Woodcock

    Mr Huhne

    I read your speech with interest but feel that without control over the regulators and monopolies pylons will simply string our countryside unchecked; let alone allowing acres of windmills to be constructed all potentially not producing electricity during “…the infamous ad break in Coronation Street, when everyone gets up to put the kettle on…”.

    My more pressing issue is very real threat of pylons carrying the power from these new sources, you state “…We may be flexible about the exact method of travel, but we are clear about the rules of the road … we will make balanced decisions that take account of landscape and environmental impacts…”

    I want the ‘may’ in your statement changed to a ‘will’. I, and many others, want modern efficient methods of transmission to be used to connect these new low-carbon energy sources. It would be a farce to announce how much ‘low-carbon’ energy we are producing and then incur large transmission losses by using old out-dated overhead line technology.

    Landscape and environmental impacts need to have a cost apportioned to them; then each new connection can be calculated on whether sub-sea or undergrounding is the correct method. Why should people who live in the country be visually blighted by pylon lines when city dwellers are given undergrounding by default, this is a rural inequality – the city needs the power yet the countryside has to pay. Ofgem should be encouraging underground options to be the default through the countryside.

    This Government needs to wake up, review the NPS’s and begin to protect our countryside from new connection schemes for future generations.

    Gareth Woodcock

    11 April, 2011 at 12:19 pm

  20. Leslie Brannick

    Chris Huhne says that “the CPRE is protecting a series of snapshots taken throughout our long and mutable history.” It sounds like he thinks this is a bad idea!

    We are lucky in England to have been fortunate enough to stumble on land management practices, like traditional upland farming hemmed in by dry stone walls, that make English landscapes the envy of the world. We have somehow – due in no small measure to groups like CPRE – managed to have an industrial revolution, extract vast quantities of coal and gas from the land, keep 60 million people fed and clothed, and become one of the wealthier countries in the world while managing (just) to avoid despoiling these beautiful landscapes.

    Were all those people who spent the last 150 years protecting, and the past 500 years creating, these beautiful landscapes wrong? They allowed change just as we should, but not if that change undermined the essential and fragile beauty of our heritage.

    13 April, 2011 at 9:26 am

    • Dr Gavin Rider

      Very well put.

      15 April, 2011 at 9:31 am

  21. Arabella Thornby

    I really don’t understand why this Government is trying to build pylons all over the countryside. We need new energy technologies to sort out climate change, not more of the same. There are so many alternatives – gas insulated lines, buried cables, and undersea routes which we will need anyway to connect up all this offshore wind that Chris Huhne wants to see. On top of this we have a grandly titled North Seas Supergrid in the running. It’s quite clear that marine energy is the only sustainable renewable that Britain has at a scale that can power a large part of the country. It’s also quite clear that most people think offshore wind, wave and tidal power is a good thing. So why wreck all this good will by linking these up to a rickety overhead grid?

    I’m all for new technology that’s better for the global environment even if it costs a bit more, and I think most people would agree. A few extra pounds to keep the march of dreadful pylons out of the countryside is well worth it.

    15 April, 2011 at 11:33 am

  22. Dr Phillip Bratby

    “It’s also quite clear that most people think offshore wind, wave and tidal power is a good thing”. Yes, but most people don’t understand the laws of physics. They also don’t seem to understand that they will be paying for the most expensive electricity one can imagine if it comes from offshore wind, waves and tidal power.

    19 April, 2011 at 7:52 pm

  23. Richard Cowen

    Can I just return to the 90% issue please?

    E.On in their 2005 Wind Report say in the summary

    “Their dependence on the prevailing wind conditions means that wind power has a limited load factor even when technically available. It
    is not possible to guarantee its use for the continual cover of electricity consumption. Consequently, traditional power stations with capacities equal to 90% of the installed wind power capacity must be permanently online in order to guarantee power supply at all times.”

    I may be misunderstanding this, but my interpretation is that conventional power stations must be online to this extent, even when the wind is blowing. If this is correct, it is a factor that never appears in any planning application. In my opinion, it helps to emphasise my suggestion that an independent inquiry is necessary before we commit more resources to this form of generating power.

    20 April, 2011 at 8:10 am

    • Dr Gavin Rider

      I think the key word in their statement is “guarantee”. If you want a power supply system that is guaranteed to be available 100% of the time regardless of fluctuations in the level of demand, there will be environmental consequences because you will have to operate with significant over-capacity on line “just in case”.

      So, this is a case of being caught between a rock and a hard place. We cannot totally rely on the 100% availability of conventional power generation because the supply of fuel is finite and subject to external interference – we need other technologies to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. The more people argue against the introduction of those new technologies, the more dependent on fossil fuels we will remain and the less able we will be to maintain the system if supply is ever cut off.

      Countries have gone to war over access to fuel.

      Are you willing to accept such potential consequences of our dependency on fossil fuels just to keep wind turbines off the skyline? War is not exactly “environmentally friendly”. It is all part of a balanced consideration – it is not as simple as whether or not conventional stations have to run at 90% or some other figure to shadow wind stations.

      I do agree with you that this figure needs further evaluation though.

      20 April, 2011 at 10:19 am

  24. Brian Gallagher

    It doesn’t matter how many times the facts are re-interpreted Dr Rider, the bottom line is ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’.

    21 April, 2011 at 4:33 pm

  25. Brian Gallagher

    From today’s Sunday Telegraph. Rural England (and the UK economy) needs protection from this insanity.

    New figures show the lights may go out sooner than we thought

    Our coal-fired power stations are closer to extinction than predicted, and wind power stubbornly refuses to fill the gap, says Christopher Booker.

    Figures published last week reveal that the moment when Britain’s lights start going out may be much closer than previously predicted. Thanks in part to the hammering they took in the abnormal cold of last winter, six large coal-fired power stations which supply a fifth of Britain’s average electricity needs have now used up more than half of the 20,000 running hours they are each allowed under the EU’s Large Combustion Plants directive. When they reach that limit they will have to shut down.

    Furthermore, in two years’ time, the Government’s new “carbon tax” will make them £600 million a year more expensive to run. Their mainly German owners will therefore want to use up as many of those hours as possible before a charge of £16 for every ton of CO2 they emit comes into force in 2013.

    Industry sources are suggesting that the six plants, including Kingsnorth, Ferrybridge, Didcot A and Tilbury, may close two years earlier than the forecast date of 2015. Ever since the Blair government’s disastrous 2003 Energy White Paper, which in effect turned its back on replacing coal-fired and nuclear power stations in favour of renewable energy, it has been clear that we would eventually face a 40 per cent shortfall in our electricity supplies. Yet nothing better brings home the utter folly of our politicians’ infatuation with wind power than the fact that three of the huge coal-fired power plants we must soon lose each provide nearly twice as much electricity as all our 3,000 wind turbines put together.

    During those freezing, windless weeks last winter, when we were often using up to 60 gigawatts of power, 40 per cent of it from coal, the contribution of all those windmills was so minuscule that several times it appeared as 0 per cent. Even in last week’s hot weather, it was still so derisory that more than once we were having to import four times as much power from France – made by the nuclear reactors which our own politicians dislike almost as much as the coal-fired plants they don’t want to see replaced. Truly there is madness here.

    24 April, 2011 at 6:53 pm

  26. Joy Cain

    I have read this debate with interest one of the things which is always overlooked when talking about power production seems to be the total waste of approximately 60%-65% of the power produced by any given power station conventional or renewable.. Only 30%-35% of most conventional power plants can be used in the production of electricity. No new development in this country should be allowed without using some form of renewable energy to firstly heat and then depending on the size of the development produce power as in CHP (combined heat and power.) Whilst we persist in this waste the debate on how to produce power (other than wind) is pointless.

    6 July, 2011 at 2:16 pm

  27. Pingback: A masterclass from Chris Huhne: how not to win an argument | CPRE viewpoint

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