Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Robert Freer

  1.  My name is Robert Freer and I am a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers. I have about 50 years' experience of the design and construction of power stations and I am now an independent consultant.

  2.  I understand the Committee wishes to examine: "the options for investment in meeting future requirements for new electricity generating capacity".

  3.  I wish to make the point that there is a fundamental difference between, on the one hand, investment in base load power stations such as coal, gas or nuclear and on the other hand investment in renewable sources such as wind, wave and solar. These two sources of energy are as different almost as chalk and cheese and it is not possible to make a direct comparison for the purpose of investment, and especially investment for the purpose of trying to reduce carbon emissions.

  4.  Investment in power stations which generate base load will ensure security of electricity supply which is of prime importance for an industrial and commercial country such as ours. For example so much of our industry is now controlled by computers that any interruption in the electricity supply could bring the country to a standstill. Power stations fuelled by coal, gas or nuclear fuels can produce as much power and energy as required and it would be far sighted to ensure we have sufficient capacity in these power stations to supply our base load demand of about 35,000 MW.

  5.  Investment in renewables, at least in the government-supported renewables mainly wind and solar, will never ensure security of supply because their output depends on the weather which is unpredictable. Therefore their energy output is intermittent. Also their output is very small and these two sources will never do more than scratch the surface of the national demand. The present output from the wind turbines is less than 2 TWh per year whereas our national consumption is about 375 TWh per year and rising by 3 or 4 TWh per year. Therefore the wind turbines do not even keep pace with the increase in consumption. It has already been said that, without the government subsidies, no-one would be building wind turbines.

  6.  The claim that wind turbines are a source of clean energy needs careful consideration because their manufacture is energy intensive which produces green house gases, and offshore turbines create more green houses gases if their location causes the diversion of shipping and fishing boats and their maintenance requires access by helicopter.

  7.  There some forms of renewable energy which have the potential to supply the base load but inexplicably they are less well supported by the government. Mainly the conversion of wastes to energy using straw, chicken litter, forestry trimmings or municipal solid waste will provide base load energy and with an estimated output of about 30TWh per year. Another source is the methane escaping from old coal mines. All these sources have the benefit of not only producing energy but also solving the environmental problem of what to do with the waste.

  8.  Conclusion. Government investment and subsidies for wind turbines are a complete waste of money and should be stopped. They produce only a miniscule amount of energy, make no contribution to security of supply and their influence on greenhouse gases is doubtful. If the Government wants to support renewables they should invest in energy from waste power stations. The best investment from a national point of view is to build nuclear power stations and the number we need to supply the national base load using AP1000s is not 8 but 32.

21 September 2005

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