Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Written Evidence

Written Evidence from Dr John R Etherington


  Undergraduate years and then a period of postgraduate work and teaching at Imperial College (University of London) during the 1950s-60s. I became Reader in Ecology in the University of Wales (Cardiff) and retired in the 1990s. Much of my research and teaching was in the field of environmental chemistry and physics in a plant ecological context. During the past decade I have researched the contribution of renewable generation to the power industry with particular attention to wind power.


  This submission is presented under the same headings and subsections utilised in the Welsh Affairs Committee Press Notice inviting submissions.



    —  The over-provision of Wales with generating capacity should be examined.

    —  The integrity of the UK National Grid should not be sacrificed by fragmentation into Welsh and other regions.

    —  If the UK Government proceeds with new-nuclear development it would be a mistake for Wales to take a separate course.

    —  Proposals for LNG power stations on Milford Haven have significant implications for other developments in Wales, including unpredictable renewables.

    —  Clean coal technology with CO2 sequestration has unresolved international legal implications.

    —  Wind power is becoming a progressively less attractive option as its limited and unpredictable generation and remarkable level of subsidy are examined.

    —  A moratorium on wind power deployment should be imposed until a full and independent cost-benefit analysis is undertaken.

    —  Dedicated crop biomass and bio-fuel production pose very serious problems of cost-benefit which must be examined before further development.

    —  Tidal energy suffers environmental constraints which limit the available energy potential.

    —  Whilst hydro-electricity is a mature technology there are few sites for its further expansion in Wales.

ENERGY IN WALES:  Inquiry into:


a. and b. Current and future energy needs of Wales and its provision

  According to WAG (2002), Wales is over-provided with generating capacity by at least 1.5 times the UK per-head average, and generates over 1.75 its requirement, exporting the surplus to England. I ask whether this is a desirable situation for Wales unless Welsh electricity is to become an independent Welsh industry and exporter in its own right. This seems a bad idea as the UK has been well-served by possessing an integrated National Grid for almost 70 years.


  As the UK profits from an integrated National Grid, this arrangement will probably continue. Thus it is necessary that central control of the Grid should not be jeopardised by reason of Welsh national control (nor control of separate areas by any constituent country of the UK).


(a)   Nuclear energy

  A decision to resume construction of nuclear power stations, or not, must be taken as part of the strategy of serving the requirements of a UK National Grid. Despite my personal wish that we should not resort to nuclear new-build, it seems very likely now that it will happen. See discussion of Mr Blair's remarks on this matter in The Times, (21 November 2005), following Sir David King's statement to the Commons Environmental Audit Committee that "No government in the world would switch off its power stations to maintain carbon dioxide levels below 400 parts per million, if this seemed to threaten the country's economy". The unwelcome truth is that it is just not possible to provide CO2-free generation in anywhere near adequate quantity from renewables.

  If the UK resumes a programme of nuclear new-build, there are several implications for power in the UK and Wales.

  If new-nuclear construction is sanctioned it then seems logical that we should expand it to the same sort of percentage that France has operated so successfully for many years—approaching 80% of average generation.

  This would provide all base-load generation from more or less CO2-free electricity and allow government easily to achieve its wish for 60% of CO2-free generation by 2050.

  The remaining 20% of average running generation would need to be provided by totally firm but rampable generating capacity (nuclear cannot easily be ramped up or down). This controllable capacity would best be provided by gas-fired generation supported by coal fired integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant.

  If this 80% contribution from nuclear power were to be achieved, a large amount of unpredictably intermittent wind power (needing an installed capacity over three times its average yield) would be an embarrassment to the system. It is indeed folly to continue the expansion of wind without considering what will happen if a large nuclear fleet (c. 80%) is built, and how the massive wind-induced fluctuation of generation would be backed up or absorbed in our islanded UK system (See d. below: E.ON 2005 and ESB 2004 on backup power).

  If such a large expansion of nuclear is imposed upon Wales and the UK, it will more than satisfy the 60% CO2 emission target for 2050. It is now a crucial question for the environmental movement—which is worse, nuclear power or CO2. If the scare-mongering about CO2 is remotely true (tens of thousands of deaths already according to the University of Wisconsin—Madison research group, using WHO data) then nuclear power, with comparatively very few radiation deaths has to be discussed during this review without a hysterical background of denial by green campaigners.

(b)   Liquefied natural gas

  Milford Haven is to become a centre for the importation of LNG and nPower-RWE has proposed a 2.0 GW CCGT power station on the Haven. A second gas station is also possible, so South Pembrokeshire is destined to become the major generating centre of southern Wales. Should these stations generate even 3,000 MW in total, this would be over six times the 2010 Welsh windpower target. In conjunction with the problems of wind power, this suggests that it may be a mistake to invest further in windpower with its very limited, expensive yield and problem of unpredictable output (d. below).

(c)   Clean coal technology

  Clean coal technology is to be welcomed but for full effect on the CO2 situation it must incorporate sequestration. Without extensive discussion I draw attention to a legal constraint. The only suitable sites in the UK are worked-out North Sea oil/gas strata and the IPCC has recently noted that the London and OSPAR Conventions that potentially apply to the injection of CO2 into the geological sub-seabed were drafted without specific consideration of CO2 storage and "No formal interpretations so far have been agreed regarding whether . . . CO2 injection into the geological sub-seabed or the ocean is compatible with certain provisions of international law." (IPCC, 2005). Sequestration in the UK may be a decade or more ahead, even if economically feasible (DTI 2003).

(d)   Wind farms

d(i)  Introduction.

  The Government's own figures falsify the assertion that we need wind power to combat "global warming". The key figure is the 2010 target of 9.2 million tonnes of CO2 per year (Mt CO2/y) to be saved by renewables, mostly wind power (DEFRA 2004). Ludicrously, this is less than the annual emission from one medium-sized fossil-fuelled power station!

  The world total emission is 24,240 Mt CO2/y (OECD 2005). So the saving attributable to renewable electricity generation would be, at most four ten-thousandths of global emission (0.04%)! Even now in 2005 wind power in the UK provides barely 0.5% or total electricity generation (DUKES 2005).

  We could assume this to be our "widow's mite" many of which would provide the "whole" but to do so ignores the huge expense of windpower and the lack of democratic consultation about which CAP (July 2005) reported:—"By 2010, the cost of the Renewables Obligation, which does not appear on electricity bills and is not explained to consumers, is expected to reach £1 billion per annum" and "The Renewables Obligation is currently at least four times more expensive than the other means of reducing carbon dioxide currently used in the United Kingdom . . ."

  The CAP also noted: "the Department [DTI] has not consulted consumers, or their representative groups, about their willingness to contribute to the cost of renewable energy . . . [but] . . . "in 2004, a new planning statement was issued [ODPM] . . . The statement increases the chances of hitting the 2010 target, but only by reducing local communities' influence on the planning process."

  I believe these matters are of grave concern to the people of Wales and the UK and perhaps should be addressed by a wind power moratorium after which the whole industry should submit to an independent cost/benefit analysis.

d(ii)  Unpredictable intermittency.

  Over the past two years the operator of the largest wind power assemblage in the world, E.ON Netz has twice warned of this problem. Eg E.ON (2005):

    "Wind energy is only able to replace traditional power stations to a limited extent. 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."

  The Irish National Grid (ESB 2004) referring to western British climatic conditions wrote that:

    "As wind contribution increases, the effectiveness of adding additional wind to reduce emissions diminishes... [and] … the cost will be very substantial because of the back up need".

  In May 2005 the Council for Science and Technology (CST) warned government of the requirement for backup capacity which, "if deployed on a significant scale . . . will almost inevitably be fossil (gas-fired) because of the flexibility required". It concluded: "For these reasons, it is not possible to meet the challenging CO2 objectives in the medium term without large-scale technologies which do not add to the carbon burden..." At the moment the only tried technology which comes near to solving this problem is nuclear power.

  Almost the only recent dissenting voice has been that of the Oxford Environmental Change Institute's report (OECI 2005) suggesting that common mode failure caused by low windspeed was uncommon. Unfortunately this report was based on analysis of incidence of zero-generation, not on the much more relevant reduced-generation conditions which very frequently coincide throughout the UK. The "rare" occurrence would be the entire Welsh or UK wind power fleet producing anything near maximum generation (Ofgem 2005).

d(iii)  Subsidy

  Wind generated electricity is subsidised by the Renewables Obligation (RO) plus its market increment plus the Climate Change Levy exemption (CCLe). This subsidy alone amounts to nearly twice the value of conventional generation and is more than 25 times that on coal-fired generation per MWh. Gas and nuclear generation are currently not subsidised at all. In 2003 the DTI's Energy White Paper said:

    "We have . . . introduced a Renewables Obligation for England and Wales in April 2002 . . . The cost is met through higher prices to consumers . . . By 2010, it is estimated that this support and Climate Change Levy exemption will be worth around £1 billion a year to the UK renewables industry."

  Barely two years latter the House of Commons CPA (2005) reported that "The Renewables Obligation is currently at least four times more expensive than the other means of reducing carbon dioxide currently used in the United Kingdom . . ." and as noted in the Introduction d(i): "By 2010, the cost of the Renewables Obligation, which does not appear on electricity bills and is not explained to consumers, is expected to reach £1 billion per annum."

  Additionally, the CPA drew attention to the lack of democracy in the RO arrangement:

"the Department [DTI] has not consulted consumers, or their representative groups, about their willingness to contribute to the cost of renewable energy".

d(iv)  Planning

  The CPA's (2005) report also questioned the impact on planning: -

    ". . . in 2004, a new planning statement was issued . . . The statement increases the chances of hitting the 2010 target, but only by reducing local communities' influence on the planning process."

  The consequence of this statement (PPS 22), its Welsh equivalent (TAN 8) and the longer-standing Scottish NPPG6 has been a redoubling of public concern about windpower. The CPA perceptively said ". . . the likely rapid expansion of onshore wind power in the next five years could create a public reaction against renewable energy." It has.

d(v)  Rural economy—housing and tourism

  The "public reaction against renewable energy", which began long before the CPA's statement, is fuelled by perceived impact of wind power on landscape—already a substantial disaster in some parts of Wales, but there is also fear of an economic impact.

  The wind power industry vehemently denies any such impact but facts speak louder than their words.

  A family from Marton, Cumbria, was awarded compensation by a district judge because a vendor failed to disclose a wind farm proposal. A valuer in mid-Wales has suggested a probable 25% reduction in house value caused by a proposed windfarm and at Lethbridge in Devon, two independent valuers predicted that a farm property will lose £165,000 in value (Property 2004-05)

  As a more general point, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS 2004) has reported a survey of its members in which "60% of the sample suggested that wind farms decrease the value of residential properties where the development is within view."

  The impact on tourism may also be substantial (Tourism 2003). In 2003 a Welsh Tourist Board survey concluded that "Just over half of the respondents thought wind farms have already and will continue to have an adverse effect on visitors coming to the area." And we have not even started building a lot of big ones yet! Outside Wales, a survey by VisitScotland which was effectively conducted "blind" was even more frightening about the impact on tourism; over a quarter of tourists saying they were unlikely to return to a "turbinised" landscape.

d(vi)  Conclusion

  There are now so many validated objections to wind power which is not only very expensive but also an ineffectual way of saving CO2 emission, that a moratorium on further wind power deployment should be called and an independent cost-benefit study undertaken in Wales and UK-wide.

  Considering that tourism is now the main source of rural income in Wales and that rural housing represents a huge national investment it is necessary for this reason alone that such a moratorium should be called.

(e)   Biomass energy

  I comment on this section as a professional environmental biologist who previously researched on plant photosynthesis and dry matter production.

  The local use for heat and power of waste biomass from agriculture or forestry would be a valuable small economy. If any larger scale use is proposed, full life-cycle analysis must demonstrate that energy costs, particularly of transport, do not outweigh energy yield.

  Dedicated cropping of fuel biomass such as coppice willow or Miscanthus grass or biomass for bio-fuel production is a non-starter despite intense pressure from government and agriculture to develop it. I draw attention to the accurate analysis presented by the Royal Academy of Engineering RAE (2002) to government in their response to the Energy Review:—"It would require the whole of Kent to be covered with coppiced willow, for example, to replace the output of Dungeness B power station on the Kent coast."

  The venture into dedicated cropping for production of bio-ethanol or bio-diesel is even is more counter productive as recent research shows that more energy is expended in producing and converting the crop than is recovered as fuel energy. (Pimentel and Patzek 2005). In the case of bio-diesel up to 118% more fossil energy was used than made available in the bio-fuel!

  I have long pressed the point that subsidised fuel production with energy crops would cause agricultural land to be sacrificed—possibly deflecting crop production unethically as cash cropping to the underdeveloped world or resulting in valuable wild-land being converted to energy production. The latter is already happening (New Scientist 2005).

(f)   Geo-thermal energy

  I have no specific knowledge or expertise but suspect that only a tiny contribution could be made in Wales.

(g)   Tidal and wave energy

g(i)  Introduction

  It is a pity to subsume tidal and wave under a single head as tidal energy is fully proven in its impoundment form. La Rance, in Brittany, is the largest tidal impoundment in the world, at 250 MW, whereas wave energy is literally in its infancy with less than 2 MW installed capacity in the UK and no production-scale installation in the world as yet.

  The extant generating capacities of wave and tidal installations should be viewed in the light of the UK's total running average generation of 45,000 MW!

g(ii)  Wave energy

  There are but two significant trials in the UK. The Wavegen Limpet (shore installed) provides no more than 0.5 MW maximum and the Pelamis (floating) only 0.75 MW. Three Pelamis units are proposed in Portugal as the world's first ever commercial wavepower station, giving just 2.25 MW which will load-factor down to less than 1.0 MW yield. My personal view is that limited yield, slow development and the risk of destruction by storm force weather makes wave power an unlikely contender for substantial renewable generation.

g(iii)  Tidal impoundment.

  Wales has claim to half of the largest potential resource in the UK:—the Severn Barrage with which would have a generating capacity of 8,640 MW was predicted to produce 7% of UK requirement but was never built, for environmental and economic reasons. A recent feasibility review was ignored by DTI (2003). Environmental constraints prevent any impoundment technology in Wales, including low level tidal lagoons, from being a front runner in renewable energy generation.

g(iv)  Tidal current.

  Several prototype tidal current generators are under test, some in Wales but so far with installed capacities of between 0.15 and 1.0 MW, suggesting that no more than a token contribution can be expected from these sources in the immediate future.

(h)   Hydro-electric energy.

  This is the one source of substantial renewable energy which is proven in long term use in Wales. Our largest is the 50 MW Cwm Rheidol scheme but this usually achieves less than 20 MW annual average, being limited by water availability. Unfortunately most large scale hydro- sites in Wales and the UK have been exploited, so significant expansion is unlikely.

REFERENCES AND NOTESCPA Committee of Public Accounts—House of Commons July 2005) Department of Trade and Industry: Renewable energy.

CST (Council for Science and Technology 2005 May). An Electricity Supply Strategy for the UK.

DEFRA (2004) Consultation on the review of the UK Climate Change Programme (the report actually gives a figure of 2.5 Mt carbon/year, which is equivalent to 9.2 Mt CO2).

ESB (2004) Impact of Wind Power Generation in Ireland on the Operation of Conventional Plant and the Economic Implications.

DTI Energy White Paper (2003).

DTI (2003) Personal communication: Power Stations and Pipelines Permissions Manager: re legality and feasibility of undersea sequestration.

DUKES (Digest of UK Energy Statistics 2005).

IPCC (2005) Special Report on Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage: Summary for Policymakers.

New Scientist (2005 19 November) Forests paying the price for biofuels.

OECD Factbook 2005.

OECI (Oxford Environmental Change Institute report 2005) Windpower and the UK Wind Resource.

Ofgem (2006) ROC Registers and Annual Reports on the RO.

Pimentel, D and Patzek, TW (2005) Ethanol Production Using Corn, Switchgrass, and Wood; Biodiesel Production Using Soybean and Sunflower. Natural Resources Research 14 (1), 65-76.

Property (2004-05) a. Times (January 10 2004) Wind farms can ruin the peace of the countryside and destroy the value of nearby homes, District Judge Michael Buckley said . . . Marton ruling. b. Remax Estate Agency (2005) Report on a sample of properties inspected near a proposed wind farm at Esgairwen Fawr. c. Sunday Telegraph (January 2005) My property nightmare: Windfarm [Devon]

RAE (The Royal Academy of Engineering 2002) An Engineering Appraisal of the Policy and Innovation Unit's Energy Review.

RICS Survey (2004) Impact of wind farms on the value of residential property and agricultural land.

Tourism (2003). a. WTB (Wales Tourist Board October 2003) Investigation into The Potential Impact of Wind Farms on Tourism in Wales. Summary report; b.VisitScotland (2003) Investigation into the Potential Impact of Wind Farms on Tourism in Scotland.

WAG (2002) Economic Development Committee report Consultation Review of Energy Policy in Wales Part 1: Renewable Energy. Page 5.

28 November 2005

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