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.
ENERGY IN WALES
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
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
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:
1. UK GOVERNMENT
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.
2. THE RELATIONSHIP
UK GOVERNMENT AND
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).
3. THE CURRENT
(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
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 yearsapproaching
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
movementwhich 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 WisconsinMadison 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
(d) Wind farms
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
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).
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".
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 economyhousing 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 landscapealready
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"
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
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 sacrificedpossibly 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
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
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
(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.
NOTESCPA Committee of Public AccountsHouse
of Commons July 2005) Department of Trade and Industry: Renewable
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
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),
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
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
WAG (2002) Economic Development Committee report
Consultation Review of Energy Policy in Wales Part 1: Renewable
Energy. Page 5.
28 November 2005