Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Written Evidence

Written Evidence from David Lewis


  I am a retired civil servant and have made a general study of energy in the last two years. Much of the following detail is in broad agreement with the conclusions of the Sixth Report by the Commons Select Committee on Public Accounts which does seem to cover a fair amount of common ground. One vital conclusion reached was that a carbon tax would be a much fairer and simpler system than the existing regime of Renewable Obligation Certificates which distort the economic factors of energy production.


    —    The Committee is primarily concerned with cost, cleanliness, efficiency and sustainablity of energy supplies.

    —    It is submitted that the most important of these is sustainablility, which is assumed to infer security of electricity and gas supplies. The worst case scenario is that the National Grid will be unable to cope with demand and cause blackouts and/or the gas supply fails.

    —    This inability to cope is most likely to result from lack of fuel and/or failure of unreliable power station machinery. The existing reliability factor appears to be satisfactory.

    —    The recent progressive rises in natural gas prices is now cause for concern, coupled with the growing dependence on imported gas from areas which might become politically unstable.


    —    This appears to be diversion from the main concern and needs to be addressed before it aggravates the very problems it is meant to solve.

    —    The setting of targets of so-called renewable energy targets stems from the Kyoto Treaty which is now severely discredited in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions which are believed to cause Global Warming and climate change. It is due to expire in 2012.

    —    The targets were regarded as a simplistic method of measuring carbon reductions but there is ample evidence from the practical experience of Denmark and Germany that their prolific investment in wind turbines has not reduced their emissions because full back up is required from conventional sources at all times to avoid power failure.

    —    Continental Utility Companies are clear about the futility of wind power. Eon Netz, one of Germany's grid managers, with over 7,000 MW of wind capacity connected, has described in their annual wind reports that they need additional conventional capacity to cover 100% of the possible infeed from wind, because even as it peaks it often drops off very quickly. Many utilities in Japan cap the amount of energy they will accept from wind facilities. A recent report boasting of the UKs superb wind resource also points out that new "spinning reserve" must be built and kept burning to compensate for wind power's fluctuations, thus severely limiting any positive effect on the use of other energy sources. A February 2004 study by the Irish grid found that wind power caused minimal displacement of other sources, that it was essentially superfluous additional capacity. Eon Netz projects that at best wind turbines might displace barely 4% of their capacity in other sources.

    —    "In green terms windmills are a mistake and economically they make no sense," says Niels Gram of the Danish Federation of Industries. "Many of us thought wind was the 100% solution for the future but we were wrong. In fact, taking all energy needs into account, it's only a 3% solution."

    —    Danish experts admit that wind power has not worked out very well.

    —    "In just a few years we've gone from some of the cheapest electricity in Europe to some of the most costly," says Jytte Kaad Jensen, chief economist for Eltra, Denmark's biggest electricity distributor.

    —    Aase Madsen, an MP who chairs energy policy in the Danish parliament, is emphatic: "For our industry it has been a terribly expensive disaster."


    —    It is clear that wind power is not capable of meeting our energy needs and is having no practical effect on climate change.

    —    It is heavily subsidised by Capital Grants, Renewable Obligation Certificates and Climate Change Levies which are hidden in the increase in cost to electicity consumers.

    —    It cannot compete on a level playing field with conventional power supplies, with the result that up to 70% of earnings by wind turbine operators is from ROCs and other subsidies.

    —    There is very limited reliablity of supply and the adverse visual effect on the environment has now become obvious with growing public opposition.

    —    If the underlying reason to build wind turbines is to lessen global warming it has failed in every respect to prove that the policy has been successful in this aim.

    —    The reluctance of Government to recognise and react to the above facts is likely to stem from inertia in that the initial policy had the hallmarks of a "political winner" and there would be a loss of face if a change of direction was adopted.

    —    The wind policy is therfore, costly, unreliable and inefficient.


    —    Efforts to convey these points to the Government and Members of the Assembly have mainly been met with repetitive mantras on their blind obedience to meet renewable energy targets. Democratic debate has often been stifled.

    —    The main instance of this is the case of the Scarweather Sands Wind Farm which is summarised below. The challenge to debate this matter in the Welsh Assembly was heavily defeated on 5 October 2004, to the dismay of the general public whose perception that the WA Government was reluctant to face up to these compelling facts. The Scarweather Sands Order was therefore issued by publication in The London Gazette dated 2 November 2004.


  Background to the Planning Decision Committee's Approval of the Proposed windfarm on Scarweather Sands:

  January 2003. United Utilities put forward an approximately 1,000-page Environmental Assessment of the proposal.

  Summer 2003. Then Environment Secretary, Sue Essex AM, calls for a Public Inquiry to be held.

  A Public Inquiry sits from 4 November 2003 to 27 November 2003. This was the longest inquiry into a windfarm ever held in Wales, with thousands of pages of evidence considered.

  30 March 2004. 177 page Inspector's Report produced. In his report the Inspector concluded;

    "The visual impact of a windfarm in the specific location of this proposal would be so prominent when viewed from Porthcawl and its immediate area that I consider that the harmful effects on this view are sufficient to outweigh the benefits of this particular proposal. I recommend that the Order is not made and the Direction that planning permission is deemed to be granted is not given." (paras 128-129, p 22.)

  15 April 2004 The Planning Division of the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) requested "a more detailed explanation of the issues associated with the impact of the proposal on visual amenity."

    14 May 2004 The Inspector produced a 14 page Addendum Report in which he stated;

    ". . . I reiterate my overall conclusion that the environmental and economic benefits of this proposal do not outweigh the real and significant harm to the visual quality of Porthcawl and the surrounding area that would result from this particular proposal on this particular site." (para 65, p 13.)

  6 July 2004 The Planning Decision Committee (PDC) of the National Assembly for Wales reported its findings on the Inspector's Report. It concluded, after a meeting which lasted only a few hours:

    ". . . the Committee accepts the Inspector's consideration of the issues but disagrees with his overall conclusion and with his recommendation."

    The PDC accepts that ". . . the windfarm will have a visual effect on public amenity in the area . . ." but adds that the effect on this . . . and the local tourism industry identified by the Inspector will be outweighed by the significant benefits . . . in terms of the production of renewable energy." (para 11.)

  The PDC gave no reasons for its conclusions. It simply disagrees despite the recommendation by the Chief Planning Officer of the WA that the Public Inquiry Inspector's Decision should be upheld by the PDC

My Reaction and Comments Relating to this Matter are as follows:

  It should be noted that the load factor of these 30 turbines, taken from average recorded output of similar developments, is likely to be around 23% of the installed capacity of 108MW, giving an output of 25MW. This represents a small proportion, under 2%, of the output of 1,500 MW from neighbouring Aberthaw coal fired Power Station which will still be required for back up at all times. To call this "significant" is really stretching the true definition of that word to the point of travesty . . . no practical effect on climate change but all down to target chasing. Another way of putting it is that we would need 1,800 offshore wind turbines, occupying 240 square miles, to match the output from Aberthaw. . . . but we would still need Aberthaw for back up.

  If Scarweather would cost around £150 million, possibly more now that the Danish Manufacturers have increased turbine prices by 70%, the projected cost for 1,800 turbines would be £9 billion. It is clear that this would not be economically viable without huge subsidies from Capital Grants and ROCs . . . a ludicrous prospect.

    —    This case illustrates the need for an urgent change of policy in the provision of reliable and economically viable energy production in Wales and for the whole of the UK.

    —    An immediate moratorium should be imposed on wind farm developments pending the outcome of this inquiry.

    —    The Welsh Assembly should be asked to explain the reasoning of the Planning Decision Committee in the Scarweather Case.


    —    It is now recognised by the UK Government that this is the best solution to provide an efficient, economic and reliable source of carbon free power. France and Sweden have successfully changed the attitude of their citizens. France obtains 75% of their electricity from nuclear sources, probably envied by Germany and Denmark who now regret their decision to phase out their nuclear facilities. Sweden have 10 reactors providing half their electricity and 80% of their population favour nuclear energy.

    —    The closure of Wylfa Nuclear Power Station in North Wales will cause serious problems unless it is replaced with a new nuclear unit of the latest efficient design.

    —    The storage of nuclear waste is recognised as global problem and it is feasible for all industrial Nations to cooperate in building a safe and remote facility for this purpose.

    —    New technology designed to clean up emissions from coal fired power stations should be developed and introduced when available. A carbon tax would provide an incentive but should still allow coal to remain profitable as a fuel.

    —    The other renewable options of tidal and hydro-electric really do need to be explored and given proper funding to provide a more reliable and predictable source of green energy.

  7.  Finally I wish the Committee well in this difficult task and trust that they will meet the challenge head on.

30 November 2005

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