Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Written Evidence

Written Evidence from John Hopkinson

1.   What is the Government trying to achieve?

  Under the Kyoto Protocol the EU agreed jointly to reduce carbon emissions to 8% below 1990 discharge levels, and this target should be met between 2008 and 2012. The UK government agreed to a 12.5% reduction and set a domestic goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20% of 1990 levels by 2010. (Ref "Planning for Renewable Energy" Ministerial Interim Planning Policy Statement 01/2005 Welsh Assembly Government July 2005.)

2.   What did Privatisation of Electricity Promise?

  The White Paper ("Privatising Electricity" February 1988 Cm 322) promised these specific benefits from privatisation (at page 16):

    securing a more efficient and economic supply of electricity maintaining the security and safety of electricity supply;

    meeting electricity demand at minimum cost;

and also stated that "Investment plans will be subject to commercial tests".

3.   What is proposed for "green" electricity?

  An "important" component of the UK energy policy is to produce 10% of electricity production from renewable energy sources by 2010. (Ref "Energy White Paper: Our Energy Future—creating a low carbon economy.")

  Specifically for Wales, a target of 4 TWh (ie four million MWh) renewable electricity production by 2010 has been "established". (Ref "Planning for Renewable Energy" Ministerial Interim Planning Policy Statement 01/2005 Welsh Assembly Government July 2005, paragraph 12.8.3.)

4.   Is it sensible to concentrate on electrical energy production?

  Electrical energy accounts for only 18% of UK energy consumption, and so 10% of 18% is less than 2%. (Ref Tables 1.1 to 1.3 in Aggregate Energy Balances 2003, Digest of UK Energy Statistics DTI 2004.)

  Contrast this with the energy used to heat and provide hot water to homes (82% of domestic energy use) and industry (64% of industrial energy use). (Ref Mobbs, Paul "Energy Beyond Oil" p 3 Matador Publishing 2005.)

  So it makes much more sense to address the heat supply needs to buildings by:

    —  Further insulation, particularly of older properties, and sealing of gaps which cause excessive ventilation.

    —  Increasing insulation requirements for new buildings, and extensions to existing buildings.

    —  Solar power for water heating.

    —  Ground source heat pumps for water and space heating.

    —  Biomass (or wood chip or wood pellet or wood) fuelled boilers.

    —  Replacement of old gas boilers with condensing boilers.

    —  Micro Combined Heat and Power (CHP) such as Powergen's Whispergen.

    —  Micro electricity generation from micro hydro or domestic wind turbines.

  All of the above should receive equal treatment from Government as regards publicity, promotion and financial support. Moreover, because they are all local to the point of use and do not suffer from the transmission losses inherent in national, regional and local electricity distribution systems, all of the above should be given a higher priority than larger-scale renewable electricity generation.

  It is particularly disappointing that the Government is even now failing to address insulation properly (Ref letter from Andrew Warren, Director, Association for the Conservation of Energy to the "Independent" on 11 October 2005.)

5.   What is wrong with wind power?

    (a)  Wind power is not an experimental or emerging technology, and should not require subsidy. All wind farm proposals must be demonstrably viable, without subsidy. (Ref Conwy and Denbighshire Supplementary Planning Guidance "Onshore Wind Farms" 2005 Appendix 2, Clause 13). The National Audit Office (March 2005) has already expressed concern at the excessive subsidy to wind power, as has the Select Committee on Public Accounts (Ref Sixth Report issued on 15 September 2005). If the "10% by 2010" target is reached for electricity generation by wind, the cost to consumers will be £1 billion annually in subsidies.

    (b)  Wind Power is variable, intermittent and unpredictable. (Ref Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology `Postnote' Number 163, page 4). The wind blows when it will, the wind blows as strong as it will, the wind blows where it will. E.ON Netz GmbH have found that the power produced from a wide geographical spread of wind farms can drop by a factor of three in just 10 hours, and predict that no less than 48,000 MW of installed wind power plants would be needed to replace 2,000 MW of thermally generated power. (Ref E.ON annual press conference, Munich 16 June 2005). The cost in copper, steel, concrete and aluminium for 48,000 MW of plant is too great to bear contemplation.

    (c)  Significant costs are incurred in having plant underloaded or in spinning reserve on no load to meet shortfalls in predicted wind generation. Even with modem weather forecasting techniques, wind generation can fail to meet 60% of the power output predicted for it in the short term, and National Grid Control is obliged to "buy in" reserve. No generator voluntarily generates at less than full rated power for his plant.

    Dinorwig pumped storage power station was conceived in 1972, and designed, built and commissioned in the 70s and early 80s specifically to allow the National Grid to recover from the sudden loss of 1,320 MW of thermal plant. (Ref W Fairney et al "The CEGB Requirement for Dinorwig Power Station" I Mech E 1985 ISBN 0 85298 572X). Whilst Dinorwig can assist with grid frequency regulation whatever the cause - loss of generation, commercial break in popular TV programme, unreliable wind generation - it was designed when lots of surplus nuclear generation was expected to be available at night to enable economic pumping of the water back to the upper reservoir. This is not now the case.

    (d)  Unlike all other plant on the National Grid, wind generators do not have synchronous generators, and cannot pick up load by governor action to do their share of load pick-up if grid frequency starts to fall. Grid instability has been studied (Ref Anderson D and Leach M "Intermittancy of Generation within Large Energy Systems" Imperial College 2001) with the tentative conclusion that the national network could cope with up to 10% (maximum) of electricity produced from wind.

    (e)  Noise. The sound from turbines is irritating, and is more irritating at lower wind speeds. (Ref Vestas V80-2.0 MW sales literature, ref 4596752575). Also, there can be an important change in wind profile, particularly at night when the atmosphere becomes more stable. The airflow around the blade changes, increasing turbulence. The effect is strongest when the blades pass the tower, causing short-lasting higher sound levels at the rate of the blade passing frequency ie "thumping" (Ref "Noise Management" Journal November 2004, page 6).

    (f)  Reduction in CO2 in the atmosphere. Wind turbines do not lead to any reduction in CO2 in the atmosphere. (Ref Evidence presented at the Carmarthenshire County Council Departures Committee on 24 November 2005, when the Blaengwen Wind Farm Application was refused.)

  There are also issues such as bird strikes, threat to peatland habitats, and threats to underground water systems and water supplies which I will leave to others more qualified than I in these areas to comment on.

6.   Distribution System in Rural Areas

  In very few cases will the existing electricity supply infrastructure be capable of accepting significant new load as generated by a wind farm when the wind is blowing strongly. The alternatives available are to lay in extra overhead lines (underground cables will almost always be prohibitively expensive) or to restrict the output of the wind farm to what the existing lines can accept whilst remaining within the constraints of current-carrying capacity for the lines.

7.   The contribution of existing hydro stations

  In Wales there is already a very significant amount of hydro power, for example at Rheidol, Maentwrog, Dolgarrog and Cwm Dyli. There are many smaller schemes now generating, and other schemes potentially viable. It seems arbitrary to "penalise" hydro of 20 MW and above by not treating them as renewables, which they patently are. Furthermore, trees are already being felled to help wind turbines achieve their potential, and yet the felling of trees to enable Rheidol to generate 13% more energy (by diminishing the amount of transpiration of rainfall back into the atmosphere) has not been allowed.

  All hydro currently generating in Wales should count towards the 4TWh "target".

30 November 2005

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