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Monday 20 October 2014

Normally, presidents of the European commission are cautious about interfering directly in the internal politics of member states. But not Mr Barroso. 

No sooner do we have Mr Cameron emblazoned on the front page of the Sunday Times , apparently threatening to impose a cap on EU migrants, then up pops Barroso on the Marr programme telling him that he can't do that.

Interestingly, that's what both the Mail and the Guardian chose to feature, but not the BBC, which elected to feature on the "loss of influence" meme, for when we leave the EU.

The thing about that tired line or argument is that Barroso grossly overstates the case, saying that the UK would have "zero" influence if it voted to leave the EU, which could never be true. He then goes on to tell us that Britain could not negotiate with the US and China "on an equal footing" on its own, despite the fact that both Switzerland and Iceland have clinched trade deals with China, when the EU has not.

But the real hard edge is Barroso's comment that free movement of people within the EU was an "essential" principle that could not be changed.

Asked about Mr Cameron's renegotiation plans, Mr Barroso said there was willingness in the EU to discuss benefit fraud and sham marriages, but an "arbitrary cap" on migration would "not be in conformity with European rules".

Barroso said 1.4 million Britons lived elsewhere in the EU and it was a "matter of fairness" that other EU citizens had the same rights. He then criticised comments Hammond last week that Britain was "lighting a fire under the European Union" with the proposed referendum.

In a clear snub, Barroso said of Hammond, "I'm told the foreign secretary was the former minister of defence. I think this reference to fire and weapons is more appropriate for defence than foreign secretary", adding, "It is very important to have a positive tone regarding these issues between Britain and the EU".

Even though Mr Cameron is trying hard to keep the prospects of renegotiation alive, gradually his options are being closed down, leaving his nowhere to go. If he actually believes what he is saying, he must be the only man left alive in Britain who thinks he can successfully negotiate a deal with Brussels.

Even the might Matthew Parris is getting sick of it, arguing that Cameron should take on the Ukipites full frontal.

"Why can't we, and why can't the Conservative party, understand that this goes a long way to explaining opinion polls and headlines about 'popular fury' over 'immigration and Europe'? Why haven't our mainstream politicians the brains or moral courage to push back against the lies and the nonsense? ", he writes.

With the Independent also calling for a more robust approach to immigration, there is something of a backlash building up.

This we discussed at Rotherham. Cameron is playing it all wrong. There is a great deal that could be done to curb immigration, from inside and outside the EU. If the prime minister was better advised, and in a mood to listen, he would be focusing on the measures available to him, and thus avoid being accused of being "Ukip-lite", just as Ukip is being accused of being "BNP-lite".

What Cameron should not be doing is trying to pretend he can do a deal with the EU. Too many people know he can't, and now we have Mr Barroso out in the open calling his bluff.

The good thing here is that, with his renegotiation strategy in tatters, if Cameron went with what he's got to the public, even Farage would be hard put to lose the referendum for us.

Richard North 20/10/2014 link

Sunday 19 October 2014

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We had an extremely good meeting in Rotherham yesterday, with some good, high quality people – most of them UKIP members. That reminds me of why I joined UKIP in the first place, and then how much the party has been let down by its current leadership.

I will write further about the meeting, organised by local UKIP member John Wilkinson, but first need to address one particular issue pointed up earlier on this blog and now raised by Deutsche Welle as representing a: "Bitter defeat for EU opponents in the European Parliament".

This was the collapse of Farage's "Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy" (EFDD) group, a "defeat" that is in fact extremely serious for UKIP in general, and Mr Farage in particular. And while it has been given some coverage in the British media, such as here in the BBC, the event hasn't had a fraction of the coverage that it should have received.

One suspects that some of the reason for this is that the media is completely missing is the scale of the defeat, with the BBC, for instance, wrongly pointing up that the groups are (only) paid €59.8m (£48m) from the European Parliament Budget.

This they are taking from Chapter 4 of the budget (p.77), which covers "secretarial, administrative and operational expenditure", plus expenditure on "political and information activities conducted in connection with the Union's political activities".

However, they haven't realised that the group staff are paid from a different budget line, covered on p.17 over the staff budget of €936 million, and not separately identified. You can, though, see from page 72 that just over 1,000 staff members are employed by the EP on behalf of the groups, without the specific sum being identified.

This equates to roughly 1.5 members of staff to every MEP. For technical reasons, it actually amounts to slightly more, which means that the UKIP delegation gets about 40 extra staff working for them in Brussels, off the books so to speak, paid for out of the European Parliament budget.

There are also other budget lines which incorporate expenditure by political groups (for instance, see 3.042 on p.55) and when you add these and the staff costs in, the expenditure picture is very different from that portrayed by the BBC and other media.

As the European Parliament itself points out (and it should know), some six percent of the EP budget of € 1,756 billion is allocated for political group activities. This works out at roughly €105 million a year, or a "dowry" of €140,000 per MEP. For the five years of the coming parliamentary term, that means that UKIP – with its 24 MEPs – was due to get about €17 million (£13 million) in cash and kind.

As independent members, known in EP jargon as "non-inscrits" (NIs), they lose the group staff, and only have a small administrative staff to rely on, serving the whole NI – currently just over 50 MEPs. These are provided by the parliament. The 40 or so political staff that UKIP had working for them are lost (although a small number may be re-employed on administrative duties).

To each of the NI MEPs, the residual budget is allocated individually, about €43,000 each, an effective loss of about €100,000 per MEP. Added up over the term, that means Farage's UKIP loses about €12 million, and Farage loses control over what was once a central budget. Each of the MEPs become responsible for spending their own budgets.

This loss, of course, is on top of the privileges afforded to Farage himself, as president of the group: the personal chauffeur-driven limousine; the spacious office suite; membership of the Conference of Presidents; his front-row seat in the EP; and the first bite at the cherry when it comes to speaking allocations.

These visible losses, though, pale into insignificance when it comes to the financial loss. It was group money in 1999 that kept the show on the road, an invisible dowry over which the national party had no control and scarcely knew existed.

Basically, within the constraints of the EU rules, the group money was in the gift of the group president, which for this session would have given Farage €12-million-worth of leverage which he has now lost. Apart from weakening UKIP, it considerable weakens Farage's own personal power base, as he loses all that taxpayer-funded patronage. 

Why the group collapsed is another story, but one factor has been Farage's own behaviour. Angered by his posturing (even if it plays well to the domestic audience), the "colleagues" have been progressively tightening the group rules, and in such a way as quite obviously to discriminate against Farage's group. Now it has collapsed, you might say that this is Van Rompuy's revenge.

It didn't have to be that way. When I joined the parliament in 1999 as group staff, I proposed that we should avoid fouling the nest in Brussels. Our battle was not with the "colleagues" but with our own government. Even if we were disliked, I averred, we should at least be respected.

That line held until I left in 2003, but relations between UKIP and the EP have since deteriorated – largely because of a number of high profile YouTube videos. It is a matter of judgement as to whether they were worth it, but at least we are now able to put a price tag on them - €12 million.

And, with Farage now consigned to the back of the hall, and his allocation of speaking time limited to such riveting subjects as the reform of the comitology system, and the CAP vegetable regime (the sort of thing we were getting in the 1999 term), his YouTube days are probably over.

It was good while it lasted. But UKIP members may now wonder whether they have been well-served. Effectively, Farage has cost his own party €12 million. 


Richard North 19/10/2014 link

Sunday 19 October 2014

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Who are potentially the most expensive man and woman in Britain, asks Booker, due over the next 36 years to cost this country £1.3 trillion, equivalent to our entire, ever-swelling National Debt?

The man is Ed Miliband, who in 2008 pushed through the final version of the Climate Change Act. It made us the only country in the world legally committed between now and 2050 to cutting our emissions of CO2 by a staggering 80 percent.

Even then, the Government projected that this would cost us up to £734 billion. The latest figures from the EU and the International Energy Agency suggest that, for Britain to reach this target, it would now cost even more: £1,300 billion.

Less well known, however, is the extraordinary story of how this most expensive Act ever put on the statute book originated in the first place. Google "Bryony Worthington" with "YouTube" and you will see the video of a young climate activist, now known as Baroness Worthington, describing how she first conceived the idea of such a policy when she was campaigns director on climate change for Friends of the Earth.

After David Cameron became Tory leader in 2005, bent on "remaking" his party, she put to him that he should adopt her proposal. She describes how, when David Miliband became environment secretary, desperate not to be "out-greened" by the Tories, he called on her to head a small team in his ministry tasked with urgently drafting such a Bill.

When, in 2008, brother Ed took over as head of the new Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), he raised the emissions-cut target from 60 to 80 percent, at almost double the cost.

The Bill passed the Commons by 463 votes to three, after a debate in which not a single MP asked how such an ambitious target could in practice be achieved without destroying virtually our entire economy.

But this is what at last one senior politician, Owen Paterson, dared to question in his lecture last week to the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Thanks to advance coverage given to his speech in last week’s Sunday Telegraph, with its front-page headline "Let’s rip up the Climate Change Act", Mr Paterson has at last set off a proper debate on our energy future – one that is years overdue.

As Booker wrote last week, Paterson was able, backed by a mountain of expert research, to show how DECC's current policy, outlined in its "2050 Pathway Analysis" – and amplified by similar statements from the European Commission – is pure make-believe.

It alone might merit front-page headlines: that, within 16 years, DECC seriously contemplates closing down all our existing energy supplies from the nasty, CO2-emitting fossil fuels that currently supply 70 percent of our electricity. Out will go all cooking and central heating by gas. Almost everything, including our transport system, will have to be powered by electricity, for which we will, by 2050, need twice as much as we currently use.

This will largely be supplied by 17 times as many wind turbines as we already have, and up to 12 more monster nuclear power plants like the one proposed in Somerset, which may not produce a watt of electricity within 10 years.

What has been striking about the outraged response from green zealots to Paterson's speech is how they did not begin to understand his practical proposals for how an otherwise inevitable disaster can be averted.

There was, of course, a knee-jerk howl of derision from the likes of Lord Stern and Lord Deben, along with a blizzard of personal abuse across the Twittersphere. But the more thoughtful among them, such as the BBC's Roger Harrabin, tried instead to ride with the punch, by claiming that DECC was already looking at all the parts of Paterson's "Plan B" for keeping our lights on.

So there was really nothing new about what he was saying, despite his devastating evidence showing how DECC's current strategy, like the Climate Change Act itself, cannot possibly work.

The zealots simply cannot grasp how our energy future might be transformed by "combined heat and power", ending the waste of almost half the energy we use to create electricity. Or how hundreds of small, wholly safe nuclear reactors could provide us with a huge new source of both electricity and heat within a decade or so. Or how sophisticated "demand management" technology could shave another huge chunk off our electricity needs, without us even noticing.

And all this could achieve a far greater cut in our carbon emissions (for what that is worth) than we can hope for under DECC's unworkable policy.

When Mr Paterson's radical proposals are properly examined, unblinkered by green make-believe, it will be seen that he has at last launched the properly informed national debate that alone might save our economy from a barely imaginable catastrophe.


Richard North 19/10/2014 link

Saturday 18 October 2014

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The thing that a lot of commenters here and elsewhere seem to forget – or not realise – is that energy policy is primarily about politics. That is not too simplistic. The technicalities are vitally important, but without a sound political framework, nothing coherent is ever going to be achieved.

This is where Charles Moore in today's Telegraph is particularly astute, in identifying the politics as the driver of the mess that currently passes as our energy policy. He also notes that there is essentially no difference between the three main Westminster parties, which does leave Ukip out on its own, albeit with nothing approaching a coherent replacement policy. All they can offer is to tear down the Climate Change Act and hanker after multi-fuel electricity generation that does not include renewables.

Moore's observations take us to a refusal of the political parties to address the increasingly visible failure of their policies, with no one wanting to discuss the causes. Owen Paterson, then the environment secretary, was the only minister who dared raise doubts. He annoyed what he calls the "green blob". David Cameron duly sacked him this summer.

In the Global Warming Policy Foundation lecture on Wednesday, Mr Paterson said of wind farms that "this paltry supply of onshore wind, nowhere near enough to hit the 2050 targets, has devastated landscapes, blighted views, divided communities, killed eagles…".

When this was quoted on the BBC News, he was saying no more than millions of ordinary people have been saying for years. Yet it was very striking to hear it in public, because no other elected person charged with these responsibilities had said anything like this before.

It would have been better still if the BBC had completed the Paterson sentence. He went on to say that wind turbines had devastated 'the very wilderness that the 'green blob' claims to love, with new access tracks cut deep into peat, boosted production of carbon-intensive cement, and driven up fuel poverty, while richly rewarding landowners".

This, Mr Paterson also said, is "the single most regressive policy we have seen in this country since the Sheriff of Nottingham". He is right, says Moore, and because his party, and the Liberal Democrats, and Labour, have all agreed to the sheriff's extortions, they are letting Nigel Farage play Robin Hood. As the theme song of the TV version used to say, "He cleared up all the trouble on the English country scene, and still found plenty of time to sing".

Readers here do not need to reharse Mr Paterson's arguments, but it can never be said too many times that the current energy policy is unattainable – and at a cost of £1.3 trillion, which is roughly the size of the national debt. So obviously, says Moore, Mr Paterson is right to say that we should invoke the clause in the Climate Change Act which allows for its suspension. But, despite his notable trenchancy, Moore thinks he is being quite cautious about what is really happening.

Even if Britain and the whole of the EU were to stick to our emissions targets (which we surely won't), and to hit them (which, actually, we can't), we would still not come anywhere close to what we are told is needed to save the planet. This is for a very simple reason: the rest of the world won’t do it. Last year, carbon emissions per head in China exceeded those of Britain for the first time, and China has more than 20 times as many heads as we do. The EU is responsible for less than 10 percent of global emissions, so when we set our targets we knew – and said – that we were in no position to stop global warming. The point was to set a lead which others would follow.

They haven't. Since the debacle of the Copenhagen Summit of 2009 when the developed world failed to persuade the developing one to join our saintly masochism, this has been obvious. There is a "second commitment period" of the process started by the Kyoto Protocol. New Zealand has withdrawn from it. Canada has repudiated Kyoto altogether.

The only two non-European countries still in the second period are Kazakhstan and Australia, and Australia is now reviewing its commitment. Europe's gesture has proved futile, and is getting ever more expensive, in taxes, bills and jobs. Even the European Commission has spotted this, and is beginning to tiptoe away from the policy.

But not the British parties and policy elites. In August 1914, Sir Edward Grey famously said, "The lamps are going out all over Europe". He was speaking of the war we had inflicted on ourselves. A century later, we are threatening to put them out again, with different motives, but equal folly. Everywhere else, the lamps are staying on.

Isn't it rather extraordinary, Moore concludes, that no mainstream party has dared to point any of this out? Don't they know there's an election on? Is it surprising that voters think: "They're all the same?"


Richard North 18/10/2014 link

Saturday 18 October 2014

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There is a certain amount of excitement about the resurrection of the Referendum Bill, which successfully completed its second reading yesterday. However, if one recalls the first attempt, we are reminded that the Bill is Mr Cameron's attempt to by-pass the collalition block, and add legislative clothes to his referendum promise.

One is wearied by these games, but at least this attempt has the merit of prompting a "hostile speech" from our now foreign secreaty, Philip Hammond, leading the Guardian to suggest it was "one of the most hostile speeches by a British cabinet minister about the EU".

The Conservative party is "lighting a fire" under the European Union by pledging to hold an in/out referendum on British membership by the end of 2017, Hammond says, trying to tell us that it was a "very powerful weapon in our armoury" as the prime minister, David Cameron sought to renegotiate the UK's membership terms.

This appears to put the Conservative strategy in perspective – Cameon wants the referendum threat as "leverage" to get a better (or any) deal out of the "colleagues". This he needs to save face, and put up some sort of show which stands him up as a euro-basher.

It is all so predicatable that it becomes boring. We need to cut to the chase, getting the election out of the way and a referendum on the stocks – or not. Then Mr Cameron can go through his little charade of a pretend negotiation, and we can get on with it.

Meanwhile, we are told that Downing Street is not denying that Michael Gove, the chief whip, has suggested to Tory MPs that the government might be willing to set aside the European arrest warrant. Britain is due to opt out of 133 EU justice and home affairs issues before immediately opting back into 35 of the measures, including the European arrest warrant, by 1 December.

A vote is due to be held to approve the changes. But Gove has been told by his back bench that Mr Cameron will face a rebellion if his MPs are asked to approve continued British participation in the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

These are more games. If we don't have the EAW then we go without a procedure and have to adopt another, which means the government has to pull a rabbit out of the hat in order to get wanted criminals back here.

All of this, of course, is tied in with the opt-ins that we had a look at a little while ago - another piece of theatre that we have to put up, because our government can't get to grips with the issues.

Hammond, though, doesn't cut it. He told the Commons that "radical change" would have to be introduced to persuade him to support continued EU membership. "No change is not an option", he says. "The status quo in Europe is not in Britain's interests, or in the interests of anyone in Europe".

Thus we get the dreary litany. "What most of us want to see is a radically reformed Europe", he says. This is:
… a Europe where powers flow from Brussels back to the nations, not the other way round; a Europe of cooperating nations, not a European superstate; a Europe of open markets and free trade arrangements with the world beyond; a Europe that can out-compete the best in the world, without red tape and regulation weighing it down. But most of all we want to see a Europe on which the British people have had their say.
I can't even be bothered to make the usual joke about pigs lining up on the runway at Heathrow. This was not a "hostile speech" – it was the usual masquerade, dressed up to look as if the Conservatives are going somewhere. I wish they'd stop the pretence and get on with it. The games are convincing no one.


Richard North 18/10/2014 link

Friday 17 October 2014

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Dozens of small nuclear reactors could be built to help Britain meet its emissions targets, says Ben Webster of The Times.

This was the view of the government's Committee on Climate Change, responding to a proposal from Owen Paterson, the former environment secretary, who said small reactors built 20 miles from cities could be an alternative to putting up thousands more wind turbines.

The committee said: "There are large uncertainties over price and public acceptability, but they might have a role in future", after Mr Paterson had said that small nuclear plants had been running successfully in Britain for the past 30 years, including one in Derby at the Rolls-Royce site that supports Britain's nuclear submarines.

"Nine have been working on and off without incident and the technology is proven", he said. "Factory built units at the rate of one a month could add to the capacity at a rate of 1.8 GW per year [enough to power a million homes]".

Mr Paterson said many small reactors built around the country would provide more reliable power than the "behemoths", or giant power stations such as the £25 billion nuclear plant planned for Hinkley Point in Somerset. Much of the heat produced by large stations was wasted but heat from small reactors could be piped to cities to heat homes.

This was supported by Andrew Sherry, director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester, who said that small nuclear reactors could be built within three years, compared with the nine years it will take to build Hinkley Point C.

He said that they could also be far cheaper to build per unit of capacity than large reactors because of mass-production. "You can daisy-chain these small reactors and have ten together".

DECC is shortly to publish a feasibility study on the commercial and technical potential of small reactors. Matthew Hancock, the energy minister, says: "Small modular reactors have huge potential, but the technology is at an early stage. I want us to do the work to make the most of that potential".

The government has certainly taken its time. We first wrote about mini-nukes in 2006, and then again in 2010, before returing to the subject in 2013 followed by Booker four months later.

UKIP offered what passes for an energy policy a year earlier, but had nothing to say about Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), so it was left to a Conservative, former Secretary of State to put the issue on the public agenda.

Several times over the last few days, I have been told that the wave of publicity over the Paterson energy speech has stemmed directly from the unusual situation of a politician actually producing detailed, worked-out policy ideas – and there is more to come.

Thus, it would appear, if you come up with sound policy ideas, you make the weather. That is a lesson Mr Cameron could learn about the EU and one that another party could also take on board - if it was able.


Richard North 17/10/2014 link

Thursday 16 October 2014

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"Ironically – tragically – the biggest threat to Britain's chances of leaving the EU is currently UKIP itself", says Conservative Home. This blog has expressed more or less these sentiments several times, only to have the usual accretion of comments accusing this writer of "bitterness", personal grudges and all the other tedious shallowness that seems to follow any attempt to critique Farage's train-wreck party.

Complete Bastard also has a bash at this, while we're busy with energy, setting the agenda and having the greens squawking with fury, trailing in our wake for once.

Even then, we have the usual UKIP Muppets claiming credit for Paterson's policy initiative, on the basis of the superficial resemblance to Helmer's wish list. Clearly, they haven't read it. But then, there could only be a superficial resemblance, as UKIP has so little to offer - as usual. 

As long as UKIP continues to offer train-wreck ideas, though, it will continue to be a liability, leaving real politicians to do the heavy lifting. Meanwhile, as the train-wreck gathering momentum, Farage's Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group in the European Parliament has collapsed after one of its national members left, leaving the group below the qualifying threshold.

This is Latvian MEP Iveta Grigule, a politician with a distinctly "colourful" past, as featured in last Monday's Panorama. As the EFDD no longer has members from at seven countries, it cannot continue. That, incidentally, is set to stuff Grillo and his five-star movement, to say nothing of leaving Farage fighting for his millions, his deluxe office suite, and his chauffeur-driven car.

According to the rules, if a group falls below the required threshold, the President, with the agreement of the Conference of Presidents, may allow it to continue to exist until Parliament's next "constitutive sitting", the members continue to represent at least one-fifth of the Member States and the group has been in existence for a period longer than a year.

Since these conditions are not met, this is the end of the group, unless another member, from another member state can be brought in fast. But since Mr Farage has made no friends in the EP, it is less likely than it might have been that anyone will be rushing to his rescue.

However, this is also a blow for Helmer, he of UKIP's aspirational energy "policy" – and part-time leader of the UKIP parliamentary delegation. Perhaps Mr Helmer should have focused more on his working relations with his group colleagues and spent less time on his leisure activities.


Richard North 16/10/2014 link

Thursday 16 October 2014

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So, after all the hype, we get the lecture and the reports now follow. Dellers has did quite a respectable job but, unlike Booker, there's far too much emphasis on climate change and not anything like enough on energy. From some reports, you wouldn't even know the speech had been about energy policy.

Then, you get the likes of the Mail which tells us that Mr Paterson claimed the effects of climate change had been "consistently and widely exaggerated", and policies to encourage onshore wind farms will cost £1.3 trillion by 2050.

This wasn't what was said at all – the cost is for "decarbonisation" of the electricity supply but, true to form, this wasn't mentioned at all. I think some of the issues raised are so foreign to the media that they simply can't cope with them. At least Mr Paterson, in the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme, was allowed to say that the process, largely based on renewables, simply wasn't deliverable.

But to get the Mail to run the £1.3tn figure is an achievement. Earlier, this was set at £1.1 trillion, only to be savaged by Richard Black. He argues that the source puts the cost of keeping the lights on to 2050 without any climate change targets at £760 billion.

Black is evidently desperate to play down the massive costs - which the government itself dare not put in the public domain. With an emissions target but no renewables target, the figure "only" cones to £960bn, he says. The larger sum comes if you have emissions and renewables targets. So, he says, the marginal costs are not as big as that £1.1 trillion figure might imply, especially when you consider that they're spread over nearly 40 year.

Here, though, Black has blundered into a trap of his own making. He is exploiting that fact that there is no agreed figure on the total costs of the "decarbonisation" policy. There isn't even any agreement as to how it should be achieved - not surprising when, as Mr Paterson puts it, it is simply not "deliverable". No wonder the government is so reluctant to tell us how much is being spent on a policy that can only fail.

But this is where the £1.3tn figure comes in. Mr Paterson has found other sources which are prepared to be more candid about the costs. Ironically, one is the European Commission. It estimates that the additional investment to achieve decarbonisation (over and above that which would be spent anyway) could run to €304bn a year, between 2011-2050, for the whole of the EU.

From this, it is relatively simple to work out the UK expenditure, based on the relative proportions of the GDP. That's where £1.3tn comes from, some £200bn higher than the original figure used - and wholly attributable to "decarbonisation". Furthermore, the Commission is not alone. The prestigious International Energy Agency estimates the additional global costs at $44tn. Apportioned on the basis of the UK’s contribution to global GDP, this comes out at £1.3tn as well.

Thus, the higher £1.3tn is a much more secure figure than the £1.1tn estimate, coming from an authoritative source and triangulated by another. Even then, my guess is that this is on the low side, but at least it is largely critic-proof. The bizarre thing, though, is that the sum is about the size of the National Debt, so we're effectively doubling it, for the single purpose of running ourselves out of electricity, and ensuring that the lights go out.

This is clearly enough for the Mail to go to town on the issue with an editorial, adding a political edge by fingering Ed Miliband as the energy secretary who shepherded the Climate Change Act through Parliament. It is he, therefore, an "ambitious Labour politician", who set Britain on a ruinous path that threatens our energy-dependent civilisation with collapse. 

If Mr Paterson's frightening analysis is correct, says the Mail, Mr Miliband's folly will cost us a mind-boggling £1.3trillion over the next 36 years – with low-income families paying inflated energy bills to subsidise wealthy landowners and investors.

Moreover, it says, the course set by the Labour leader and his Lib Dem successors – obsessed by inefficient wind turbines and biomass that causes more pollution than coal – cannot possibly meet the Act's emissions target, while failing utterly to provide for the UK's energy requirements. Thus, the message is getting out into the open. 

Only then, however, are we allowed some inkling of the "alternative means of achieving cleaner energy more cheaply". The paper tells us that Mr Paterson is calling for  "more and smaller nuclear reactors, exploiting shale gas and making use of the heat produced by power stations". At the very least, we are told, "his ideas deserve full examination", even if the paper stops short of dong that .

Nevertheless, the £1.3tn has lodged in the media consciousness. "When MPs of all parties voted in 2008 to support Mr Miliband's law, it hardly occurred to them that they were making the most crippling commitment in our peacetime history", the paper says, then adding the essential words: "The Climate Change Act must surely be amended or repealed".

Putting the boot in, it then concludes that, "if Miliband could pose such a huge threat to our children's prosperity as a mere climate change secretary, heaven help us if he becomes prime minister".

Unlike the news article, therefore, this editorial is quite encouraging, elevating the political profile of energy policy, even if we are not allowed much detail about the alternatives. But, to put the scale of the issue into context, the Marshall Aid programme for the whole of Europe was only about £200 billion (in today's money). Mr Miliband's Act is set to cost us more than six times that amount.

Perhaps our senses have been dulled by the constant repetition of billions and trillions, to the extent that such large figures no longer have the effect they should. But, if ever there was something to be alarmed about, it is this. To pursue their fantasies about climate change, our masters are driving us into penury.


Richard North 16/10/2014 link

Wednesday 15 October 2014

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Richard Black, former BBC Environment Correspondent and now director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit is asking questions of Owen Paterson, In particular, he asks, "Where is the evidence that the UK will experience blackouts unless emission targets are scrapped?"

None of the major players in the field, he says, not DECC, the National Grid nor Ofgem, believe the lights are about to go out, although it is true that the amount of "headroom" between peak demand and peak supply has been falling.

The Coalition government, he adds, has just opened its first capacity market auction – a process designed explicitly to ensure that the "lights stay on" in an era of increasing renewable and nuclear generation.

The capacity market can award contracts for 15 years; nuclear stations such as Hinkley C are set to generate for 35 years with price support. So what evidence is there to support the "lights going out" thesis?

As one might expect from a former BBC employee, however, Black is missing the point. Paterson is not talking about the short-term. He is looking at the longer term, to 2050 and the mandatory 80 percent emissions cut.

The basis of the estimations is the official DECC 2050 scenarios (in particular, pathway Alpha: pp 17-18) which state that, in order to meet the 2050 emission targets, domestic heating and much of the private transport fleet must be electrified. At the same time, electricity generation must be totally decarbonised. No CO2 producing equipment can be permitted.

Most 2050 scenarios posit a doubling of electricity demand, even after energy efficiency measures. The gives a projected winter peak demand of 120GW based on current figures. There is no point looking at total electricity production – when it comes to preventing blackouts on cold, dark, winter nights, what matters is available capacity.

To deliver with certainty, a winter peak of 120GW, we must expect, on the basis of the current structure of the electricity industry, a capacity requirement of anything from 160-200GW. The exact figure will depend on the proportion of wind and solar in the mix.

The government has not been explicit about the generation mix for 2050 – in fact, it has avoided giving any details. But looking at a realistic requirement, with a high level of renewables (wind and solar), there will be actually be a need for about 200GW installed capacity – which must all be "carbon-free" generation. This seems to be confirmed in the graph for pathway Alpha, which suggests an average daily load of about 100GW - double that to get a capacity figure.

The government expects there will be a heavy reliance on nuclear. Figures of 40-80GW have been mentioned (although one scenario of 146GW is posited). There is no explicit target for wind, but we can assume up to 60GW capacity. From hydro, interconnectors and "others", we might get 20GW.

Then there is about 20GW installed solar power capacity planned. That gives us about 180GW, so we would be looking at a balance of up to 20GW CCS-abated gas and coal-fired generation – which will only come on line from about 2030 onwards.

Now looking at the real world, with the current nuclear programme, and the time it has taken just to get approval for Hinkley C, together with the spiralling costs (£24bn at last estimate), there can be no confidence that even the lower estimate of 40GW can be reached. We would be very fortunate to get 20GW.

Wind has struggled to reach just over 10GW installed capacity by 2013 and the chances of another 50GW being installed in the next 37 years are remote. Solar could make 20GW or even more, but since it cannot produce electricity in the dark, when peak requirements occur, the capacity is of no value for planning purposes, in dealing with expected peaks.

We assume a shortfall on nuclear - let's say we manage 20GW – more than we have at the moment. There will most likely be a shortfall on wind, allowing an installed capacity of an incredibly generous 50GW.

We can allow the hydro, interconnector and "others" at 20GW. Solar will not be available at peak times, which will be during winter evenings. And, unless there are technological and economic breakthroughs, we cannot assume that any CCS-abated capacity will be available. At the moment, its availability is theoretical – the government is relying on technology that does not yet exist in commercially available form.

On a cold, windless night, when the peaks are most likely to occur, there may be no wind. This leaves 20GW from nuclear, 20GW from hydro, interconnectors and others, and in the absence of CCS-abated gas and coal, nothing much else. That is 40GW against a 120GW requirement. Even if wind was fully available, that is just 90GW – leaving a 30GW gap.

There are, however, all sorts of mitigation strategies, including the balancing reserve and demand management, and storage, but much of that – such as smart meters and the smart grid - lie in the future, with no firm dates for implementation, much less completion.

On what we know, therefore, massive electricity shortfalls are inevitable, if the 2050 80 percent emissions target is kept. Turning this round, the government must offer us firm, funded proposals for meeting the capacity requirements against solid capacity estimates, needed to meet its "decarbonisation" scenario.

At the moment, on costs - against EU and IEA estimates of £1.3tn  - all it can offer is this:
Providing a comprehensive estimate of the costs of decarbonisation out to 2050 is very challenging. First, it is impossible to predict accurately how fuel and technology costs will develop over such a long period. Costs will necessarily depend on the assumptions on fuel prices, technology development and the paths taken by other countries. And in some sectors the technological solutions required to allow the necessary emissions reductions are not yet known. Second, many of the wider impacts of the move to a low carbon economy are very difficult to quantify, for example those on security of supply, the wider environment and people's behaviours.
If the government cannot do better than that, then any challenge about when whether the lights will go out is misplaced. Instead, the government should be asked what the evidence is that the lights will stay on. On current form, it has none.


Richard North 15/10/2014 link

Tuesday 14 October 2014

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While the energy planners tear themselves apart over the fate (and spiralling costs – up to £24bn) of the Hinkley C nuclear plant – with its two giant, 1.6GW generators, the Germans are showing that the other end of the scale works.

Us "dregs", who are actually working on serious ideas on how to keep the lights on, have picked up on this fokesy website, which shows a 2-litre Volkswagen, gas powered engine in the basement of a house, used for cogeneration – producing heat and electricity. And trust the Germans to have a word for it. They call it Schwarmstrom (swarm power).

Teamed up with LichtBlick, the plan was to sell 100,000 units called "EcoBlue" to create the equivalent of a 2,000 megawatts power station. Run with Volkswagen natural gas engines and eventually intended to be fired by biogas from non-fossil sources, the new units would produce power on demand, store heat and thus produce a constant hot water supply, with excess electricity being sold to the grid.

Honda are playing with something very similar, indicating that this idea has serious legs. Strip the green rhetoric from the promotional material and you have a hard-edged, serious answer to the electricity supply crisis.

But it is the combination of sizes and flexibility in application which provides the real solution, allowing Freiburg in Germany to produce about 50 percent of its electricity with CHP, up from just 3 three percent in 1993. The town has 14 large-scale and about 90 small-scale CHP plants (e.g., at the city theatre and indoor swimming pools).

The two large-scale plants located near landfills use recovered methane gas as fuel. Others use natural gas, biogas, geothermal, wood chips, and/or heating oil. An important concomitant development is new district heating systems which can replace individual oil or gas burning furnaces.

This is the future, but once again we have to cut through the green rhetoric to get there. Yet, some of the ideas being adopted by the greens have been around for ages. Slough Trading Estate, home of the Mars Bar. It has a 40MWe CHP plant which was upgraded not so very long ago (pictured below), but it has been supplying heat and power to the estate since 1920. 

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These ideas have to be recaptured from the greens. Just because they like them, or promote them (such as elements of demand management), doesn't mean they're necessarily bad.

When it comes to CHP, however, the "right" in British politics has been almost completely blindsided, which is why UKIP's excuse for an energy policy doesn't mention it, while us "dregs" are all over it. It takes a special kind of genius to miss out on a technology that other countries believe can provide up to half their electricity.

And that even applies to mini-nukes (Small Modular Reactors). As David Clarke, chief executive at the Energy Technologies Institute, recently told a House of Commons select committee:
Fundamentally, we see the small module opportunity driven by economics in terms of the potential for low-cost energy and reduced need for cooling water compared with big nuclear plants, meaning that you open up more opportunities for sites on which you can build these units, and then there is potential for siting them closer to centres of population so that you can use the waste heat off-site.
Rolls-Royce Chief Scientific Officer, Paul Stein, is just as forthright, effectively arguing in front of the same committee that small nukes effectively provide the only answer if we are to meet the government's target of 40GW from nuclear power. He envisages a plant capable of producing a 150MW reactor a month, producing 1.8 GW a year, which is the equivalent of producing one big power station, in terms of energy output, a year.

Yet, in 29 references to "nuclear" in UKIP's excuse for a policy, there is not a single mention of SMRs. This is so typical of UKIP – even when they have some vague ideas of what they want, they have no idea of how to get there. That is left to the "dregs".

In this case, though, it is Owen Paterson tomorrow who is going to call for expedited development of SMRs, a policy which Bob Ward calls "bizarre", demonstrating that the greens, like UKIP, are way behind the curve. But it's actually megalophilia that is destroying our energy policy. CHP and SMRs are the solution.


Richard North 14/10/2014 link