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This collective act of make-believe is devastating our environment and our budgets

January 29, 2017

By Paul Homewood




Booker has a round up of our energy policy farce this week:


The oddest thing about the political crisis gripping Northern Ireland was what triggered it. In 2012, under an EU ruling that burning wood was “carbon neutral”, the Northern Irish government, led by Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness, adopted a “green” scheme introduced by the UK the previous year, the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), offering lavish subsidies to businesses to use wood chips to heat their premises.

RHI was launched in Belfast without any control over how the money was spent. When businesses discovered that they could be paid £160 for every £100 they spent on wood, so many signed up, even using it to heat empty buildings, that, by 2020, it was estimated, the bill to UK taxpayers could have risen to £1 billion.

But this is only one of the countless unforeseen consequences of that obsession which has long held our politicians in its grip: the belief that, to “save the planet”, we must replace the fossil fuels on which our entire way of life rests with new sources of supposedly “carbon-free” renewable energy.

Foster speaking to reporters

Arlene Foster is at the centre of the RHI scandal Credit: Liam Burney/PA Wire

We are committed to spending almost unlimited sums on subsidising ways we can tap into “clean, green” energy. Yet scarcely a week goes by without one of these schemes being revealed to be making a mockery of the purpose for which they were set up.

Each new example is shocking enough. But when we put them all together we see just how far this relentless drive to “decarbonise” is based on a colossal act of collective make-believe. Here are some examples.

1. The “Renewable Heat” Fiasco

Northern Ireland is only the most publicised instance of the absurdities created by the Renewable Heat Incentive. When in 2014 the Government extended this scheme to domestic premises, many owners of large houses across Britain realised that the more they kept their boilers running, even in summer, the more profit from the taxpayer-funded subsidy they could make. Since 2013 our bill for all this has been soaring so fast that, within four years, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, it will have totalled nearly £5 billion.


One consequence is that Britain is now burning more wood than at any time since the industrial revolution (hence inter ala last week’s first-ever ”Very High Pollution Alert” in London). Just as disturbing have been revelations of where much of the fuel to feed this subsidy bonanza comes from. Alarming pictures have shown the appalling damage being done to some of our most treasured ancient woodlands, even including a Cheshire estate owned by the National Trust.

A nineteenth century painting of a working class mother placing small sticks into a stove as her children watch

Burning wood for heat is an ancient practice Credit: Pierre Edouard Frere/

2. The “Biomass” Farce

On a much grander scale is the sad story of Drax in Yorkshire: until recently the largest, cleanest and most modern coal-fired power station in Europe, supplying 8 per cent of Britain’s electricity. When in 2010 fossil-fuel power stations began to be squeezed by George Osborne’s “carbon tax”, intended to make them increasingly uneconomical, Drax decided to spend £700 million on converting its giant boilers to “biomass”, burning wood. For the three already converted, instead of being “carbon-taxed”, Drax now receives a whopping subsidy under the “renewable obligation” worth nearly £500 million a year.

But what has made this really shocking is that most of the 7.5 million tons of wood Drax uses each year is being shipped from the south-eastern states of America, where 4,600 square miles of forest are annually being felled, to be turned into wood pellets for burning 4,000 miles away in Yorkshire. Scientific studies have shown not just that much of this is virgin forest, uniquely rich in wildlife, but that, far from saving CO2, the whole process, including production and transporting of the pellets, has been estimated to result in emissions actually much higher than if Drax was still only burning coal.

3. The “waste into gas” threat

More controversy has lately been spiralling around another subsidy bonanza, again under the RHI and costing taxpayers £216 million a year. Developers have rushed to build nearly 100 giant “anaerobic digesters”: massive industrial plants in the countryside, designed to supply methane to the national gas grid made from food waste and crops such as maize, now specially grown on hundreds of thousands of acres formerly producing food to eat.

A particular concern for those living near these unsightly operations is not just their smell and the thousands of vehicle movements needed to bring in their fuel, but the growing list of pollution incidents from leaks of toxic ammonia, killing farm animals and wildlife. Investigations are currently underway into whether a spillage which killed more than 1,000 fish in one of Britain’s best-loved salmon and trout rivers, the Teifi, came from one such site.

4. Tidal fantasies

Many have long dreamed of harnessing the energy of the sea to produce electricity. Recently yet another such project collapsed, with a giant wave-powered turbine on the Welsh sea-bed, costing £18 million (£8 million of it from the EU), having broken down after just three months of operation.

Far more ambitious is the proposal to invest £40 billion in the world’s first huge “tidal lagoons”, first in Swansea Bay, with five others to follow. But, as I wrote two weeks ago, the derisory amount of power these might produce, paid for by mind-boggling subsidies, should make this a pipe-dream.

A futuristic building made up of concentric layers sits atop a sea wall

An artists impression of part of the Swansea tidal lagoon Credit: PA

5. When the wind doesn’t blow

Of the £52 billion Britain has invested in “renewables” since 2010, by far the largest chunk has gone into wind and solar farms, which, for a subsidy of more than £5 billion a year, now produce 14 per cent of the UK’s electricity, But the penny has now widely dropped that when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, these are not only useless, but require immediate and very expensive back-up from gas-fired power stations (and even thousands of diesel generators), to keep our lights on.

Even more absurd is how, when there is “too much wind”, to prevent this destabilising the grid we must pay £90 million more a year in “constraint payments”, to compensate their owners for not sending electricity into the grid.– pay ing them very handsomely to do nothing.

6. The electric car debacle

Although we have now paid more than £50 million to bribe motorists into buying “green” all-electric cars, barely 50,000 have been sold, at £25,000 or more each. This represents just 0.0091 per cent of the cars on Britain’s roads.

Carefully hidden, of course, is that most of the power used to charge their batteries comes from fossil fuels. So, when the manufacturing process and transmission losses to charging points are added in, these vehicles emit significantly more CO2 than they supposedly save, Yet MPs last July nodded through the “Fifth Carbon Budget”, imagining that within 13 years 60 per cent of all our cars will be electric.

The gull wing doors of the Model X are seen open front on. The car sits in long grass

Tesla’s Model X is an electric car Credit: James Lipman

Endless more examples could be cited, such as the environmental catastrophe inflicted on tropical countries by replacing vast areas of virgin rainforest with palm oil plantations, fuelled at least in part by the need to meet the EU’s legal requirement for us to use “biofuels”, which again have been shown to generate more CO2 in their production than they save.

Nor should we forget the “Diesel-gate” scandal which followed from the EU’s drive to reduce CO2 and other polluting emissions by engineering a switch from petrol to supposedly “greener” diesel-powered cars. Only in 2015 did it emerge that Volkswagen and other European car makers had been systematically cheating on their emissions tests.

It is time we woke up to the fact that all this nonsense represents one of the most bizarre collective flights from reality in history. But so long as the Climate Change Act is in force, we remain firmly in its grip.

  1. Joe Public permalink
    January 29, 2017 12:40 pm

    It’s unusual for Booker to make an error.

    “Even more absurd is how, when there is “too much wind”, to prevent this destabilising the grid we must pay £90 million more a year in “constraint payments”, to compensate their owners for not sending electricity into the grid.– paying them very handsomely to do nothing.”

    “Constraint payments” compensate their owners for not receiving the generation subsidies they’d be entitled to receive for sending electricity into the grid.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      January 29, 2017 1:16 pm

      The REF website admits that constraint payments are being made that are above the lost subsidies. Booker may well be correct but in a lot of this mess laughably known as an energy policy it is hard to get at the correct figures.

  2. January 29, 2017 12:44 pm

    Reblogged this on Wolsten.

  3. Gray permalink
    January 29, 2017 12:52 pm

    Nick Hurd is the Minister of State for Climate change and Industry.
    (Interesting that it’s that way round)
    He should be forced to comment on all the points made in this article.
    How can that be achieved, perhaps Paul should approach Andrew Neil on Daily Politics soapbox section.
    Unfortunately that means somebody at the Beeb would have to approve this!
    There must be a way to get these people to justify this massive waste of money.
    All of us writing comments on a blog is just preaching to the converted, it needs to get more mainstream.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      January 29, 2017 1:23 pm

      I think you have two hopes – no hope and Bob Hope as they say. With years of control from Brussels our politicians and civil servants have lost the capacity for rational thought. Only when it collapses and reality hits them like a slapping around the face with a wet fish do they take note. The N Ireland RHI shows it perfectly. The trouble is that rather than simply admit they got it wrong, they go on to further legislation that makes it worse.

    • AlecM permalink
      January 29, 2017 4:07 pm

      Has Nick Hurd, a job lined up in the subsidy farming industry?

  4. January 29, 2017 1:23 pm

    He didn’t even have room to mention the CCS money-wasting debacle and the smart meter money-wasting debacle and the grid expansion money-wasting debacle and the hydro money-wasting debacle. I’m sure there are lots more if I think about it.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      January 29, 2017 1:29 pm

      That you raise ‘smart’ meters is timely since Ofgem has ruled that the Big Six energy companies can’t include the cost of these in their list of costs forced on them by government policy. They consider them to be operating costs. This is arising from Ofgem telling them that they can’t raise prices to cover increases in wholesale costs for gas.

  5. Gerry, England permalink
    January 29, 2017 1:32 pm

    And if you want another government inspired fiasco, look at the results of throwing taxpayers’ money around to improve energy efficiency. People have had botched cavity wall insulation put in that has ruined their houses. One was so bad that drilling a hole in the outside wall produced a stream of water from the wall.

  6. Max Sawyer permalink
    January 29, 2017 1:49 pm

    The problem is that it is an establishment mindset, compounded of virtue-signalling, political capital, research grant allocation, left-liberal & media consensus, fear of the “greens” PR clout, dissenters’ fear of speaking out and £squillions of taxpayers’ money already spent and promised for the future. It would take an unusually courageous government to say that it is all pointless and has been ever since it started.

  7. Athelstan permalink
    January 29, 2017 3:25 pm


    Across the pond, a new President is signing executive orders and some of these orders combined with the US budgetary fiscal alterations not least in tax reduction will transform the US economy.

    I firmly believe that, with business start ups, cheap and plentiful electricity, gasolene, derivatives of oil gas available to all: the US economy will boom. One thing I don’t like is, Donald Trump’s promises of ‘government money’ to be shoved into capital expenditure projects, maybe? Though, I’ve never been convinced by those twats progressive dogs breaths and Socialist economists [aren’t they all?] and their Keynesian arguments…….causal multiplier effect but wasting tax dollars on such when he should be encouraging private sector construction firms to build bridges and road – a strategy which is not clear at all to me.

    Trumponomics is, an US industrial and manufacturing economic bonanza which will happen and irrespective of the so called ‘protectionist’ policies dear to the President Donald Trump’s heart and imho quite rightly done – anyone who thinks China and India are not ‘at it’ are living in corporateblobshire-bloomberg-bbc lalaland.

    Now, juxtapose the above modern industrial ‘revolution’ Mr. Trump is fashioning with the dumbass statist idiocy and connect it up with the above Booker post and throw in the recent blog posts from Paul on ‘climate impact assessment’ = Westminster green delusion Nutopia. Plus, stuck as we are in the church of green sclerosis and working time directives – love from Berlin y’all!, our own lunatic – diversity, equality quotas bunging up the chimneys of Britain’s industries, carbon floor price, 2008Climate Change Act then throw in the mental inertia of our unelected PM -St. Theresa of do nothing. The future looks black down and out is, what we’ll be.

    Would it not be a statement of the truth to observe, unless the UK gets its running shoes on and even then, we are are likely to be lapped and lapped again chasing the US industrial gold all the way sprint merchants.
    The other thing as we will watch in the forthcoming months us – the realists and small c conservatives look across the Atlantic with longing eyes. Also looking on will be, HMG, corporate blob hand in glove with the UK establishment and bbc-media gawping dumbstruck [how dat happen?]….. at the US going from strength to strength, perhaps with and by example to follow, it might just be the nuke up the arse our statist fathead controllers obviously require.

  8. Dick Barton. permalink
    January 29, 2017 3:27 pm

    Christopher Booker’s article in full should be required reading for every MP. I shall certainly send a copy to my local MP.

    • Gray permalink
      January 29, 2017 7:19 pm

      They don’t just have to read it, they should have to comment on it and justify it.
      One of the fools that have some influence on our laws is the noble Lord Kenyon. (Whitchurch Shropshire)
      He thinks an advantage of fracking is that it loosens soil round tree roots!
      You couldn’t make it up.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      January 30, 2017 9:45 am

      Dick: Send a copy to your MP, by all means. He will not get to read it. His gatekeeper will intercept it and not bother to fwd it. My MP is ‘protected’ by a green enthusiast and many of the emails I send my MP never get to him – I know, ‘cos I asked him when he door-stepped me at the last GE. He was surprised that I had written so many times and yet he could not recall seeing the emails.

  9. January 29, 2017 8:24 pm

    There is a subject no go area in my relationship with my daughter when she and her husband installed solar panels on their roof and I asked whether they thought it right that I as a pensioner on an income probably one fifth of theirs should be paying them for their free electricity. End of conversation Start of no go area!! Still love the bones of her.

  10. January 30, 2017 9:36 am

    Re ‘when the wind doesn’t blow’ – the BBC’s Harrabin reports:

    ‘Mr Holliday, who was chief executive of National Grid until July 2016, forecasts that all future talk of blackouts will be made redundant by a revolution in flexible electricity, with customers using power when it is cheapest.

    One current weapon at National Grid’s disposal is a contract for flexible supply with firms which don’t manufacture continuously.

    The firms get compensated if they are asked to stop consuming power for a while during, say, a windless spell.’

    Yet another hidden cost of renewables.

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