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Power mad: This devastating audit lays bare the costly errors

September 22, 2021

By Paul Homewood


Matt Ridley has got this article in the Mail today:




Had it not been so exceptionally calm in the run up to this autumn equinox, one could call the energy crisis a perfect storm. Wind farms stand idle for days on end, a fire interrupts a vital cable from France, a combination of post-Covid economic recovery and Russia tightening supply means the gas price has shot through the roof – and so the market price of both home heating and electricity is rocketing.

But the root of the crisis lies in the monomaniacal way in which this government and its recent predecessors have pursued decarbonisation at the expense of other priorities including reliability and affordability of energy.

It is almost tragi-comic that this crisis is happening while Boris Johnson is in New York, futilely trying to persuade an incredulous world to join us in committing eco self-harm by adopting a rigid policy of net zero by 2050 – a target that is almost certainly not achievable without deeply hurting the British economy and the lives of ordinary people, and which will only make the slightest difference to the climate anyway, given that the UK produces a meagre 1 per cent of global emissions.

As for the middle-class Extinction Rebellion poseurs and their road-closing chums from Insult Britain, sorry Insulate Britain, they are basing their apocalyptic predictions of ‘catastrophe’ and billions of deaths on gross exaggerations.

Wind farms stand idle for days on end, a fire interrupts a vital cable from France, a combination of post-Covid economic recovery and Russia tightening supply means the gas price has shot through the roof – and so the market price of both home heating and electricity is rocketing

And while preventing working people earning a livelihood may make them feel good, it does nothing to solve the real problem of climate change.

Yet this crisis is a mere harbinger of the candle-lit future that awaits us if we do not change course.

It comes upon us when we have barely started ripping out our gas boilers to make way for the expensive and inefficient heat pumps the Government is telling us to buy, or building the costly new power stations that will be needed to charge the electric cars we will all soon require.

When David Cameron’s energy bill was being discussed in Parliament in 2013, the word on everybody’s lips was ‘trilemma’: how to ensure that energy was affordable, reliable and low-carbon. Everybody knew then that renewables were unreliable: that wind power fully works less than one-third of the time, and that solar power is unavailable at night (of course) and less efficient on cloudy winter days.

Yet whenever we troublemakers raised this issue, we were told not to worry – it would resolve itself, they said, either because wind is usually blowing somewhere, or through the development of electricity storage in giant battery farms.

This was plain wrong. The task of balancing the grid and maintaining electrical frequency has grown dangerously the more reliant on wind power we have become – as demonstrated by the widespread power cuts of August 2019. The cost of grid management has soared to nearly £2billion a year in the last two decades.

Wind can indeed be light everywhere and the grid still needs vast extra investment to transfer wind power from northern Scotland to southern England. One of the cables built at huge expense to do just that has failed multiple times and Scottish wind farms are frequently paid extra to switch off because there’s not enough capacity in the cables.

As for batteries,it would take billions of pounds to build ones that could keep the lights on for a few hours let alone a week.

So the only way to make renewables reliable is to back them up, expensively, with some other power source, responding to fluctuations in demand and supply.

Nuclear is no good at that: its operations are slow to start and stop. So, ironically, renewables have only hastened the decline of nuclear power, their even lower-carbon rival (remember it takes 150 tonnes of coal to make a wind turbine).

And in any case, an inflexible approach to regulation has caused the cost of new nuclear to balloon – despite it being perhaps the most obvious solution to our long-term energy needs.

Coal – the cheapest option and the only energy source with low-cost storage in the shape of a big heap of the stuff – was ruled out as too carbon-rich, even though countries such as China are currently building scores of new coal-fired plants.

Unlike those countries, the UK Government has rushed to close its remaining coal power stations – and banned the opening of a opencast coalmine at Highthorn on the Northumberland coast last year, despite it winning the support of the county council, the planning inspector and the courts when the Government appealed.

Ministers decided they would rather throw hundreds of Northern workers out of a job, turn down hundreds of millions of pounds of investment and rely instead – for the five million tonnes of coal per year gap that we still need for industry – on energy imports from those famously reliable partners, Russia and Venezuela.

To add insult to injury, the Government has been handing out hefty subsidies to a coal-fired power station in Yorkshire, Drax, to burn wood instead of coal, imported from American forests, even though burning wood generates more emissions than coal per unit of electricity generated.

The excuse is that trees regrow, so it’s ‘renewable’, which makes zero sense then you think it through (trees take decades to grow – and then we cut them down again anyway).

So that leaves gas with the task of keeping the lights on.

Gas turbines are fairly flexible to switch on and off as wind varies, they’re relatively cheap, highly efficient and much lower in emissions than wood, coal or oil.

But until 2009, the conventional wisdom was that gas was going to run out soon.

Then came the shale gas revolution, pioneered in Texas. A flash in the pan, I was told by energy experts in this country: and ‘could never happen here anyway’. So Britain – whose North Sea gas was running out – watched on in snobbish disdain as America shot back up to become the world’s largest gas producer, with their gas prices one-quarter of ours, resulting in a gold-rush of industry and collapsing emissions as a result of a vast, home-grown supply of reliable, low-carbon energy.

We, meanwhile, decided to kowtow to organisations like Friends of the Earth, which despite being told by the Advertising Standards Authority to withdraw misleading claims about the extraction of shale gas, embarked on a campaign of misinformation, demanding ever more regulatory hurdles from an all-too-willing civil service. Nobody was more delighted than Vladimir Putin, who poured scorn on shale gas in interviews, and poured money into western environmentalists’ campaigns against it. The secretary general of Nato confirmed that Russia ‘engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations – environmental organisations working against shale gas – to maintain Europe’s dependence on imported Russian gas’.

By 2019, shale gas exploration in Britain was effectively dead, despite one of the biggest discoveries of gas-rich rocks yet found: the Bowland shale, a mile beneath Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Just imagine if we had stood up to the eco-bullies over shale gas. Northern England would now be as brimming with home-grown gas as parts of Pennsylvania and Texas. We would have lower energy prices than Europe, not higher, a rush of manufacturing jobs in areas such as Teesside and Cheshire, rocketing wealth, healthy export earnings, no reliance on Russian whims (they control the reliability of supply and the price we pay for imported electricity, as we are experiencing right now) – and no fear of the lights going out.

But in lieu of that, we could at least invest in gas-storage facilities, to cushion against the Moscow threat and any potential disruptions to supply.

But no, we chose to close the biggest of them, Rough, off East Yorkshire, in 2017 and run down our gas storage to just under 2 per cent of annual demand, far lower than Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands.

Why? Presumably because the only forms of energy that ministers and civil servants respect are wind and solar. Gas is so last-century, you know!

Yet your electricity bill is loaded with ‘green levies’ that in part go to reward the crony capitalists who operate wind farms to the tune of around £10billion a year and rising.

Because energy is a bigger part of the household budget of poorer people than richer people, this is a regressive tax.

Because of the price cap on domestic bills, these levies hit industrial users even harder than domestic, and thus put up the prices of products in shops and deter investment in jobs too.

In the past, coal gave Britain an affordable supply of electricity that was also reliable so long as the miners’ union allowed it to be.

The market mechanisms introduced by Nigel Lawson in the 1980s gave us greater efficiency, the dash for gas, cheaper electricity, a highly reliable supply and falling emissions.

The central planning of the 2010s has given us among the most expensive energy on the planet, futile price caps, bankrupt energy suppliers, import dependence, rising worries about the reliability of supply and – because of the fading influence of nuclear power – not much prospect of further falls in emissions.

So, it’s time to tear up the failed policies of today. What would I do? Take a leaf out of Canada’s book and reform the regulation of nuclear power so that it favours newer, cheaper and even safer designs built in modular form on production lines rather than huge behemoths built like Egyptian pyramids by Chinese investors.

Look to America’s example and restart the shale gas industry fast. Do everything to encourage fusion, the almost infinitely productive technology that looks ready to go by 2040. And call the bluff of the inefficient wind and solar industries by ceasing to subsidise them.

Energy is not just another product: it’s what makes civilisation possible.

  1. T Walker permalink
    September 22, 2021 9:55 am

    Matt Ridley tells it like it is as usual.

    Bunter Johnson will blame everybody but government, the civil service, and advisers.

    A bit like COVID response really.

  2. September 22, 2021 10:05 am

    What do you expect when Carrie and her friends are pulling Boris Johnson’s strings. With her degree in Art History and Theatre Studies, I suspect she thinks that all you have to do to get electricity is flick a switch on the wall.

  3. cookers52 permalink
    September 22, 2021 10:10 am

    Our multi talented Politicians competed to close power stations as fast as possible to bring forward net zero.

    Unfortunately any idiot can close things down and demolish things, and we have the necessary idiots in charge.

    Formulating a workable energy strategy is beyond the abilities of anyone, as the Irish say if you were trying to get to a workable solution you wouldn’t start from here.

    All the Politicians and media will do is present abject failure as success. This is the legacy we have left our grandchildren.

  4. Malcolm Johnson permalink
    September 22, 2021 10:11 am

    What’s the bet that the Biased Broadcasting Corporation don’t agree and therefore don’t publicise.

  5. Tony Martin permalink
    September 22, 2021 10:11 am

    Paul Has David Coe been No Platformed and cancelled/ The link to his CO2 study results in “Page temporarily removed and it no longer appears on the International Journal website.. His conclusions, if confirmed, render Zero Carbon an expensive pointless waste of time and take the wind out of the AGW bubble.

    • Harry Davidson permalink
      September 22, 2021 10:20 am

      It is available on the wayback machine, if you need it.

  6. William Birch permalink
    September 22, 2021 10:15 am

    Our politicians are poor quality but the real problem is the “Woke Hierarchy” in our civil service. These guys never change no matter what government is in power. Their huge salaries ensure they never will need to worry about the cost of a new car, heating their homes or the price of electricity. We as a nation, have precious little gas and what we have, should be save for our central heating systems in our homes. If you want cheap electricity then the answer is COAL!! We have billions of tonnes of it. The reserves stretch all the way from Durham-Yorkshire-Nottinghamshire coal fields under the north sea. We have huge area of deplete gas structure off the Yorkshire coast that could be used to “bury the Carbon Dioxide”. The new coal fired power stations could use the Allam cycle. This involves using the Carbon dioxide as the gas to power the gas turbines. The coal is first gasified and burnt in an oxy-fuel supercritical carbon dioxide atmosphere. only 3% of the carbon dioxide needs to be removed and this can then be sequestrated in the old depleted gas fields. This system is said to be 59.7% efficient and gives rise to no NOX

    • bobn permalink
      September 22, 2021 1:02 pm

      Given more CO2 in the atmosphere is a benefit to humanity and the planet I protest against any wasteful burying of this life-giving gas. I’m releasing as much CO2 as I can to help the planet.

  7. Graeme No.3 permalink
    September 22, 2021 10:17 am

    A most dangerous action – telling the truth to those who don’t want to know it.
    Fortunately they will ignore reality and continue demanding more unreliable generation until the public revolts; and as events in France in the late nineteenth century indicate, no functionary will be immune.
    (I mean if Lavoisier could be sent to the guillotine what hope has a Deputy Under-Secretary have of avoiding his just deserts?
    Fortunately they won’t read this and will proceed to their fate with serene indifference. “It’s a far, far better thing they do….

  8. tony martin permalink
    September 22, 2021 10:19 am

    Paul Has David Coe been No-Platformed and cancelled by the International Journal? His study on CO2 & warming no longer appears on the website the link from article results in “page temporarily removed”. If confirmed his study makes Zero Carbon a pointless strategy & AGW consigned to the rubbish bin. It would be very helpful if you can find out what has happened. Regards Tony Martin

    Sent from Outlook


    • Harry Davidson permalink
      September 22, 2021 10:26 am

      They still have it online, a search on duckduckgo for “david coe” brings it up. They’ve moved it to their Archive, but when you go there it doesn’t seem to have a full URL for some reason.

  9. Joe Public permalink
    September 22, 2021 10:23 am

    “But in lieu of that, we could at least invest in gas-storage facilities, to cushion against the Moscow threat and any potential disruptions to supply.

    But no, we chose to close the biggest of them, Rough, off East Yorkshire, in 2017 ….”

    1. Rough was closed because at the time it was deemed uneconomic to make it safe and secure for its duty as a store of lighter-than-air natural gas. Pressure from Greens & enviros no doubt helped sway opinions.

    As pointed out in yesterday’s post, it’ll cost around £1.6billion to resurrect.

    Perhaps Rough’s greatest benefit was that with natural gas, it had a daily withdrawal rate of 45mcm = 495GWh/day i.e. 20.6GW continuously for 67 days.

    2. “…and run down our gas storage to just under 2 per cent of annual demand,”

    Current storage is >30,000GWh; annual natural gas in 2020 demand was 811 TWh, so 3.7%.

    Not forgetting, we also have direct connections to a large number of gas-containing facilities under the North Sea

  10. Cheshire Red permalink
    September 22, 2021 10:29 am

    Thanks for linking and posting the entire article Paul. However fyi the type in this article is pretty uncomfortable to read. (IDK, maybe it’s just me, as my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but I find it a bit awkward)

  11. Stonyground permalink
    September 22, 2021 10:42 am

    Why are there people still wibbling on about taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it somewhere? The idea that atmospheric carbon dioxide is harmful has been proven to be false. Non of the dire consequences that have been predicted based on this idea have happened. Those who supported this idea have been proven wrong.

    • September 22, 2021 11:10 am

      And we now come up against the farcical situation of lamenting the shutdown of a CO2 *PRODUCTION* plant as it’s needed for food production.

  12. September 22, 2021 11:08 am

    The “the real problem of climate change.” was a joke, right?

    • bobn permalink
      September 22, 2021 1:07 pm

      Ridley makes a few mistakes. Like this one -‘will only make the slightest difference to the climate anyway’. Corrected version – will make no measurable difference to the climate anyway

  13. September 22, 2021 11:13 am

    The link to the Coe paper The Impact of CO2, H2O and Other “Greenhouse Gases” on
    Equilibrium Earth Temperatures can be found at

    Click to access 10.11648.j.ijaos_.20210502.12.pdf

    • Mike T permalink
      September 22, 2021 11:56 am

      The link to – david coe – doesn’t appear to bring up the paper. Neither does the doi supplied by layor nala. It seems to have ‘disappeared’ from public view on the Journal’s website with a ‘temporarily unavailable’ web page showing – it is only available for download from ‘external’ sources not the Journal itself. Why might that be? A local newspaper has someone criticising a letter from Tony Martin because the paper cannot be found either on the Journal’s website or online – which is fair comment. If anyone can shed light on this it would be helpful. Perhaps David Coe, as he is a contributor here?

  14. Harry Davidson permalink
    September 22, 2021 11:36 am

    This article looks good until the end, “Do everything to encourage fusion, the almost infinitely productive technology that looks ready to go by 2040”. Hmm. If he hasn’t understood that fusion “is only a few years away”, and has been since the 1950s, what else has he not understood,.
    Every incoming batch of scientifically illiterate politicians gets suckered by the Svengali fusion lobby, to whom they then give another whacking great tranche of money that ends up achieving less than wind power.
    I would be more impressed if he was supportive of other nuclear technologies that might actually work in a reasonable timescale.

  15. PaulM permalink
    September 22, 2021 12:22 pm

    It’s just so heartening to see this sort of article in the UK national press, followed by many more I hope.

  16. GeoffB permalink
    September 22, 2021 12:27 pm

    I have a feeling that subsidising the restart of fertiliser production to get the CO2 for for ensuring food supplies is not the full story. Our nuclear generation reactors are Advanced Gas cooled Reactors (AGR), they are really crap at making electricity, but make good atomic bomb materials. The gas in them is CO2, if they shut down we are really in trouble, a steady 5GW per hour would be a big miss.(Sizewell is a PWR)

  17. Dave Gardner permalink
    September 22, 2021 12:59 pm

    If I had to identify the main culprit for this mess, it would be John Major back in the 1990s.

    It was the Major government that started up the idea in the early 1990s that the UK government should be leading the world on the climate change issue:

    Subsequent UK governments have then just kept that idea going. The “Climate Change Act” introduced in 2008 is a manifestation of the same line of thinking.

    On top of that, Major rejected the only sensible plan that can really be implemented in the UK for decarbonisation, which was to build a fleet of nuclear power plants of the Sizewell B design (these were Generation II plants that were relatively cheap and pretty straightforward to build) that had been set up for him on a plate by his predecessor Margaret Thatcher. If I had to guess why he did that, I suspect his Green advisers (like Tom Burke who was given a CBE by Major) told him nuclear power wasn’t really low carbon and he just took their word for it. That set the path for the UK doing the climate leadership thing in a much more gung-ho style using Green technology like wind power.

    One thing that has puzzled me for many years is that the UK media don’t seem to notice how damaging to the country Major was. They seem to see him as being an inconsequential figure, a bit like the way he was portrayed in ‘Spitting Image’, whose main impact was to introduce the ‘National Lottery’. About ten years ago I bought a book called “50 people who buggered up Britain” by Quentin Letts. Amongst the 50 people, Letts included all the UK prime ministers since the 1960s with one exception, John Major. I would have had Major down as No 1. The main area in which Major buggered up Britain is that he signed up to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 without holding a referendum (four of the 12 members of the EU at the time held a referendum) in Europe’s most eurosceptic country. He didn’t want to take the risk of a holding a referendum, but that created a schism in right-leaning UK politics which in my view played a large part in Labour being in power for an unprecedented 13 year period.

  18. Broadlands permalink
    September 22, 2021 1:45 pm

    “Yet this crisis is a mere harbinger of the candle-lit future that awaits us if we do not change course.”

    How many times have we read or heard that sort of warning? Take bold action! How many times do those who say that keep missing the point, failing to understand that rapid reductions in carbon fuel emissions will take zero CO2 from the atmosphere to lower Earth’s temperature. If the emissions of CO2 from transportation are so awful and dangerous why not simply stop making batteries and alternators? This whole climate change crisis and emergency is pure nonsense. A man-made crisis to prevent the man-made use of carbon for energy that has given us the best standards of living ever.

  19. Malcolm Bell permalink
    September 22, 2021 2:30 pm

    Yes, agreed exactly Matt and Paul, But we have been “no platformed”. I cannot get anything published, my MP tells me I am wrong. The BBC continues to build up the “chicken-licken” end of time hysteria.

    I am in deep despair. It is fortunate that people in privileged positions in society like Matt Ridley can get this stuff out. My screaming it for forty years (along with exporting jobs to far east) is futile,

    Thank you Paul.

  20. September 22, 2021 2:38 pm

    That is an utterly damning summation of the last 20 years of our energy policy

  21. September 22, 2021 2:41 pm

    There was a green idiot on TV who said, without a trace of irony, that the lack of wind energy recently would be solved if we built more………………………. wind turbines.

    • Duker permalink
      September 22, 2021 8:46 pm

      Beyond irony…its farce

    • Mack permalink
      September 22, 2021 10:14 pm

      I’ll help you out with a couple of names David. Was it possibly the new leader of the Lib Dems, Ed Davey, or the current cabinet Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, both of whom have claimed in the last 48hours that more renewable energy is the answer to the current impasse with higher gas prices. Are they both completely stupid or merely completely corrupted? Or both?

  22. mervhob permalink
    September 22, 2021 2:48 pm

    Matt Ridley’s article is right on the money! The conversion of shale oil to usable paraffin for lighting was pioneered in Scotland in the 1840s. This set off a revolution in lighting that transformed the Victorian home and workplace. When combined with the Welsbach mantle, which used the highest temperature flame to heat incandescent materials to emit white light, the efficiency was at a maximum.
    But this, like so many other examples of technology, was a Victorian invention, along with rotating a coil of copper wire in a magnetic field to generate electric current. In fact, nearly all the technology we use has 19th C origins – we still boil water, to produce steam, to drive Charles Parson’s turbines which drive Professor Faraday’s electrical machines… And nuclear fusion currently has the same output, heat to boil water, etc, etc….
    So we have to ask a fundamental question – why has material progress in terms of primary power generation stalled? It is popular cant to consider computers as examples of material progress – our Victorian ancestors also had serial programmed machines, albeit mechanical. There was in Victorian times, a profession of musical box drum pinner. This involved mapping the serial progression of a piece of music into pin positions on the drum. Obviously, this required a good understanding of music, as well as the necessary mechanical skills. However, there is not a single example of a world class piece of music written by a musical box pinner…..
    And this I think, encapsulates the problems with climate modelling – it seems to have been carried out by also-rans, with limited skills in mathematics and a poor grasp of the underlying physics. Our universities are stuffed with such persons, sat in their ivory towers, masturbating over wave equations without the least comprehension of the limitations of that as a mathematical method. Which is why so many of our achievements are poor also-rans compared with the progress due to the Victorian giants.
    Paul has clearly demonstrated that when you look at the data, series doubts arise as to the predicted direction of travel. However, the ‘Climate Taliban’ insist that their belief overules any possible dissent and are fixated on timescales derived from their ‘simulations’. In the year 1000AD, in Medieval times, many were convinced that the Apocalypse was upon us and the world was about to end. The year 1000AD came and went without a single notable event….

  23. HotScot permalink
    September 22, 2021 3:14 pm

    Bizarrely, there might be a positive to all this. The UK has almost completely demolished it’s energy infrastructure, and wind turbines are being revealed for the failures they are. They won’t be around in 20 or 30 years time. I’ll bet my house on that.

    So what happens next. Well, if we don’t go on a spree of building Gas fired power stations and SMR Nuclear technology we are completely forked, so, inevitably that’s what will happen.

    We then end up with the most modern, reliable energy infrastructure in the world.

    The problem is, of course, paying for it but if SMR technology develops fast, as is likely, and our incompetent governments can be persuaded to keep their grubby digits out the program then we might just have a fleet of thousands of private enterprise SMR’s for our kids future producing cheap, reliable electricity.

    Meanwhile, I’m just about to drop nearly £2k on an LPG generator to run the essentials in the house this winter, and every winter over the coming years.

    • mervhob permalink
      September 22, 2021 3:26 pm

      HotScot, Like you I have prepared for the inevitable power outages this winter. I have three Aladdin mantle oil lamps, each of which can push out about a kilowatt of heat, as well as good illumination. When our gas boiler failed three years back in winter and it took two weeks to get a replacement installed, those three examples of Victorian ingenuity, kept the house comfortable. So gas shortage or low wind, we are covered. My bungalow is very well insulated, so heat loss is minimal!

    • Mack permalink
      September 22, 2021 10:25 pm

      Alas Hot Scot, under the current management we will be ‘completely forked’. Boris has become the climate change equivalent of General Tojo and, with a cabinet of willing kamikazes in tow, a scorched earth policy for the UK economy seems to be government policy for the foreseeable future. The political alternatives are all singing from the same ‘hari kari’ song sheet. In the circumstances, good luck with your generator purchase. You’ll be needing it.

  24. September 22, 2021 7:06 pm

    Reblogged this on Tallbloke's Talkshop and commented:
    Matt Ridley blasts the UK’s destructive so-called climate policies, and the clueless eco-fantasist outlaws, running rampant at the moment.

  25. Nicholas permalink
    September 23, 2021 11:28 am

    For your Parliamentary home work, write out 100 times in your best hand:
    “Energy is not just another product: it’s what makes civilisation possible”.

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