By Christopher Booker
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is packed with even more hot air than usual, says Christopher Booker.
What is the link between a beautiful stretch of north Devon countryside, the brother of Diana, Princess of Wales, and that ever more curious body, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? The starting point for teasing out this riddle is a hefty new report just published by the IPCC on renewable energy. This has engulfed the IPCC in controversy yet again, after a preview of the report made headlines by claiming that, within 40 years, nearly 80 per cent of the world’s energy needs could be met from renewable sources, most notably through a massive expansion of wind and solar power.
What only came to light when the full report was published last week was the peculiar source of this extraordinarily ambitious claim. It was based solely on a paper co-authored last year by an employee of Greenpeace International and something called the European Renewable Energy Council. This Brussels-based body, heavily funded by the EU, lobbies the European Commission on behalf of all the main renewable industries, such as wind and solar. The chief author of the Greenpeace paper, Sven Teske, was also a lead author on Chapter 10 of the IPCC report, which means that the report’s headline message came from a full-time environmental activist, supported by a lobby group representing those industries that stand most to benefit financially from its findings.
Not surprisingly, expert critics of the IPCC have been quick to point out how this seems to reinforce the revelations 18 months ago, which did more to discredit the UN body’s authority than anything in its history. At the centre of those scandals was the discovery that the more alarming predictions made by the IPCC’s major 2007 report – such as a claim that most of the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035 – were not based on proper science at all. They were simply scare stories originating from environmentalist lobby groups, used in a way that broke all the IPCC’s own rules, which insist that its reports should be based only on properly accredited scientific studies.
Adding to this was the unfavourable publicity also directed at that time at the IPCC’s chairman, Dr Rajendra Pachauri. Yet in the preface to this new report, he is given special thanks for all he did to bring it about. Not only that – he also wrote an introduction to the controversial Greenpeace paper on which its headline claim was based.
As the IPCC’s supposedly impartial chairman, and arguably the world’s most influential public official, Dr Pachauri – whose Delhi-based research institute is heavily involved in various renewable energy projects – has also written forewords to two earlier Greenpeace publications.
So preoccupied have the sceptics been by the questionable provenance of the IPCC’s new report, however, that they have not yet focused on what is, arguably, an even greater scandal. This is the astonishingly one-sided nature of the rest of the report, which reads less like a scientific document and more like a propaganda puff for the world’s renewable industries.
A long chapter on wind energy, for instance, brushes aside some of the more peripheral objections raised to wind turbines, such as that they kill vast numbers of birds and bats, or have a damaging effect on house prices. And in all its 108 pages, there is no real attempt to address the central objection to wind turbines, which is that they are a ludicrously inefficient and expensive way to produce electricity – so unreliable, due to the intermittency of the wind, that the derisory amount of power they produce can make no significant contribution to meeting the world’s energy needs.
Nowhere does the report properly address the major defect of these turbines, that they only generate, on average, 25 per cent or less of their nominal capacity. The figures the report gives for this, in a brief passage that skirts round the issue, are absurdly exaggerated. It claims that US turbines achieve 30 per cent of their capacity, without pointing out that the output of all 12,000 turbines in America equates on average to no more than that of two large coal-fired power stations. And nowhere does the chapter mention the mind-boggling cost of these machines, which no one would dream of building without the aid of subsidies that in Britain amount to 100 per cent of the value of the electricity they produce (and 200 per cent for offshore turbines).
Step out of this foetid IPCC hothouse into the real world and consider what is going on at Fullabrook Down in north Devon, where they are constructing what will soon be the largest onshore wind factory in England. The developers boast of how the 22 giant 3MW turbines they are building on the hills between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe, at a cost of more than £60 million, will have the “capacity” to generate 66MW of electricity, and how they will contribute £100,000 a year to “community projects” to buy off the hostility of local residents.
In reality, this wind farm’s output is not likely to average more than 16.5MW, or 25 per cent of its capacity (the average output of UK turbines last year was only 21 per cent), an amount so pitifully small that it represents barely 2 per cent of the output of a medium-sized gas-fired power station. Yet for this, the developers can hope to earn £13 million a year, of which £6.5 million will be subsidy and of which the £100,000 they hand back to the local community will represent well under 1 per cent.
Another of the scores of sites across Britain where wind farm plans are now arousing huge anger and unhappiness among locals is the Althorp estate in Northamptonshire, where Earl Spencer is hoping that a French company, EDF, will be allowed to spend £2.5 million to erect 13 2MW turbines, towering 385ft over the Vale of Avon Dassett. These will provide their owners with subsidies of around £650,000 a year, for producing a quantity of power so small that its fluctuating contribution to the grid will scarcely register. Compare this to the nearly 900MW output of the £400 million gas-fired power station recently opened near Plymouth and it can be seen that the capital cost of these wind farms, for the puny amount of electricity they produce, is around 10 times as much. The expense of the Welsh Assembly’s £2 billion plan to build 800 turbines, up to 415ft high, across a vast stretch of mid-Wales, plus 100 miles of pylons to connect them to the grid, will be a staggering 15 times higher than would be needed to produce the same amount of power from gas, without subsidy.
These are the kind of hard facts that appear nowhere in the IPCC’s latest propaganda exercise. Its only purpose is to provide politicians, such as our Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, with a piece of paper they can wave to claim that their dreams of covering the Earth with wind turbines have been fully vindicated by “the world’s top climate scientists”.
Our Government, supported by virtually all our politicians, hopes to see us spend £100 billion on wind turbines in the next nine years. Even if this was practically achievable, it would necessitate building a score of gas-fired power stations just to provide instant back-up for whenever the wind failed to blow at the correct speeds. These would have to be kept spinning all the time, wholly negating any theoretical reduction in Britain’s emissions of CO2.
Truly, this infatuation with the chimera of wind power ranks alongside the creation of the collapsing euro as one of the supreme follies of our age. It is, of course, delightful that Dr Pachauri’s latest effort should coincide with those warnings from an array of US scientists that the current dramatic decline in solar activity might herald the approach of a “mini-ice age”. But as the great global warming scare continues to fade away, the real problem is that our politicians have so much collective ego invested in this delusion that, even when hell freezes over, they will still find it impossible to admit they got it wrong.