The winds of change are blowing: so what next ?

The winds of change are blowing: so what next ?

by Ben Acheson
article from Wednesday 12, September, 2012

BACK IN 2004, there were 12 operational wind farms in the UK and average annual energy bills were £522. Today, 355 operational wind farms dot our countryside and we pay around £1,252 for energy each year. As wind farms have multiplied, energy bills have more than doubled.

Over 5.5 million UK households spend more than 10% of their income on fuel; they are 'fuel poor'. In Scotland, under the rule of a wind-obsessed Government, over 900,000 households – more than thirty-three per cent – cannot afford to heat their homes adequately. For every 5% increase in energy prices, often caused by the vast consumer-funded subsidies paid to wind farm owners, 46,000 extra households are pushed into fuel poverty.

Wind power is not the sole reason for increased energy prices, but the realisation is spreading that wind power is not 'green', it is not 'free' and it is not the panacea for climate change.

A critical mass is being reached. An influential anti-wind lobby grows daily. A small group of nimbyists has evolved into a fully fledged, well-informed lobbying machine with scientists, academics, celebrities and, yes, even environmentalists backing small-scale community activists and national anti-wind groups such as CATS, Country Guardian and NOW. More politicians are no longer afraid to speak out against wind. The winds of change have blown a gaping hole in government policy and credibility.

Nevertheless, energy bills are exorbitant and continue to rise, particularly in Scotland. Despite pledging to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016, the SNP cut fuel poverty expenditure from £70.9 million in 2010-2011 to £48 million in 2011-2012. In 2007, it stated that "we have more than enough energy to end fuel poverty" but as 2013 approaches, over a third of Scottish households must still choose between food and fuel. For the Scottish Government, this is the real "inconvenient truth".

Wind power is clearly not the answer to fuel poverty and in Scotland the use of nuclear power has been ruled out. Solar, wave, tidal, shale gas, thorium and biofuels are either as useless as wind or need a significant amount of development to become commercially viable alternatives. The carbon-free utopia will have to wait. Finding the right energy mix will take time. Meanwhile, improving energy efficiency will do what wind turbines cannot; reduce energy bills and curb carbon emissions.

In the UK, the domestic sector accounts for 27-29 per cent of total carbon emissions. Therefore, preventing our homes from leaking heat and wasting electricity is the quickest and cheapest way to fight climate change and reduce energy bills. Poor insulation means that at least one out of every £4 spent on heating UK homes is wasted.

The NHS spends £859 million annually to treat cold-related illnesses due to poorly insulated homes and 1.3 million children in England alone live in houses so cold that they are considered a health hazard. Scotland has a particularly disproportionate number of excess winter deaths compared with the rest of the UK and Europe. Even Finland, which experienced temperatures of −39.2 °C in February, suffers forty-five per cent fewer excess winter deaths per head than the UK, mainly because of better insulated buildings.

Is it just a coincidence that Finland has 137 wind turbines in the entire country while outside Glasgow, Whitelee Wind Farm alone has 140?

The Carbon Trust estimates that twenty per cent of a business' annual energy costs are wasted through inefficiency and large businesses pay £1.6 billion extra on their annual energy bills due to poor energy efficiency. The Energy Saving Trust claims that tenants living in the UK's coldest rented homes could save an average of £488 per year on fuel bills if basic energy efficiency measures were installed in their homes. It would cost less than £900 per home to improve thirty per cent of dangerously cold, rented houses with cheap loft and cavity wall insulation and draught-proofing. Consumer Focus noted that this would create 35,000 jobs and save 187 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year - the equivalent of taking around 800,000 cars off the road. Unlike wind power, energy efficiency does lead to tangible reductions in carbon emissions and will reduce energy bills.

For homeowners, becoming energy efficient need not be complicated or expensive. Installing heating controls on radiators and draught proofing doors and windows will significantly reduce heating bills. Fitting an insulation jacket to your hot water cylinder costs around £20 and will save you around £15 a year. Insulating pipework can reduce heat loss from pipes by over seventy per cent. Up to thirty-three per cent of a home's heat is lost through poorly insulated lofts and cavity walls. Just eight inches of insulation can reduce these figures to around 5-8 per cent. Approximately ninety per cent of the electricity used by everyday incandescent bulbs is lost as heat. Replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs will provide the same light whilst using eighty per cent less electricity than a conventional bulb. They also last up to ten times longer and could save as much as £100 over the bulb's life.

Being energy efficient does not mean living in darkness. It does not mean that we must revert to being cave-dwellers. We live in a modern society and everything we do consumes energy. We should not be made to repent to the Green Gods if we forget to switch off a lamp or leave a window open. But improving energy efficiency is a win-win situation. It will reduce carbon emissions and would receive widespread support. It would not be subjected to the same polarised debate and political bickering that accompanies the wind controversy, which can often be depressingly negative. From the most vociferous 'deniers' to the most determined eco-warrior, reductions in energy bills would be welcomed. Most importantly, it may be the only immediate way to prevent the spread of fuel poverty.

For the anti-wind lobby, the positive promotion of energy efficiency would have added benefits. It would prevent misguided ‘environmentalists’ from creating the false perception that wind objectors are negative complainers, sentimentalists or nimbyists. It would also open the door to thousands of new supporters. Not only would it help win over the 'on the fence' segment of society, which is often perturbed by the extremists on both sides, but if over 900,000 people are battling fuel poverty, any group that helps improve their situation will connect with over 900,000 potential new supporters.

Over the last few years, the anti-wind lobby's fervent criticism has exposed the fallacy of wind energy, much to the chagrin of the pro-winders. Their efforts evoke Winston Churchill's famous comment that "criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things". Nevertheless, there is a danger that criticising will cease to be constructive if it is simply complacent complaining. The anti-wind lobby must continue to evolve and continue to change things for the better, particularly for those facing fuel poverty. After all, if you have no will to change it, you have no right to criticise it.

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