Defending UKIP climate policy

keepingthelightsonThe climate policy which I launched last October has been very well received — not least by energy-intensive industries.  http://ukip.org/media/policies/energy.pdf   But we still get a handful of letters along the lines of “I agree with most of what UKIP says, but I’m concerned about your lack of green policies”.  I replied to one recently as follows:

Dear (Name),

Let me start with the good news: your e-mail has got to the right person.  I’m the UKIP spokesman on energy.  For what it’s worth, I’m also an MEP (have been for fourteen years), and a Cambridge maths graduate, and I’ve made an intensive study of climate and energy issues since 2005.  I have conducted seminars in Brussels, attended conferences in the USA, and published books and DVDs. 

You say that we will need a mix of generating technologies including renewables.  We agree we need a mix, but we have a problem with renewables.  There is increasing evidence that wind and solar do not in fact generate significant net energy, nor do they achieve significant emissions reductions.  I know this is counter-intuitive, but please bear with me!  These are unpredictable and intermittent energy sources, so they require conventional back-up (usually gas).  This back-up is also run intermittently.  Running gas (or coal) plants intermittently is hugely inefficient, so the gains made on solar or wind are largely off-set by the inefficiencies in the back-up.  See http://www.thegwpf.org/images/stories/gwpf-reports/hughes-windpower.pdf

Subsidies on solar (and wind) are eye-watering — and regressive.  They take money from the poor, who consume electricity, and give it to rich landowners who put up turbines.  I personally have a 2.4 kw domestic solar unit at home, and the government (through the electric company) pays me five times as much per unit generated as it costs to generate the same electricity in a proper power station.  So we start with huge renewable subsidies.  But it gets worse.  Because major fossil fuel plants are not economic unless run continuously, we’re also going to be paying “capacity payments” to their operators, to compensate for part-time running.  It’s economic lunacy.

Meantime in the USA, gas is about a third of the European price, and they are enjoying a manufacturing renaissance as a consequence.  They are also reducing their emissions (by switching from coal to gas).  European industries cannot compete.  We are already seeing aluminium smelters, paper companies, oil refiners and chemical companies relocating out of the EU, many to America.  We are driving industries, and jobs, and investment out of the EU altogether, frequently to jurisdictions with lower standards than our own.  They call this “carbon leakage”.  We are also forcing households and pensioners into fuel poverty.  It is salutary to recall that ten times as many people in Britain die of cold as die of heat.  This is the economics of the mad-house.

A point worth making is that if instead of subsidising wind and solar, we had spent a fraction of that money on R&D, we might now have renewables that were economically viable.  There are promising developments in thin-film solar technology, and I will be happy to support them if and when they become economic. 

It’s also the case that what we are doing can never work.  There are today some 1200 new coal-fired power stations in the pipeline, many in China and India, but including 25 in Germany.  No matter what we do, we can make no difference to global emissions.  If we closed down the whole of the British economy completely, growth in China would make up our emissions shortfall in less than a year.  A recent report suggested that (even assuming climate change) Germany’s vast investment in renewables would by 2100 have delayed global warming by only 37 hours.  It’s a wholly wasteful and ineffectual policy. 

So we don’t believe that current policies make sense, even if you believe that CO2 is a problem.  But we also don’t believe that CO2 is a problem.  The slight warming we have seen in the last 100 years (less than 1 degree C) is entirely consistent with well-established, long-term natural climate cycles — the Roman Optimum, the Mediæval Warm Period and so on.  We now seem to be moving into a new 21st century optimum (though there has been no warming for nearly two decades).  There is simply nothing untoward to explain, so we don’t need an explanation.

There is a mood shift in science, with climate alarmists (even Geoffrey Lean of the Daily Telegraph) coming forward to say “Maybe we gave too much prominence to CO2”.  There is also a mood shift in parliament.  On April 17th, the European parliament voted against “back-loading”, effectively putting jobs and economic survival ahead of climate alarmism, for the first time everReports from Germany say that the excessive costs of renewables are starting to feature in politics. 

You mention “extreme weather”, which is now being talked up by alarmists who are in despair at the failure of the climate to follow their predictions.  But there has always been extreme weather.  Remember the American Dust Bowl in the thirties.  The Galveston hurricane in 1900 (comparable to Katrina in New Orleans 2005, but with much greater loss of life).  I was holidaying in the South West in 1952 when the Lynmouth floods claimed many lives.  We’ve always had “extreme weather”, and always will.  The media concentrate on a corner of Antarctica where the ice is melting, and choose to ignore the great mass of the Antarctic Continent where total ice and sea ice cover are increasing.

So in summary: We don’t believe there’s a climate problem, and that’s not because we’re “out of touch” — it’s because we’ve studied it carefully.  But even if there is, we believe that current policies will not work.  We could meet emissions targets more cheaply and more securely using a combination of gas and nuclear.  And we believe that current policies condemn Europe to vast economic failure. 

So in short, I stand four-square behind the policy document I wrote last October.  I hope you will at least take the time to consider our alternative — and much more optimistic — position.

Roger Helmer is UKIP’s spokesman on Industry and Energy

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