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Christopher Booker's notebook
(Filed: 29/05/2005)

 Wicks betrays his ignorance of wind power

When Malcolm Wicks, our new energy minister, last week launched his crusade to build "2,000 more wind turbines" across the UK, he was guilty of such a stunning act of disinformation we can only believe he did so from ignorance.

As he admitted on a visit to Aberdeen, he has only "limited knowledge of the industry", and has never visited a windfarm. Mr Wicks told Radio Four's Today programme that, for the UK to meet its EU target of generating 10 per cent of our energy from "renewables" by 2010, it would be necessary to build only 2,000 more turbines, in addition to the 1,230 already operating (his ministry's website gives an even lower figure). It is time that Mr Blair's seventh energy minister in eight years was given a crash course in basic facts and figures.

To meet the current energy needs of the UK requires 38,000 megawatts (MW) of continuous generation. Of this, wind supplies just under 0.5 per cent. Thanks to the vagaries of the wind, even the British Wind Energy Association admits that turbines only supply 30 per cent of their "installed capacity". To meet the 10 per cent target in five years' time would thus require additional capacity of nearly 12,000MW. Even if every turbine was a 360-foot high 2MW giant (most are much smaller) this would require Britain's countryside to be covered in 6,000 new windmills, three times the figure claimed by Mr Wicks. On average output, the true figure would be well over 12,000, needing to be built at at a rate of 2,400 a year.

What our energy minister must also recognise is the vast hidden subsidy this requires. Under the Government's "renewables obligation", electricity companies must pay a hugely inflated price for wind power, paid by all of us through higher electricity bills. Add in the "climate change levy" and the total subsidy, according to calculations by Dr John Etherington, a scientist who advises Country Guardian, the wind power information network, equates to 51.30 per megawatt hour. While wholesale electricity from conventional sources currently costs 30-40 per MW hour, the true cost of wind energy, with the subsidy, is well over double that, at 70-80.

This means that the effective subsidy for each megawatt of turbine capacity, generating for a third of the time, equates to a staggering 135,000 a year. Even after an initial capital cost of 750,000, this makes wind power one of the most lucrative "licences to print money" ever known. The 26 huge 2.5 MW turbines proposed for Romney Marsh would generate a 9 million a year subsidy for their German-owned developer, on top of the 5 million selling price of their electricity. The 27 3.5MW turbines proposed for what would be England's largest windfarm at Whinash in Cumbria, each two thirds the height of Blackpool Tower, would yield 16.5 million a year.

Yet, as even the fanatical "global warming" crusader George Monbiot admits, Whinash could only hope to save 178,000 tons of carbon emissions a year, whereas a single jumbo jet flying daily from London to Miami and back releases 520,000 tons a year. One jumbo cancels out the savings made by three giant wind farms. And because of wind's unreliabilty, it needs equivalent fossil-fuel generating capacity to be permanently available, all but negating any savings anyway.

Wind power, only made possible by credulous governments in London and Brussels, has become one of the real scams of the age. It is hardly surprising that one of Britain's new wind millionaires was reported last week to have given 250,000 to Labour Party funds. If Malcolm Wicks really wants the "proper, well-informed national debate" he was calling for on the Today programme, he needs to do an awful lot of homework.

Will Chirac's dictum apply to France?

Any country voting "No" to the constitution, according to President Chirac, must leave the EU. He may not wish to be reminded of it today, but this was what he told journalists in Paris on April 28, 2004, just after Tony Blair announced that he was to hold a British referendum. Chirac, already under pressure to follow suit, was angry with Mr Blair and said, as the Financial Times reported two days later, it was a matter of "ratify or quit".

As the unthinkable possibility now looms that it might be the people of France who present the "European project" with its most embarrassing setback in 50 years, the one thing certain is that every kind of pressure will be mounted to ensure that the project and its constitution remain on course. So single-minded are those behind it that they have long since jumped the gun by implementing various provisions of the constitution even before it is ratified.

These range from setting up the EU's own worldwide diplomatic service and its police college in Hampshire, to co-ordinate EU-wide police training and procedures, to launching the EU's Galileo space programme and the European Defence Agency, to co-ordinate the Union's defence forces. At present all these are being pushed forward on an "intergovernmental" basis, because it is only when the constitution is ratified that they can become fully-fledged Union institutions, paid for from the Union budget.

The project Brussels is particularly keen to see brought under its wing is the European Space Agency. This is because its Galileo satellite programme, unlike its US equivalent, will charge for its services, including a "tax" on all aircraft entering the "single European sky" and an EU-wide system of congestion charging and road tolls.

There is much the EU can get on with without the constitution. But without the ability to raise cash through Galileo, the Union stands to lose billions of euros a year. Meanwhile we look forward to hearing President Chirac announce that France, which itself stands to earn billions from Galileo, largely a French project, is now obeying his own injunction to "ratify or quit".

EU misrules the waves

Two items in Fishing News bring home the ongoing tragedy of Britain's fisheries. In Yorkshire, two Bridlington fishermen, Peter and Bob Ibbotson, announced that they are giving up fishing, after a lifetime in the industry, when Whitby magistrates imposed more than 5,000 in fines and costs on them for breaching EC fisheries regulations. Their crime, after 36 hours at sea with only two hours sleep, had been to enter Scarborough harbour without giving advance warning to ministry inspectors.

Under EC rules, if a boat is carrying a ton of cod, a telephone warning must be given, so it can be inspected. In fact the inspectors were already waiting when the Wayfarer arrived. They found that, although the catch itself was wholly legal, the two men had not completed their extensive ministry paperwork. Peter Ibbotson, leaving court, said that "unworkable bureaucracy" made it impossible for small fishermen to earn a living.

Fishing News also reported the recent devastating on-slaught of 10 large Russian trawlers on haddock stocks around Rockall. When Scottish fisheries inspectors boarded the Russian boats, they found each was carrying between 200 and 400 tons of haddock, whereas Brussels allows Scottish boats to catch only 562 tons in a year. The Russians were using nets of a minute, 50-millimetre mesh, allowing nothing to escape, whereas the Scottish boats use much larger mesh nets, allowing small fish to go free. It is good to know that European Commission officials later spent a "full day discussing the problem" with their Russian counterparts.

Music to massacre by

Sue Lawley's guest on Desert Island Discs last week was Sir David King, appointed by Tony Blair as the Government's chief scientist during the foot and mouth crisis. Asked whether being a chemist qualified him for this, he explained that, as a scientist, he was trained to assess scientific advice, and had been able to call in real experts, including epidemiologists.

It is worth recalling that, at the time, Sir David notably failed to heed advice from two of the world's leading foot and mouth experts, Prof Fred Brown and Dr Simon Barteling, who were imploring the Government to vaccinate. Instead he appointed Prof Roy Anderson, a statistical modeller in human epidemiology with no experience in animal diseases, who recommended the pre-emptive cull of eight million healthy animals.

As the Government was later tacitly to concede, this cull was against the law. The Government had no legal power to destroy healthy animals which had not been directly exposed to the virus. I hope there are no animals on Sir David's desert island.