Lord Reay: My Lords, I shall concentrate on a narrow field, perhaps a narrow byway, but if we want this country to emerge as soon as possible from recession and compete once again with some success on world markets, we must, it seems obvious, not burden our businesses with unnecessary costs, nor encourage, on any substantial scale, the wasteful use of scarce capital.
There are many ways in which that can and has been done, but in no field more spectacularly than that of energy. The current fashionable pursuit of so-called renewable energy must rank as one of the most lunatic policies ever adopted by western Governments. The point is that we face a looming energy crisis, as one quarter of our existing power stations face closure in the next few years largely as a result of the need to comply with existing EU environmental legislation. This imposes of necessity a huge demand on capital.
The pursuit of renewables is a distraction from that imperative. The expansion of renewables today means the expansion of wind power. However, wind power is inefficient. Even in this country, windier than some, government figures show that the load factor - that is, the percentage of what would be produced by turbinesover a year if running at full capacity, even of offshore wind turbines - barely rises above 27 per cent. For between 55 and 110 days a year, depending on where they are sited, wind turbines are idle, the wind being too weak, or, more rarely, too strong to power them.
Moreover, this absence of wind is very likely to coincide with periods of extreme cold, or, in the summer, extreme heat, when electricity demand surges. Therefore, when the demand is greatest, the supply is weakest. The consequence is that wind power needs to be almost fully backed up by conventional power stations if the country is not to suffer power failures when one of those moments arises, as it regularly does, when the wind fails at a moment of peak demand.
Therefore, as the House of Lords Economics Affairs Committee concluded in its report published last year on TheEconomics of Renewable Energy, wind power is an additional capacity, an optional extra, unlikely ever to permit a single conventional power station to close or avoid the need for one to be built. The House of Lords report concluded that the expansion of renewable energy would result in roughly twice the amount of new installed electricity capacity being required than if it was not being expanded.
The capital construction costs of installing wind power far exceed the costs of installing conventional power when they are measured in terms of the electricity they can deliver over a year. It has been estimated that per delivered megawatt the capital cost of wind is three to five times the cost of nuclear, 10 times the cost of gas and 15 times the cost of coal. This can perhaps be understood when it is realised that a nuclear station like Sizewell B can produce in a year as much electricity as 4,000 wind turbines. Nor should the cost be ignored of the new transmission lines required to transport the electricity from the uplands where it is produced, to the south and south-east where it is required; a cost that Ofgem has estimated at £17 billion.
Of course, no capital investment would be forthcoming to enable the Government to achieve their renewable energy targets without subsidies. The cost of these currently runs at some £1.4 billion a year, the majority being paid for by the all-too-unwitting consumer. If the Government's renewable targets were to be met, this would rise to some £6 billion per annum - enough to build two nuclear power stations - and a cumulative total by 2020 of some £32 billion. Government figures indicate that that this would increase the proportion of consumers' electricity bills that will be accounted for by renewable subsidies to 32 per cent for individuals and no less than 55 per cent for business users. These subsidies, of course, completely distort the market. They also have other disastrous effects, one of which is the industrialisation of those beautiful upland landscapes throughout the United Kingdom that attract visitors from all over the world, thereby threatening to undermine our tourist industry, one of our most successful foreign exchange earners and otherwise poised to enjoy a successful future.
Of course, the dream of wind power is fired by the vision of a cost-free, carbon-free fuel, but if you want carbon-free fuel, the choice should be nuclear. Nuclear power supplies the French with approaching 80 per cent of their electricity, as a result of which their per capita carbon emissions are not much more than two-thirds of those of this country. Germany, by contrast, has carbon emission levels above our own. Indeed, Germany is carpeted with some 20,000 wind turbines, almost 10 times the level in this country to date, yet has never managed to produce more than 5 per cent of its annual electricity requirement from wind. What a trivial return that has given them for all their investment.
So why must we persist in the pursuit of what I have previously called in this House the “will o' the wisp” of wind power? Faced as we are with the need to find the capital for an enormous rebuild of conventional power stations, can we afford to more than double that amount, perhaps much more than double that amount - I have seen an estimate of £200 billion all told - and to do so by increasing consumers' electricity bills by 30 per cent to 50 per cent? Will this not hasten the day when this country slips down the world's economic rankings?
My party shows every sign of being likely to gain office next year, but I can spot very few signs of it being about to adopt sensible energy policies. Having
identified the age to come as an age of austerity, why can it not, as far as energy policy is concerned, decide to cut the cloth to fit the suit, identify security of supply and affordability as the two priorities, and restore some freedom to the markets to choose the most efficient outcome? Would that not be a Conservative way? The alternative is blackouts, a slow road to national misery and a future in which this House will have debates on the energy crisis - not the financial crisis - with 37 speakers.
7 May 2009 : Column 702