My father was a senior manager and engineer in the nationalised electricity industry.
As a youngster and whilst living in North Wales, he took me to see how the construction of the then new nuclear power station at Trawsfynydd was getting on.
Although I was instructed to sit on a crate in one of the reactor halls and not to move under any circumstances while he went off to his meeting, it was still pretty exciting. I mean sitting on top of a nuclear reactor isn’t something you get to do every day. Of course, the reactor wasn’t actually fuelled up and running, but I wasn’t told that until much later in life. That’s dads for you.
On the way home we passed a lot of the new pylons being put up to carry the power to Manchester and various other places.
When I mentioned I thought they were really big, he said he believed that actually they were really quite attractive and added scale to the scenery.
I agreed with him then and, on reflection, I still do. I also think that you can say the same thing about wind turbines which, in my opinion, are not only rather elegant but still have a certain fascination about them.
Of course, there have been some proposals and projects that were aesthetically unacceptable and these needed to be rejected but, in my opinion, they are in the minority.
But most of those who object to wind farms tend not just to say that they find them unattractive, they spoil the countryside or they’re noisy.
Instead, they claim that wind is an inefficient and costly way of producing electricity, it’s subsidised by the consumer, the operators are profiteering and, of course, some also argue that as climate change is completely unproven, we don’t need them anyway.
That is, of course, unless you’re a certain Mr Trump and the owner of a golf course project, in which case you’ll go for the “those noisy offshore turbines will spoil my view” approach. My response to that comment is probably not best repeated here, except to say that he has already chosen the noisiest neighbour possible: the North Sea.
But what’s this about wind energy being inefficient? Well, there’s no doubt that if there’s no wind then they don’t generate any energy.
Those opposed to wind insist this means keeping conventional generators on standby and that this then negates the whole low carbon electricity argument and increases the overall cost. Errrh yes, but what objectors don’t mention is that when the wind is blowing we are going to be using far less conventional fuel for power generation. Every ton of coal or cubic metre of gas we are not using means it’s there to be used another day, and as time goes on that will be become more and more important.
Now, if the Nimbys were strategically minded and had an eye for the future, what they should be arguing for is not less wind energy, but for more investment in energy storage to make better use of wind.
Even more importantly, if they had any real concept of industrial strategy and how the energy sector market was going to evolve, they’d also be asking questions as to why is it that there is no UK or Scottish manufacturer of this technology.
I bet some would feel differently if a Scottish company employed 25,000 people and exported a few billion pounds worth of turbines every year.
The same applies, of course, right across the energy sector.
Recently the UK Government made £43million available to subsidise the purchase of an electric car that will reduce its individual price by about £5,000. It is also making money available for infrastructure installation, which includes public battery charging points, and claims to be providing £400million to support further research & development.
Inevitably, all the green quangos think this is a wonderful idea and are solidly behind it.
Sadly, not one of them has pointed out that the nine vehicles that have been selected as qualifying for this subsidy are all foreign.
When Business Minister Mark Prisk says: “The UK is Europe’s leading producer of ultra-low carbon vehicles,” he is, of course, being exceedingly economical with the actuality.
Yes, it will provide some UK jobs, but every electric vehicle these companies sell will improve their corporate CV, not ours, and will make it even more difficult for any indigenous entrant into the electric vehicle market.
What these green quangos should be doing is asking why there isn’t a UK company on this list and, in Scotland, they should ask why on earth the deal has excluded Allied Vehicles of Glasgow.
Is it the design of car they’re building or something else?
For me the question has to be why it is that little old Norway can develop the Think electric commuting vehicle but we apparently cannot. Well, perhaps not “cannot”, but “will not” instead.
So, why aren’t we protesting about that? Why aren’t the Nimbys deploring the lack of investment in the wind and electric vehicle industries here, as well as in biomass and even the much-lauded carbon capture business?
Energy Secretary Chris Huhne says the UK Government wants industry to build a new generation of power plants using low-carbon technologies including renewables, nuclear and clean coal and gas.
Huhne also said that the average electricity bill of £500 a year would go up by £160 a year over the next 20 years, although independent observers think this figure is extremely optimistic and believe that bills could go up by as much as £500.
As an aside, the UK Government has now also decided that the infamous Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), which was aimed at redistributing tax paid by high power consumers to those that made reductions in their consumption, will now not be redistributed but used as a sort of additional energy tax instead.
That’s a nasty little change to the rules that is going to cost some companies and organisations a lot of money.
However, it seems to me that if consumers are going to be asked to pay more for their electricity, then it’s not unreasonable to expect that the country should also benefit economically by manufacturing, and exporting, a far higher proportion of the technology required than we do now.
If government is going to set targets for clean energy and reductions in carbon emissions, then why not set targets for how much of the hardware needed to achieve all that is produced by indigenous companies? Others do it.
Frankly, I find it utterly astonishing that the lobby groups – the Nimbys and the various environmental organisations – are so narrow-minded and strategically blind that while they are verging on the cringingly evangelical over such issues as aesthetics and reducing greenhouse gases, they fail miserably to consider the industrial potential, let alone promote its benefits.
Read the latest Friends of the Earth report, Options for Coping With High Renewables Penetration in Scotland, and you’ll see what I mean.
Happy New Year.