Merlin Hyman of Regen South West frequently writes in local papers to extol the virtues of renewable energy and call for more support to, as he calls it, either emerging or burgeoning industry that will bring untold wealth and kudos to the South West. Reading his latest report, it seems that the industry is attracting enormous financial backing and is growing at a fast rate.
This is to be expected but its attractiveness is in the fact that, for example, electricity from wind power costs less than 2p per kWh to produce and is sold for between 15 and 21p to the electricity market. This compares to conventionally generated electricity that sells for about 7p per kWh but has the cost of expensive fuel to cover. With those profits its no wonder everyone wants to invest in renewable energy, but it has nothing to do with its usefulness in the real world – something that Mr Hyman uses clever wording to hide. He says the need to back up wind power with conventional power is not true and that every MW of wind power means that one MW of electricity from modern gas-powered generators is cancelled and therefore an amount of carbon. It is true that every MW of wind power displaces the same amount of conventionally generated electricity but the claim that an equal amount of carbon is displaced is not true. The fact is, carbon is saved when fossil-fuelled power stations reduce the fuel they burn, not the electricity they supply. This is borne out by Eon's report which states that wind power needs up to 90% back-up due to the fact it cannot be predicted in time or quantity. Other studies show the figure to be much higher.
In fact, as conventional and nuclear power stations close over the next few years and spare generating capacity drops from its current value of 20%, real fears of power loss exist.
The worry about the intermittent supply of wind was echoed in a letter by Sir Donald Miller, chairman of Scottish Power, to a consultative paper on the electricity market reform.
He said that having a margin of only 8-12% of surplus power would carry an unacceptable risk of power cuts because of the lack of experience of the hazards with a high proportion of intermittent wind generators on the system, and that it would be guaranteed to lead to widespread and prolonged power cuts.
That is not what Mr Hyman would have you believe. But according to Mr Hyman, when he speaks to groups of people he finds strong support for renewable energy and a recent report shows that 63% of people support it – not really that good if you consider that a couple of years ago it was supposed to be 93%, and not surprising that the support Merlin finds is mostly among his own industry.
Regen South West has had a lot of our money and used it to push renewable energy projects and influence South West Councils and politicians.