In Greenhouse Gassing and More Greenhouse Gassing I wrote at some length about the conferences held on an extremely regular basis by Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum (“WEET”). In the second of those articles I opined that “[a] lot has changed since [I wrote Greenhouse Gassing], and yet, in many ways nothing has changed. It’s still very much full steam ahead, business as usual.”
If a week is a long time in politics, the seven and a half weeks since I wrote More Greenhouse Gassing seems like an eternity. Back then the markets hadn’t gone into meltdown. We had a different monarch, a different Prime Minister, and a different Chancellor of the Exchequer (we’ve also had another Chancellor who has subsequently been replaced), a different Home Secretary (and now we’ve even replaced the replacement too). The price of gas has more than halved, a mini-budget has been introduced and overturned in short order, and a two year scheme to cushion consumers from energy prices has been introduced and replaced by one lasting only six months.
With so much turmoil taking place in such a short period, it’s almost reassuring to note that life carries on unchanged and unchanging at WEET. The emails about the latest conferences, about the same old stuff, keep popping up in my email inbox.
Renewable energy rollout and the planning system in England
This conference is due to take place on 17th November 2022. It touches on some important issues, as its less than snappy sub-title makes clear: “Wind and solar scale-up and grid connection, addressing competing priorities for land use, and options for policy, reform and local decision-making”.
One of the keynote addresses is to be on “Policy and strategic priorities for renewable energy rollout – options for planning reform, increasing UK renewable supplies and expanding delivery”. It sounds more than a little ominous to me, with “options for planning reform” in this context sounding like a euphemism for changing the system so that the powers-that-be can steamroller through “renewable” energy developments whether the locals affected by them want them or not. The address is to be given by Jerome Ma, who I learn is Head of Climate, Planning Policy Division, DLUHC (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities). I wonder if every division of every Government department has a “Head of Climate”? I wouldn’t be surprised. This stuff really is deeply entrenched in Westminster, and it’s going to take some shifting. An energy crisis and a support package that’s been introduced then shortened due to alarm about its cost hasn’t been enough to produce a re-think. I’m beginning to doubt that anything will get through to those in charge.
Another session makes me worry about how the planning process might be manipulated so as to facilitate the driving through of unpopular “renewable” developments: “Assessing key opportunities and challenges for renewable rollout in the context of current planning policy – consents, financing, community energy projects and options for reform”. Underlying all this seems to be the implicit assumption that the planning system needs to be reformed to facilitate yet more “renewable” energy projects.
And then there’s a keynote session headed “Current progress towards renewable energy rollout ambitions and the role of planning policy in delivery”. It’s to be given by Dr Rebecca Windemer, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Planning, UWE Bristol. Her CV is pretty impressive, and I’m pleased that she’s looking into “end-of-life considerations for onshore wind farms (repowering, life-extension and decommissioning)”, since this is a very real problem. I’m less enthusiastic about how her “teaching and research interests involve the regulation of renewable energy infrastructure and how the planning system can help achieve net zero ambitions.” Still, I suppose that given the determination to drive through net zero at the cost of us all apparently remains unchanged among our political elites, she is the right person to talk on this topic.
The “relevant developments” section of the blurb advertising the conference includes “expectations that solar energy will increase five-fold in deployment by 2035” and “Government announce fast-track planning for major infrastructure projects – allowing for new offshore windfarms to be constructed more quickly”. Whilst offshore wind farms don’t directly affect individual communities, they can potentially be damaging to the environment, to sea-life, and to the fishing industry. The drive towards yet more renewables, in the face of the massive problems they have caused for UK energy security and costs, continues to be a cause for grave concern.
Next steps for renewable energy in Wales
This conference is due to take place on 26th January 2023. In More Greenhouse Gassing I looked at the extent of the net zero and renewable energy policy duplication in Scotland. Although it’s perhaps on a smaller scale in Wales, here we see yet more duplication (or should that be triplication?). The conference will be chaired by Professor Ron Loveland, Energy Advisor, Welsh Government and other speakers include Ed Sheriff, Deputy Director, Energy Division, Welsh Government.
As always seems to be the case with these conferences, one of the areas for discussion is the insoluble topic of “cost and security – outlining a path to net-zero whilst protecting consumers from rising energy bills – the role of renewables in delivering greater security”. The fact that the discussion is even couched in these terms demonstrates that those in authority continue to be in denial as to the reality of renewable energy, despite all the evidence – still crazy after all these years.
Under a section called “Policy and regulation priorities” we learn about something called the “Renewable Energy Deep Dive”. This, it seems, is a Welsh Government strategy “to identify opportunities to significantly scale up renewable energy in Wales”. It’s bonkers, of course. It includes this as its first paragraph:
Our Vision is for Wales to generate renewable energy to at least fully meet our energy needs and utilise surplus generation to tackle the nature and climate emergencies. We will accelerate actions to reduce energy demand and maximise local ownership retaining economic and social benefits in Wales.
As is so often the case, it treats as two sides of the same coin “the nature and climate emergencies” (sic). To pretend that Wales (responsible for perhaps 0.05% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions) can in any way influence the climate is beyond ridiculous. To fail to recognise that renewable energy “farms” cause far more damage to Wales’ ecosystems and natural environment than its modest greenhouse gas emissions ever could is also deeply worrying.
The third paragraph of the Deep Dive is chillingly Orwellian:
Our Net Zero Wales public engagement and behaviour change plans will help citizens to take action to reduce demand, improve energy efficiency and use energy in a way which supports our vision.
Behaviour change plans, eh? The public has to use energy in a way which supports your vision rather than in a way which supports its lifestyle choices. Paragraph 6a talks of “demand side flexibility”. Now there’s a euphemism, if ever I saw one. There’s much more in similar vein, and an awful lot of words that say very little.
I seem to have digressed, so let’s return to the conference. We learn that there is, inevitably, a plan for “Net Zero Wales” and (with no apparent sense of irony, given the damage caused to the environment by wind farms et al) a “Welsh Agriculture Bill – including legislation on Sustainable Land Management, with key objectives including to conserve and enhance the Welsh countryside”. Someone in the Welsh government seems to like deep diving, and so there is also (with similar like of irony) a “Biodiversity deep dive”.
The best that can be said for it is that it is all so much more low-key and less shrill than the incessant net zero/renewable noise coming from poor benighted Scotland and its wretched government (and, similarly, less shrill than the incessant net zero/renewable noise coming from the UK’s wretched government and from all Westminster parties).
Priorities for developing the fusion industry in the UK
This conference is due to take place on 3rd February 2023. We learn that there is a Fusion and Research Establishments Team, BEIS, since its head, Dr Adam Baker, is due to attend. For once it’s nice to focus on an aspect of UK energy supply that isn’t related to renewables. One of the objectives of the conference is “to consider the scientific and engineering challenges in delivering fusion energy at commercially viable levels of production.”
We learn about the UK Atomic Energy Agency STEP Programme – Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production.
STEP is a UKAEA programme that will demonstrate the ability to generate net electricity from fusion. It will also determine how the plant will be maintained through its operational life and prove the potential for the plant to produce its own fuel.
The first phase of the programme is to produce a concept design by 2024. It will be a spherical tokamak, connected to the National Grid and producing net energy, although it is not expected to be a commercially operating plant at this stage.
Wikipedia tells us (you might already know this, but I didn’t) that:
A tokamak is a device which uses a powerful magnetic field to confine plasma in the shape of a torus. The tokamak is one of several types of magnetic confinement devices being developed to produce controlled thermonuclear fusion power. As of 2016, it was the leading candidate for a practical fusion reactor.
And as the UKAEA website tells us:
Fusion has the potential to provide a near-limitless source of low carbon energy by copying the processes that power the sun and stars where atoms are fused to release energy.
Fusion power creates nearly four million times more energy for every kilogram of fuel than burning coal, oil or gas.
Of course, it isn’t going to be easy. Among the topics to be discussed at the conference are these:
transitioning from the scientific level to industrial scale
latest developments on being able to operate and maintain functions at commercially viable levels of productivity
overcoming design and development challenges around developing materials to withstand the necessary temperatures and pressures
assessing how to manage large infrastructure projects and deliver at the pace necessary
We learn that the West Burton power station site in Nottinghamshire has just been selected for the UK’s prototype fusion energy plant and that the first phase of the programme is to produce a concept design by 2024 (as mentioned above).
Let’s hope it comes to fruition. If it does, I imagine we’ll be left wondering why we wasted £trillions on renewable energy, left ourselves facing blackouts, and pushed millions into fuel poverty.