I am truly blown over by the Scottish Government’s Onshore wind policy statement 2022, which contains astonishing levels of illogicality and dubious assumptions. The obvious failings of the document are legion – certainly on too great a scale to keep this analysis within reasonable bounds if I were to dwell on them all – so instead I will dip in and out, highlighting some of the most obvious nonsense, and leaving the interested reader to explore the original document if desired.
This is written (or at least signed off) by Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy & Transport, and it’s fair to say it sets the tone for the nonsense that follows. It commences on a contentious note:
The world is facing a climate emergency with the impacts of climate change already being felt across the globe. From floods in Pakistan to drought across Europe and last winter’s serious storms, the damage that unmitigated climate change can cause is already clear to see.
Given that the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report Working Group 1 nowhere (not even in its Summary for Policymakers) uses the phrase “climate emergency” (nor “climate crisis”, for that matter) it seems rather strange that the opening paragraph of a government policy statement should set the policy framework by reference to terminology beloved (and, in this context, arguably invented) by the mainstream media rather than by the international experts who pontificate on this topic at great length on a regular basis.
The second paragraph is arguably even stranger, given the wealth of fossil fuels available to the Scottish government if only they decided to permit their exploitation and use (as the SNP part of the Scottish government coalition used to urge only a few short years ago when claiming that these fossil fuel riches provided the basis for their desired Scottish independence). Here’s the second paragraph:
Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the resulting extraordinary rise in the price of fossil fuels, in particular gas, demonstrates that continuing to rely on commodities that are subject to global price shocks is no longer an option.
Admittedly that was written in 2022, but one assumes that such matters as important as national energy policy (and the statements that apply to them) are kept under regular review by politicians and their advisers. Presumably, then, they have noticed that a gas price which peaked at over £7.00 per therm in late August 2022 is sitting as I write this at just over one-sixth of that peak, at 121.2p per therm. Of course that fall in price might not be permanent, and it doesn’t of itself render void the claim that it might be unwise, say, to put all one’s eggs in the basket of products that might be subject to price shocks, but it does cast doubt on the argument that continuing to rely (at all) on such products “is no longer an option”.
Having recognised the tendentious nature of those opening two paragraphs, the next sentence (which is of critical importance, underpinning as it does the whole policy statement) offers up a shocking non-sequitur:
That is why we must accelerate our transition towards a net zero society.
I find that form of words to be a curiously inelegant and unhelpful way to express the reasoning (such as it is) behind the Scottish government’s energy policy. We aren’t told what “that” is, and are left to draw the inference that the reason(s) is/are as set out in the two preceding paragraphs, namely the dubious claim that the world is facing a climate emergency and the equally dubious claim that because fossil fuel prices spiked for a relatively brief period on the back of a sudden and irrational warlike move by a Russian politician who will not be in post for ever, energy policy that relies on fossil fuels is therefore “no longer an option”.
Given that the UK as a whole is responsible for around 1% of the world’s ongoing greenhouse gas emissions, and given that Scotland’s population is around one-twelfth of the UK’s population, one has to wonder on what basis the elimination of fossil fuel use by Scots responsible for around one twelve-hundredth part of the global total is expected to play any part in resolving the global “climate emergency”. Given the cost and inconvenience associated with an accelerating transition to net zero, one might have hoped to see a detailed analysis of the nature of the Scottish climate emergency (rather than a vague reference to floods in Pakistan, drought in Europe and serious winter storms) and an explanation as to how Scottish net zero policies can stop these things from happening, espcially in the face of rising fossil fuel use elsewhere in the world – you know, a bit of real global context. And one might expect an explanation as to why it is deemed unwise to use one’s own fossil fuel resources, given an issue with potential “global price shocks”.
Sadly, as we will see, no such analysis is forthcoming. On the contrary, next we are told that:
...we must go further and faster to protect future generations from the spectre of irreversible climate damage.
Once again, the crucial piece of reasoning and explanation is missing. Even assuming that Scots people (or the human population and fauna and flora of the entire planet) are facing “irreversible climate damage”, we aren’t told how Scottish net zero will stave this off. Of course, the reason why we aren’t told this is because whatever the Scots do, it won’t make any difference to anything.
Nor is the significance of Scotland’s 2030 targets explained (hit that date and all will be well? Miss it and face climate armageddon?), but we are told that “…continued deployment of onshore wind will be key to ensuring our 2030 targets are met.” Hilariously (at least, it would be funny were the implications of such nonsense not so serious) we are told that “onshore wind is a cheap and reliable source of zero carbon electricity.” Reliable? 2021 wind drought, anyone? Cold, still, spells in the depth of darkest winter (when solar generation produces very little and the need for energy is acute) and the wind turbines stay stubbornly still?
Cheap? Well, this is the claim:
Despite being excluded from the previous two auction rounds, onshore wind achieved the second lowest overall strike price across all technologies at the Contract for Difference Allocation Round 4, at £42.47 per MWh, which is around 45% lower than it cleared during Allocation Round 1 in 2015.
True, so far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. There is not a single wind farm in the UK, let alone in Scotland, generating electricity at a price of £42.47 per Mwh, nor anything like it. Contracts for Difference aren’t really “contracts” in the traditional sense of the word, rather they are one-way options, and wind farm owners aren’t exercising the options at low strike prices when they have the option of taking the market price instead. Why does the foreword engage in this piece of legerdemain, instead of acknowledging the practical reality of wind energy pricing?
And so another set of dubious opinions are stated as fact:
Onshore wind has the ability to be deployed quickly, is good value for consumers and is widely supported by the public.
Maybe it is widely supported by the public who don’t understand its cost, unreliablity, unpredictability, and implications for the electricity grid and who don’t have to live anywhere near a wind farm, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. And what about local democracy? People who live near the proposed sites of wind farms tend not to be so keen, and their objections tend to be ignored.
And then we get the final insult:
…it is also vital that this ambition [meeting net zero targets] is delivered in a way that is fully aligned with, and continues to enhance, our rich natural heritage and native flora and fauna, and supports our actions to address the nature crisis and the climate crisis.
Well, when are you going to start doing that? The apparent lack of awareness of the damage caused to Scotland’s ecology and environment by wind farms, and of the opposition to them by groups who value their local environment and care about flora and fauna, is staggering.
And that’s just the first page…
Ambitions and Aspirations
This section does at least have the merit of recognising that Scotland’s net zero plans will:
…see a substantial increase in demand for electricity…[which] will at least double within the next two decades. This will require a substantial increase in installed capacity across all renewable technologies.
Given that we are told that the net zero strategy will operate “across all sectors, including heat, transport and industrial processes” the idea that demand for electricity will only “at least double” in the next two decades strikes me as an heroic assumption, but then that is what we are told the National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios says. Feel free to take a look. I’ve just spent ten minutes looking for that information there, and failing to find it.
However, I have found my way to the DUKES data provided by the UK government, including chapter one of its report on UK energy statistics for 2021. This tells us that:
With net imports up [in 2021], the UK increased its use of fossil fuels. The main fossil fuel sources in the UK are coal, gas and oil. In 2021, the share of primary energy consumption from fossil fuels increased to 78.3 per cent from the record low of 76.8 per cent in 2020, whilst that from low-carbon sources decreased to 19.4 per cent from the record high of 21.2 per cent last year due to reduced nuclear and renewables output…
In other words, renewables and nuclear combined (i.e. “low-carbon” sources of energy) provided only 19.4% of the UK’s energy needs in 2021 (remember the 2021 wind drought I mentioned above). If all sectors of the economy are to be “decarbonised” in accordance with net zero plans, then it looks to me as though electricity production will need to be five times higher than it currently is. Even allowing for the possibility of new technologies reducing demand for energy and even assuming that Scotland is further down this road than the rest of the UK, a claim that the demand for electricity in Scotland will only “at least double” over the next two decades looks ridiculously optimistic. Especially given that in Scotland the net zero zealotry of the government there has committed to an earlier net zero date than in the rest of the UK:
The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 (the Act) was passed by Scottish Parliament in September 2019. The Act commits Scotland to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest, and also sets two interim targets to reduce emissions by 75% by 2030 and by 90% by 2040.
Leaving all that to one side, what then are the Scottish government’s ambitions and aspirations? They are to build on 8.7GW of installed capacity (NB, always remember that nameplate capacity and actual production are very different things) in Scotland as of June 2022, noting that up to 11.3GW of further capacity, spread over 217 potential projects will facilitate a “minimum installed capacity of 20 GW of onshore wind in Scotland by 2030“.
Lovers of the Scottish countryside and wild places, read it and weep.
Delivering on the Ambition for Onshore Wind in Scotland
The Scottish government tells us in this section that it:
is committed to achieving our climate change targets in a way that maximises the economic and social benefits of a just transition to a net-zero economy.
We are told that achieving this will require a collaborative approach, and to facilitate that, an Onshore Wind Strategic Leadership Group (SLG) is to be formed (oh good, another QUANGO – we don’t have enough of them, do we?). It will be tasked with identifying “solutions to key deployment challenges, establish opportunities to maximise benefits to Scotland, and foster a collaborative spirit across the sector, while aiding a just transition.”
I suppose I should be grateful to find recognition that there will be key deployment challenges, but don’t ask me to run this SLG – I can already see that its tasks are mutually inconsistent, especially given that it must also drive GVA (not defined, but I assume this stands for Gross Value Added). And I certainly wouldn’t want to be responsible for keeping order among the people who are to be involved:
…government representatives, onshore wind industry leaders, Scottish Renewables, relevant Scottish Government agencies and Supply Chain representatives and a body representing issues affecting local communities.
In fact, given the next paragraph, definitely count me out:
However, any future sector deal should reflect Scottish Government ambitions around supply chain, skills, increased deployment of onshore wind, community benefits and shared ownership, and positive biodiversity outcomes. It is crucial that the principles of a just transition are actively applied across the sector and that the benefits of the increased deployment of onshore wind are felt by all of Scotland’s citizens, especially in the communities that host developments.
That’s just not going to happen, is it?
For good measure, there are to be aspirations for the proportion of women to be employed in the onshore wind sector, at the same time. Fair enough, not a bad aspiration at all, but combined with everything else they are to be tasked with? Something will have to give.
Environmental Considerations: Achieving Balance and Maximising Benefits
This section makes a lot of the right noises, but really doesn’t engage with the single simple fact that building wind turbines in wild places is damaging to the environment. It even has the effrontery to talk about maximising the environmental benefits (sic) to Scotland. And, as is the case with stated UK government policy, it seeks to persuade us that mutually incompatible objectives will all be met:
The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring Scotland’s citizens have access to affordable, low carbon and renewable energy whilst tackling the climate and nature crises in tandem.
Reference is made to the Scottish government’s Land Use Strategy. Then we get another pie-in-the-sky statement of mutually inconsistent objectives:
As Scotland moves towards a net zero economy there will need to be significant land use change from current uses to forestry and peatland restoration. This needs to happen alongside ensuring space for other essential activities such as food production, renewable energy generation, including onshore wind, and the protection and enhancement of habitats and biodiversity.
Does this represent a faint stirring of awareness that onshore wind farms to date have often destroyed trees in extraordinary numbers (almost 14 million was the number quoted in 2020) and damaged peat, or are Scottish government ministers and officials in some strange state of denial as to the environmental damage caused by onshore wind farms to date?
Much is then made of the claim that degraded peat:
accounts for around 15% of Scotland’s total net emissions. Reversing degradation through peatland restoration is therefore central to mitigating and adapting to the linked climate and nature crises.
This claim is followed by the statement that peatland restoration is the way forward, despite the admission of yet another failure of the Scottish government to achieve its objectives:
Against our target to restore 250,000 hectares by 2030, we have delivered 57,500 hectares to date at an average annual rate of 5,700 hectares in recent years. This is below our annual goal of at least 20,000 hectares, and there are many reasons for this, not least that peatland restoration is a sector in its infancy and is building delivery capacity.
Don’t worry, seems to be the message, we’re getting there by “building delivery capacity”. Given the Scottish government’s track record over a whole area of policy issues, I doubt that any real progress will be made here. Ferries, anyone?
Bizarrely, given the repeated statements about the importance of peat, we then learn this:
We recognise, however, that the peatland impacts of onshore wind farms can be significant and we must balance the benefits from onshore wind deployment and the impacts on our carbon rich habitats. This includes being aware that there is potential for development in an area of deep peat to have a net negative carbon impact.
The Scottish government therefore commits to convene and expert working group (will that be yet another taxpayer-funded QUANGO?) and to
assess the operation of, and if necessary update or replace, the carbon calculator. The Scottish Government will ensure that adequate tools and guidance are available to inform the assessment of net carbon impacts of development proposals on peatlands and other rich carbon soils.
That would be the carbon calculator that has come under serious criticism of late and in respect of which a Scottish Government spokesperson said they “note the limitations” of the payback calculations, but said the calculator still provided “the best available means” to get figures in a “consistent and comparable format”.
This section (about the importance of peat) concludes with this solemn assurance:
By assessing the net carbon impacts of proposed developments on carbon-rich soils and peatlands we will ensure that planning and consenting regimes result in the right projects in the right places, with all applications considered on a case-by-case basis within the relevant planning regime.
Well, it would be a start, but it would also be a first. I trust that the Scottish people will hold them to that commitment.
Woodland is next up and we are told:
Creating new forests and woodlands is an important tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For each hectare of forest and woodland created, it is estimated that, on average, seven tonnes of CO2 will be removed from the atmosphere each year. The Climate Change Plan includes a commitment to increase forest and woodland cover in Scotland from around 19% now, to 21% by 2032, and our 2020 update to the Climate Change Plan set out ambitious targets to incrementally increase woodland creation from 12,000 hectares per year in 2020/21, up to 18,000 hectares per year by 2024/2025….Protection of existing forestry, as well as expansion, is integral to our climate change targets. Woodland removal should be kept to a minimum and where woodland is felled it should be replanted. These aspects of Scottish Government policy, detailed through the Control of Woodland Removal Policy have formed part of the considerations for relevant onshore wind developments for more than a decade. This proves that the protection of forestry and the promotion of onshore wind already co-exist.
Proves? How is that consistent with the destruction by windfarm developers of almost 14 million trees to 2020, especially if this policy has been in place for more than a decade? Perhaps the reality is that policies, plans and aspirations count for nothing once the process of putting the wind turbines in place begins.
Aspiration and reality do seem to be in conflict, but not in the Looking-Glass world inhabited by the Scottish government:
Onshore wind will remain an essential part of our energy mix and climate change mitigation efforts, and the resolution of the balance between its deployment and biodiversity interests requires careful discussion and planning at a local level. As the rate of onshore wind deployment increases in the coming years, we see a great opportunity for wind energy developments to further contribute significantly to our biodiversity ambition. By proactively managing intact habitats and the species they support, restoring degraded areas and improving connectivity between nature-rich areas, onshore wind projects will contribute to our climate change targets and help address the biodiversity crisis.
Landscape and visual amenity are dealt with next. There is an admission that as wind turbines become ever larger and as there more and more of them to meet the government’s targets, “[t]his will change the landscape.” Whilst that is admitted, what is not admitted is that it will change the landscape for the worse. Yet such an acknowledgement is implicit in the recognition that wind energy is not supported in National Parks and National Scenic Areas. Ominously, however, “[o]utside of these areas, the criteria for assessing proposals have been updated, including stronger weight being afforded to the contribution of the development to the climate emergency…” In other words, the dice have just been loaded still further in favour of wind farm developers, because the reality seems to be that while the Scottish government recognises the serious adverse visual impact of wind turbines, it doesn’t really care:
Our Revised Draft NPF4 recognises that significant landscape and visual impacts are to be expected for some forms of renewable energy, and makes clear that where impacts are localised and/or appropriate design mitigation has been applied, they will generally be considered to be acceptable.
Finally in this section there is a recognition that noise, especially from the ever-larger turbines increasingly being used, can be a problem. The Scottish government notes that the current standard (ETSU-R-97) is being reconsidered by the UK government as possibly being no longer appropriate, given the increasing size of turbines, yet we are told:
Until such time as new guidance is produced, ETSU-R-97 should continue to be followed by applicants and used to assess and rate noise from wind energy developments.
And it might be argued that all the Scottish government can do is to wait and see if a new standard is put in place, though in reality there are two other alternatives. Given the centrality of onshore wind to its plans and the rapid growth in the size of turbines (with associated increased noise) the Scottish government could commission its own review rather than waiting for the UK government to do so. Or it could require new planning applications to be put on hold unless the proposed turbines are below a certain size, until the UK government review has been carried out. Neither option, it seems, has been considered. Locals (whether human or our furry and feathered friends) will just have to grin and bear it.
Benefits to Local Communities and Financial Mechanisms
This section is one where I have little to say, save that the experience of local communities might not fit with the Scottish government’s belief as to how these matters play out. For instance, this statement might ring hollow to many:
It remains vital that developers act as ‘good neighbours’, working in tandem with local communities, communicating over the course of a wind farm’s life and building good relationships. This should allow concerns to be addressed as they emerge, empower communities to engage positively with the development, and secure community enhancements.
Not living in Scotland, nor next to a wind farm, it isn’t really for me to comment further; rather it is for those affected (whether they feel the effect is positive or negative) to have their say.
I have already commented sceptically above on the claims made for Contracts for Difference (CfDs) in reducing costs. Despite the fact that not a single wind farm has been commissioned at the lowest CfD rates “achieved” recently, the Scottish government continues to proclaim that CfDs have driven costs down for consumers (at a time when costs have never been higher). Paradoxically, even so, they tell us this (which doesn’t sound like a recipe for positive progress):
Whilst the CfD is critical for delivering support to deployment at low cost to consumers, the pressure to reduce capital costs has had significant impacts on the domestic supply chain, with suppliers greatly reducing margins or losing contracts altogether. This is a result of the CfD scheme’s effectiveness in reducing developer bids and technology costs. The Scottish Government recognises that this pressure has had some negative effects on the domestic supply chain and investor confidence.
We are told that the Scottish government (in line with the UK government) “expects” “developers to make every effort to support the domestic supply chain…and to ask developers to provide UK content estimates for their projects as part of the Supply Chain Plan questionnaire.”
But expecting and asking isn’t the same as insisting, and in the absence of insisting via a contractual obligation, why would they developers do anything other than carry on as they have so far? Where did all the green jobs go indeed. Which leads us neatly in to the next section:
Onshore Wind and Benefits to Scotland
We are told that:
By capitalising on Scotland’s strengths in energy, natural capital, innovation and our skilled workforce and universities, we can set Scotland at the forefront of growing global markets.
Well, maybe, or maybe not. We are also told:
The recent Onshore Wind Prospectus suggests that approximately 17,000 jobs and the equivalent of £27.8bn in GVA could be achieved in Scotland if we are able to deploy an additional 12GW by 2030.
But suggesting is not the same as achieving, and even the Scottish government has to admit, somewhat sheepishly, that:
We recognise that, at present, the Scottish manufacturing supply chain for the wind industry is weak.
Yes indeed, and that is after decades of wind farm developments.
Almost incredibly, this section also suggests that wind farm developments will boost tourism. Ignoring the views of locals who know what is going on in their areas, we are instead rather pompously told:
The Scottish Government is aware that some communities in Scotland are concerned that the deployment of onshore wind can have a negative effect on tourism. Current evidence suggests that whilst there may be discrete impacts in some cases, this is not the general rule….We consider the effect that onshore wind farms can have on local and national tourism as a significant opportunity to cultivate a ‘people and place’ approach and provide economic opportunities in areas that may otherwise be overlooked.
Onshore Wind and Aviation Considerations
As noted in both the 2017 Onshore Wind Policy Statement, and the 2021 draft Onshore Wind Policy Statement (dOnWPS), wind turbines have the potential to impact aviation operations, including, but not limited to, impact on aviation radar.
Gosh, that sounds rather serious! Don’t be silly. It’s as nought compared to the climate crisis:
…the pace of deployment necessitated by the climate emergency means we must find a way to alleviate these impacts in an effective, efficient and timely manner. It is also important that solutions are cognisant of the cost of deploying renewable energy, particularly given the need to focus on both security of supply and low-cost generation, given the current international and economic situation.
Magic wand time?
Onshore Wind and Technical Considerations
The first technical consideration alluded to in the policy statement is that associated with wide loads. There will be more of these, and they will presumably be ever wider, as turbines grow in size. The problem is in fact considerable, and the Scottish government recognises it (though inevitably dismisses it, by assuming that the problem will be solved by the setting up of a series of working groups). Here is the problem:
As we increase the volume of onshore wind in Scotland…we will increase the volume of turbine components which must be conveyed to site. Abnormal Indivisible Loads are, by definition, a load being carried on a public road which exceeds a defined length, and hence could prove hazardous. Given the nature of wind turbine components, the movement of these parts will frequently trigger the Abnormal Indivisible Loads requirements.
Under the Road Traffic Act 1988, any abnormal load movement on public road in Scotland must be escorted by a specially trained police officer. This puts additional pressure on both Police Scotland and hauliers, as well as the wind energy sector’s ability to deploy at scale in Scotland.
In order to meet our legally-binding net-zero targets, it is estimated that 3400 turbines will be installed in Scotland between now and 2030, this is the equivalent of a new turbine being installed every day between 2025-2030. Given this, and the significant issues surrounding the transportation of components, this issue has been brought into fresh focus, as we consider it could have serious implications on the delivery of our renewable energy pipeline and subsequent threat to our 2030 net-zero targets.
There is another, associated, problem:
The Scottish Government is aware of the related, but separate issue of “oversail”, when turbine components “oversail” the boundary of a road and enter the airspace of private land at pinch points along the delivery route. The financial compensation paid to landowners is becoming increasingly substantial, and as we deliver the 3400 turbines between now and 2030 the financial implications of this issue has become more pressing.
But not to worry:
The Abnormal Loads Legislative Reform Sub-group will consider matters of land-ownership and oversail as part of their overall work package.
Just before leaving this section, it’s worth returning to the question of turbine noise (as the Scottish government does here in the context of a Ministry of Defence (MoD) seismological monitoring station at Eskdalemuir.
The array’s operation can be compromised by excessive seismic noise in the vicinity, which can be produced by wind turbines operating around the array.
And so the MoD has issued a direction which
…advised that any sites within 50km of the array would require consultation with MoD before determination. This 50km radius is often referred to as the ‘consultation zone’.
Within the consultation zone there is an existing hard no-build area at a radius of 10km from the array – no application for windfarms can be made closer than this due to the unacceptable impact they would have at this distance.
Needless to say, no such protection is offered to local residents living within anything like those distances from proposed wind farms.
Onshore Wind, Energy Systems and Regulation
So great are the issues, so many are the problems, that a rational person might sit down and question the wisdom of these plans.
Delivering our ambition of 20 GW of onshore wind by 2030 will create demands on our electricity infrastructure. New developments will need to connect quickly to Scotland’s distribution and transmission networks. Networks must be able to invest quickly and ahead of need in order to ensure swift and efficient connections for onshore wind developments.
The ‘connect and manage’ system has supported significant growth in clean, low-cost renewable capacity. However, the misalignment between rapidly increasing constraint costs and the long lead time for transmission investment is placing increased risk on consumers in an already challenging landscape.
National Grid Electricity System Operator, the GB Electricity System Operator, has identified the need for over £21bn of investment in GB transmission infrastructure to meet 2030 targets. Over half of this investment will involve Scottish Transmission Owners SSEN and SPEN.
Another obvious issue with the plan to build ever more windfarms in Scotland, is that they will be remote from many of the consumers of the electricity generated. In a sane world, this might be considered a relevant factor. But not in the world of net zero and the Scottish government:
In a net zero world, it is counterproductive in the extreme to care more about where generation is situated than what type of generation it is. A new approach is needed here, rather than small modifications to methodologies. We will continue to raise this with Ofgem and the UK Government and push for a fairer solution that recognises the renewable capability of Scotland.
Common sense doesn’t seem to enter into any of this. The next section talks about security of supply, but doesn’t begin to address the problems. Instead, counter-factually and almost incredibly:
We believe that onshore wind can play a greater part in helping to address the substantial challenges of maintaining security of supply and network resilience in a decarbonised electricity system.
Reality doesn’t intrude. Instead:
Deployment of onshore wind is mission-critical for meeting our climate targets.
So that’s that. Needless to say, I disagree profoundly.
All based on current modelled temperature predictions, of course.
However, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation has entered its negative phase (note that when it entered its positive phase ~1980 the dire prognostication changed from the Great Ice Age Scare to the Great AGW Scare) and so it will become painfully apparent to the hierarchy that the climate is undeniably cooling.
It will be interesting to see their excuses for wrecking the economies of the Western nations even more than they’ve managed with the Covid massive overreaction turn out to be.
If Solar Cycle 25 follows the more dire predictions, then there really will be a climate emergency!
Mark – after a 1st read – madness, but they have all bought into it (keep their jobs?)
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I’m really not sure whether anyone believes the story the Scottish Government and others are telling – including the authors. Noble cause corruption? But you can’t even justify the mushrooming of wind turbines on this basis, because it wouldn’t help even if there was a “climate crisis.” Some of the phrases “just transition” to Net Zero – are now commonplace, but meaningless. The lie that wind power can be a driver of biodiversity improvement is also found in a report I have just briefly reviewed (to be posted up later).
The arguments for wind turbines offered up in the Scottish Government’s policy statement don’t stand up to the most cursory scrutiny. The only justification that makes sense to me would be to say “when it’s windy, we can sell electricity to England, and once we’re independent, we can make a killing on that.”
Any mention of how swingy the electricity supply is going to be?
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Cat, the AMO may well have turned negative, and this might well lead to some colder winters in Western Europe. It might also flatten the (slow and non-threatening) increase in global temps for a couple of decades.
However, it might end up being a damp squib. We don’t have good data on enough cycles of the AMO, I think, to judge how impactful it might be.
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“We don’t have good data on enough cycles of the AMO”
But see Fig. 7: Implication of the coupled atmosphere/ocean variability for the near-future climate from my link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41612-022-00275-1/figures/7
Which clearly shows the temperature cycles of the North Atlantic SST AMO from 1900 extrapolated to 2040.
Which shows the start of the negative phase commencing ~2000.
Further, experimentation with WodForTrees appears to demonstrate that although the AMO is named for the North Atlantic (presumably because that’s where the preponderance of the measurements were taken) it appears to have considerable global influence.
Mark; Thanks for summarising this weapons-grade idiocy – I would not have had either the patience of the stomach for it.
One small point on the CfD values…..Aiui they are 2012 prices so need to have 11 years of escalation (by whatever formula) to bring them up to date, plus however many years it takes to get into service.
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Too much to cover in one comment, so I’ll respond in bits.
Firstly, let us talk about the rationale of a country committing resources and taking risks to ‘tackle’ climate change when to do so will make little impact. This is obviously a problem, particularly when other countries that are in a much better place to make significant impacts choose not to do so. It is a matter of gamesmanship and you will not be surprised to hear that Pinker (he’s so hot right now) covered the subject in his book on rationality. Unsurprisingly, he picks on climate sceptics to make his point, and he finds the sceptical position to be the irrational one. Here is how it works for him.
Mutual cooperation in which all parties sign up to commensurate commitments is obviously the best strategy for dealing with the undoubted climate crisis. One or more parties may back out, however, leaving the remainder to disproportionately carry the costs whilst all still reap the benefits equally. From a purely selfish viewpoint, this may seem rational, but what if everyone were to take this approach? How can an approach be rational if catastrophe would result from everyone taking it? This is known as the tragedy of the commons, and it is a recurrent theme in game theory. The real rationality lies in making the commitment without regard for what the other parties may or may not do.
There is nothing wrong as such with the logic behind the tragedy of the commons, but I am afraid that Pinker lost me at ‘undoubted climate crisis’. Furthermore, the solution he proposes for addressing the problem at the level of personal lifestyle choices (i.e. so-called ‘choice architecture’ legislating away certain freedoms and taxing the buggers into submission) will not deal with the problem at an international level. On this point, Pinker remains silent, no doubt reflecting upon the extent to which a long line of showboating COPs has generated little more than a great deal of worthy rhetoric and a mountain of toothless written commitments.
When I look at the fruits of international conference, I know where I think the rational bet should be placed, and it isn’t where Pinker would place it. I say protect your economy at all costs and use it to pay for adaptation.
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Thanks for the comments. MIkeHig, thanks for the observation about the CfD prices quoted. Assuming you are correct (and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to find that you are, given the huge amount of spin involved in the Scottish government policy statement) then you may well have drawn attention to what looks like another piece of legerdemain on the part of the Scottish government.
John, thanks for your comment, which could serve as an extended conclusion to the article. I decided the article was already long enough at 21 minutes, so didn’t add much by way of conclusion. Had I done so, I would have pointed out that even the Scottish government acknowledges in the policy statement that onshore wind power (and the associated drive to net zero) is riddled with problems – disruption to wildlife, peat, local residents, the national grid; intermittency; expense; etc. Even though they work hard to put a positive spin on things, and to seek to see benefits where none exist, I think they would be forced to admit, ceteris paribus, that a new energy system driven pretty much entirely by renewable energy (and otherwise carbon neutral) would represent something worse than the system we currently have. That being the case, the only justification for blowing up power stations and replacing them with wind turbines is because there is a climate emergency (sic) and that net zero in Scotland will solve the emergency. Of course, the first proposition is highly dubious (to say the least) and the second is risible. It doesn’t make sense.
Having said that, I’ll adopt your words as my conclusion, thanks.
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Jit asks “Any mention of how swingy the electricity supply is going to be?”
The answer is, yes and no. It’s mentioned here:
“Chapter 8: Onshore Wind, Energy Systems and Regulation”
And there seems to be a recognition that blackouts are inevitable:
And there’s an admission that it needs to be “managed”:
Thus, it’s evident that they know that it’s all deeply problematic. There is less evidence that they have a meaningful plan. Instead, it’s full speed ahead towards the iceberg.
Now let’s talk about the transportation of abnormal loads.
This part of the document I found particularly hilarious. It’s not just that they chose to focus in on the problem of having to hire a police officer to escort the load, when the overall budget for their project will run into the billions, it is also their lack of attention to the far greater problem of planning and approval of the transportation route. True, they mention the problem of getting the approval for ‘oversail’ but this should be the least of the Abnormal Loads Legislative Reform Sub-group’s concerns. The absence of a suitable road infrastructure to transport these monsters to remote locations should be weighing heavily upon their minds. And has anybody really thought about the weight-bearing capacity of bridges on the route?
Rather than form a subgroup, they would do a lot better by simply visiting the UK Government’s Electronic Service Delivery for Abnormal Loads (ESDAL) system website. If they were to use that system to dry run through the planning and authorization process for a typical transportation route, they would very quickly get a feel for the practicalities and costs involved. The likelihood is that they simply would not get the required approvals from infrastructure owners.
How do I know so much about abnormal load transportation? Well, I happen to have been a senior member of the team that put together the successful bid for the design, development and operation of EDSDAL. Furthermore, following contract award, I remained on the team in a quality assurance capacity. So I guess another option open to the Reform Subgroup would be to speak to me.
Click to access ESDAL_Haulier_User_Guide.pdf
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Blown away by yet new information about your past exploits and past doings. Williard should be shaking in his boots.
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All roads lead to Ridgway.
Alan, I can’t really imagine Willard shaking in his boots for anyone. It’s not his style.
Richard, the weird thing is that, until Mark brought up the subject of abnormal loads, I had completely forgotten that this was something I had once been involved in. That’s one of the problems with having a CV full of crap. One of my few clear memories of ESDAL was the initial meeting with the government representatives to discuss the bid. I was with our marketing manager, who opened by saying, “May I start by thanking you for inviting us to bid for this exciting new project”. To which one of our hosts replied, “I’m so glad you said that, because excited is how we feel about the project and we want to get into bed with contractors who are equally excited”. I remained silent, but my private thoughts were “Kill me now”.
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John – funny, very funny you bring that up (oooh you are naughty).
watched Countryfile today, which had a piece on how new offshore wind farms will connect to the grid.
quote from BBC website – “Joe Crowley is in East Anglia, where a proposed new multibillion-pound power grid has been met with stiff opposition”
ps – found this short post on BBC Online – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-61176325
dfhunter, thanks for the link. And of course these expensive intrusive grid extensions are required only to accommodate renewable energy. As I wrote above (and at Paul Homewood’s place recently) if you were designing an energy system from scratch, then all things being equal, you would go for fossil fuels ahead of renewables every time: cheaper, more reliable, more efficient. Taking that one step further, and in a sane world (absent a “climate emergency”) you wouldn’t dream of blowing up coal fired power stations and running down fossil fuel generation in order to replace with it environmentally destructive, unreliable and expensive renewables, effectively rebuilding the energy supply system from scratch to replace an existing one that worked well. It is only the dubious belief in a climate crisis, combined with an unsustainable and deluded belief that we in the UK can solve it by going net zero (regardless of what the rest of the world does) that has led us down this blind alley.
“The Scottish Government is aware that some communities in Scotland are concerned that the deployment of onshore wind can have a negative effect on tourism. Current evidence suggests that whilst there may be discrete impacts in some cases, this is not the general rule.”
The impact that largescale onshore windfarm development may have on tourism is an interesting subject, perhaps worthy of an article in its own right. VisitScotland’s positioning statement, for example, makes interesting reading and exemplifies the somewhat ambivalent claims being made. On the one hand, there is a clear recognition that windfarms are detrimental to the landscape and this is not a good thing for a country whose landscape is a major tourist attraction:
“Landscape and natural heritage are important to Scotland’s appeal as a tourist destination. Around 20% of the land area of Scotland is covered by protected areas with a specific landscape focus – National Scenic Areas and National Parks -and we welcome the fact that no large-scale wind farm development is permitted in these areas.”
Click to access visitscotland-position-statement—wind-farms—oct-2014.pdf
But there again, there are references to studies claiming that onshore windfarms have not damaged tourism and may even be beneficial:
“The Scottish Parliament’s Energy Committee also found no evidence that wind farms have a negative effect on the tourism industry. Renewable energy brings visitors to Scotland in its own right and encourages them to spend money in our tourism businesses.”
So why all the worry?
Well, I have looked at some of these studies and I am not so sure. Their main argument seems to be that an increase in onshore windfarms has coincided with an increase in tourism. The following concluding statement is typical:
“Although this study does not suggest that there is any direct relationship between tourism sector growth and wind farm development, it does show that wind farms do not cause a decrease in tourism employment either at a local or a national level.”
Click to access Wind-farms-and-tourism-trends-in-Scotland.pdf
Well, by the same logic, cancer can’t be a problem because its increase has coincided with a growth in the general population.
Another concern I have is that it isn’t visitor numbers that are used as the metric for levels of tourism but the numbers employed in so-called ‘sustainable tourism’ industries:
“The most accurate indicators of the health of the tourism industry at a local level are perhaps the figures on employment in ‘sustainable tourism’ industries, where the Scottish Government defines the sectors that form this category.”
The obvious problem here is that a lot of these industries do not just cater for tourists, and any uptick in the economy or levels of investment will elevate the numbers employed. They are, in fact, a very unreliable proxy.
As I say, this topic probably deserves a much more detailed analysis.
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Mark wrote: “ if you were designing an energy system from scratch, then all things being equal, you would go for fossil fuels ahead of renewables every time: cheaper, more reliable, more efficient. I totally disagree Knowing coal’s legacy, — how many many thousand miners buried alive? How many with black lung? How many with blighted lives, coughing their guts up? In fact how many people in general with lung diseases from breathing in coal fumes?
Then add all those who have suffered from inhaling petrochemicals released from burning oil and to a lesser extent gas.
How much grime everywhere
Fossil fuels have obvious advantages but disadvantages also, not to ignore the fact that they are finite so that if we survive (and we haven’t invented a new super-duper energy source ) we will be forced to resort to renewables.
>Fossil fuels have obvious advantages but also disadvantages, not to ignore the fact that they are finite so if we survive we will be forced to resort to renewables.
But only briefly.
This is because renewables do not supply enough surplus energy to replace the windmill and solar panels that we will be relying on.
Thank you for that useful corrective. I am descended from generations of coal miners, and I spent a not insignificant part of my legal training as an articled clerk interviewing working and retired miners in connection with deafness and other work-related claims against the NCB. Those interviews were a chastening experience for a young man privileged to be the among the first generation of his family to escape the pits and go to university – I was extremely thankful to have my cosseted life and to have dodged the bullet that was the coal miner’s life.
And so I take your point very much on board. Despite that, however, I think there is little doubt that fossil fuels power modern economies, and have generated wealth and improved lives and life expectancies, in ways that would never have been achieved if we had never moved beyond the medieval technologies that so many now wish to reimpose on us, however much modern technological developments have improved those technologies. They remain less efficient than fossil fuels, less reliable, and generally less suitable to power modern economies. If we rely on them totally (as can rely totally on fossil fuels), then in the absence of large-scale and financially viable energy storage, I fear we will start to go backwards in many respects, certainly including life expectancy if blackouts and cold houses become the norm.
And while fossil fuels do come with the undoubted downsides that you so eloquently reminded me of, it’s not as though modern renewables are totally “clean”. In “Saving the Planet by Trashing It”, and in the many comments with links I have added below it (in a sort of mini-wiki approach) I do try to list the problematic and often dirty aspects of renewables. I am not sure small children mining for cobalt in the Congo to enable modern society to “enjoy” renewable power would necessarily agree with your assessment.
To conclude, you do of course make a very valid point, but on balance I stand by my claim.
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Don’t give up on fossil fuels yet.
Using modern prospecting and extraction techniques there are hundreds – perhaps thousands of years’ worth of available petroleum resources left as yet unexplored and untouched.
Then, using the steerable drilling techniques used for shale extraction and in situ gasification which produces synthesis gas, feedstock for the Fischer-Tropsch coal to oil process, there are billions – perhaps trillions – of tons of coal accessible in the UK alone.
And then there is the vast amount of methane available as hydrate on the ocean bed and in the arctic permafrost which is even now being investigated with a view to commercial exploitation, see here: “At the same time, new technologies are being developed in Germany that may be useful for exploring and extracting the hydrates.
The basic idea is very simple: the methane (CH4) is harvested from the hydrates by replacing it with CO2. Laboratory studies show that this is possible in theory because liquid carbon dioxide reacts spontaneously with methane hydrate.
If this concept could become economically viable, it would be a win-win situation, because the gas exchange in the hydrates would be attractive both from a financial and a climate perspective.”
So don’t worry, we won’t have to worry about energy for centuries – perhaps millennia, by which time we’ll have much more efficient energy technology, for example someone will get fusion going sooner or later.
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Good interaction Alan et al. I agree with Cat that we’re not going to run out of fossil fuels any time soon and that will give us time to get nuclear power of some sort in even better shape.
But I think it’s also worth distinguishing two sceptical positions on a rational energy future. (This is UK-centric I guess but applicable more widely, with regional variation depending on how much coal, shale, etc is readily available.)
Position 1 (see rest of thread including Ben Pile)
Position 2 (more hardline fossil fuel use)
Use (clean-as-possible) coal for generating electricity and natural gas for heating homes and cooking. Forget about renewables.
A little different in emphasis, but both have their reasons. Alan I assume would prefer Position 1
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Concerning the use of coal Richard, I consider the in-situ gasification process to be environmentally preferable to either open-cast or deep coal mines.
For one thing it opens access to otherwise difficult or impossible to reach coal seams, the only real drawback is the quantity of CO2 it produces.
But given that sequestration is already being suggested anyway, I can’t see that being a problem.
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I don’t know whether in-situ gasification is ready for ‘prime time’ including, I mean, the economics. But given the mickey mouse economics of renewables it does feel like a strange quibble.
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Wrt oil resources, we know exactly where to find at least twice the quantity of oil that has been produced to date. It’s still there, in the reservoirs that we have tapped.
I believe that average recovery is something like 35%. Technology advances all the time and, should the market tighten as seems likely, there will be plenty of incentive to try and recover more from existing and old fields.
The key question is how much resource development will be impeded by government obstruction.
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With respect to estimating future oil reserves you can line up your experts in support of there being nothing to worry about in the immediate future all the way up to there being no cause for concern – period. Whereas on the other side there are those that believe we are already seeing the first indications of shortages.
Then there is Milehig’s reminder that, because of the physics behind the movement of two Immiscible fluids in pore networks, movement of oil ceases at a point where much of the oil has become trapped. There are various methods to cause more oil to move, and to be recovered, but these are expensive, making the recovered oil uncompetitively priced.
I tend towards being a pessimist. Perhaps it’s my experience of working for oil companies working in mature areas in Canada and the USA. I did some assessment work there and we didn’t predict any major new developments. Since then I have watched more and more areas of the Earth become mature and less and less frequently are major reportable discoveries made. Oil production ramps up year after year. I can’t believe it can continue to do this. Of course to make a half reliable estimate I would have to live and breath oil finding and be in contact with those that think they are in the know. I am not , so am just left with my remnant pessimism.
Very strange to find myself in the den of those who believe in abundant oil supplies but I suppose if you believe in using fossil fuels there had better be some.
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Interesting discussion on fossil fuel reserves – thank you all.
I am not a fossil fuel zealot, and I recognise that at some point they are likely to run out (I have no idea when). I do consider that given the current state of technology, we will need to keep using fossil fuels for a long time. I also think it makes sense steadily, and in a measured and financially viable way, to introduce new (renewable) forms of energy production, but I think it makes no sense at all to rush to net zero, to seek to make us pretty much entirely dependent on renewables before we have worked out how to solve the problems that will cause, and without giving any thought to the extraordinary costs and disruption to life that will accompany it.
Alan, a slow and gradual increase in extraction costs would mean that oil would still be available far into the future, just at slowly increasing cost. That would be far different from the sudden cut off that is being imposed on western civilisation by our excitable friends. The slowly growing difficulties in extraction would result in a natural tendency for alternative technologies to rise to the fore, without the necessity of banning the alternative.
For many years while thinking about future fossil fuel shortages I contemplated whether climate change was being used to deliberately exaggerate the problem. Eventually I concluded it wasn’t but realised that both have the potential to influence each other.
JIT I’m afraid it doesn’t work like this. You have to commit to enhanced recovery from the outset. So you have committed to the extra expense from the outset.
Also not all oil reservoirs are susceptible to enhancement. Don’t know this for sure, but I got the impression when working with others that were deciding whether to enhance-recover new oil-fields that most were not susceptible.
Alan, I hesitate to challenge you on your home patch but I had a vague memory of reading about old fields being given extended lives and enhanced production. A quick websearch brought up a number of results which seem to confirm this. A couple of examples:
The second one describes applying modern EOR techniques to a field dating from the 1920s!
One aspect of this seems to get little publicity: using industrial CO2 for EOR. We’ve discussed “Blue Oil” on here before. It’s my impression that a lot of work is going on in the background. I just love the irony where CCS is the centre-piece of many NZ plans but it’s the oil industry that will lead the implementation and benefit from subsidies. Maybe we will see Allam-cycle power plants supplying CO2 for EOR.
Mike. Tis true. Enhanced recovery has developed much since I was involved in it (then mostly as a spectator)but I doubt that much. Costs increase (and recoveries decrease) the longer the decision took to go for secondary or tertiary recovery. I well recall having to wait to study cores because the production arm of the company needed to test them for enhanced recovery and they would have priority. The state of cores after their administrations often left much to be desired. Often I unsuccessfully pleaded for initial looks.
What I wrote about starting enhanced recovery as soon as possible (especially water flooding) I still think applies but this might not apply to more advanced techniques – sometimes termed tertiary recovery. CO2flooding comes under this heading
A (very) old North Sea Tiger here highly impressed with this great discussion. Thank you Mark for exposing the fact that the inmates are in charge of the asylum.
As I look out of my window at the wonderful view across the Tay estury, I can see a giant crane assemblying yet another bird mincer off shore. Fully funded by the tax payer of course.
I must admit being amused and puzzled by our friend Cat Weasel being worried about too much plant food (Carbon Dioxide) being produced.
Does he not know that Herr Schwaub wants us all to go on a plant based diet to “save the planet”
and all those plants will need copious quantities of Plant Food to grow?
As the other mentally deficient world leader is wont to say “Come on man”
“I must admit being amused and puzzled by our friend Cat Weasel being worried about too much plant food (Carbon Dioxide) being produced.”
Where on Earth did you get that idea from watersider?
Certainly not from any of my posts, I have a long and distinguished record of climate scepticism and fossil fuel support, as any of my posts going back decades will clearly demonstrate.
Please give evidence for your ridiculous, somewhat insulting assertion.
Oh come on Mr Catweasel.
I am fully aware of your great contributions to the cause of sanity.
I was only referring to your comment above when you said something like ‘the only drawback is the amount of Co2 produced’
A thousand apologies if taken the wrong way as I was only pointing out the stupidity of “them” who would have us eat worms crickets and cabbage and yet ban the very fertilizer to grow same.
It looks as if wind power projects are in trouble around the world:
Seems reckless if they have submitted bids without tying down their input costs and financing.
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