Greenpeace-WWF wind claims blown away

John McCarthy once said, “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense”. Or become politicized tin-shakers pushing absurd “independent economic analysis” it seems

WWF and Greenpeace ought to hang their heads in shame
Peter C. Glover
On 11 December 2012 11:02

There are some charities to which I would not give a ‘wooden nickel’, and I am a passionate charity giver. Top of the pile: Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF). If they stuck to the task they were originally set up for things would be different. But they haven’t. Both are today highly politicized groups – as Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore confirms – spending large chunks of donations campaigning on issues about which their sum knowledge could fill the back of a postage stamp. Climate science and associated issues, for instance.

The dynamic duo charity campaigners have just published a new report, A study into the economics of gas and offshore wind, conducted for them by the consultancy Cambridge Econometrics for New Economic Thinking.

A headline from Bloomberg Businessweek which recently covered the publication of the report read: “UK Offshore Wind Better Boost for Economy than Gas, WWF says”. The report suggests that the UK economy would be better off by £20 billion come 2030 if it majored on wind power and ignored gas, especially the UK’s enormous shale gas reserves.

The essence of the report’s key finding is that “large-scale development in offshore wind would impact UK GDP and employment” to “increase GDP by 0.8 percent”. If the rate of current wind farm developments was sustained, the report claims that it would create 100,000 jobs by 2525, “falling to 75,000 by 2030”. Given the current abject failure to create green jobs in any numbers thus far, and the fact, as studies elsewhere conclude, that green jobs destroy real jobs, not to mention the inability to cut the umbilical cord of public subsidy, that’s quite a claim.

But then the claim does depend on a whole bunch of ifs. They include the presence of local infrastructure supply chains; boosting the “import content” of offshore wind projects (i.e. building far more wind farms than are currently planned); and the UK becoming a “major global centre” able to attract investment. The report further assumes that gas prices will inexorably rise and that investment in UK shale gas would only “replace” reducing North Sea gas reserves. We’ll take the wind claims first.

The reason the report focuses on offshore wind farms is that onshore turbines are proving an abysmal failure. Wind turbines generally only operate around 20 to 30 percent of the claimed capacity and are hugely unpopular. They also require the costly extra back-up of gas-fired generators to kick-in every time they fail (not least during the coldest periods of the year) and have to be turned off when the wind blows about 30 mph. And all for a paltry power generation return on investment.

No private investor in their right mind would risk their own money to invest in wind power if the government was not guaranteeing market-skewing high prices. Neither does the new report factor in other major costs, such as the considerable investment in the National Grid necessary to accommodate wind’s variability.   

The report authors should first have read John Etherington’s The Wind Farm Scam to grasp the inherent and costly associated problems of wind. Etherington is both an ecologist and a specialist researcher into the implications of intermittent renewable electricity generation, especially wind power.

“Wind power is remarkably expensive in capital investment for a given output,” says Etherington who goes on to provide a raft of key statistics that reveal just how poor the investment-to-return ratio of wind power is, with offshore proving twice as poor as onshore (p.74). 

His book highlights how the UK’s energy watchdog Ofgem identifies that the National Grid would require £20 billion of investment, equal to its current capital value – and oddly the same figure by which the report maintains the UK would be better off – “to cope with the dispersed and remote nature of wind power and other intermittents.” An impressive array of hard data prompts Etherington to conclude:

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