Half marks for David Jones MP

I do read David Jones' blog. It is a perfect example of trying to create the impression you have something important to say, then saying things which are usually inane.

Today he advertized the fact that he had spoken in the Commons about renewable energy. Good. I agree that it is an important subject. But speaking is usually of little use if you haven't a clue what you're talking about. This is what he said on his blog:

However, I was disappointed that more was not being done to encourage the development of reliable renewable technology.

The biggest obstacle to progress is the way that Renewables Obligations certificates (ROCs) are structured, giving developers every incentive to opt for wind power, a relatively cheap and well established but inefficient technology, rather than invest in potentially more reliable renewables such as tidal power.

ROCs are very blunt instruments. One ROC is awarded for every megawatt hour of renewable generation, irrespective of the technology used to produce it. This tends to favour wind farms and to discourage investment in new technologies.

The Government recognises the problem and intends to address this by "banding" ROCs, giving additional ROCs to innovative technologies. However, onshore wind will continue to attract ROCs at the current rate, providing an attractive return that will mean that wind farms will continue to proliferate and the development of tidal power, like CCS, will probably go overseas.

Waste of Energy - 8 December 2009

David is a year behind all the rest of us. Last December I posted this:

     Change in the way ROCs are calculated

And the changes duly came into force on 1 April 2009 by means of this SI.

Poor man. At least his heart is in the right place, even though his knowledge isn't up to the job. Who knows, perhaps there's a thriving internal market in recycled Tory research papers, and he bought a job lot without looking at the date.

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But I agree with his sentiments. I am all for wind power, but believe that the financial incentives that were designed to promote its development have outlived their usefulness in the case of onshore windfarms. It has become an easy, cheap option and therefore there is a temptation to develop windfarms anywhere and everywhere. I believe onshore wind has its place, but will be much more readily accepted when communities take ownership of them, so that the financial benefits are localized. There is a huge difference between this and some large, multinational company making all the profits by building on a site which is easy and cheap to develop against the wishes of the local community.

If I had my way—and on the basis that we are now stuck with the ROC system for many years to come, 2037 in fact—I would band small scale community developments more highly, using the mechanism of the total number of ROCs held by a company to essentially price out large companies from small scale projects. Of course the local communities would probably still need to rely on large companies for their expertise and commercial clout, but the community would own and therefore control everything that was done.

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Offshore wind is different. Winds are generally stronger and more reliable and there is no problem with noise or flicker. The new generation of far offshore sites in Round Three means that the turbines will be hardly visible too ... although I think they're quite beautiful and have never minded their impact on either land or seascape.

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However, as an example of a more progressive way of handling the need to devolop tidal and wave energy, we need only to look to Scotland. Indeed the BWEA (who care just as much about other renewables as they do about wind) produced a report in October:

The report also expressed a fear that because of the more generous support given to marine technologies in Scotland, and abroad, developers will look to base projects outside England and Wales.

Since 2006, the Scottish government has supported nine projects through its £13.5 million Wave and Tidal Energy Support Scheme (WATES) and plans to increase support available to three ROCs per MWh for electricity generated from tidal devices and five ROCs per MWh for wave energy.

New Energy Focus - 26 October 2009

As I've said before, Scotland is a country that has got its act together on this and is way ahead of us. I find it hard to escape the conclusion that Westminster's plans for England and Wales are less committed to developing renewables, and particularly marine renewables, for the simple reason that they are too focused on nuclear power.

Of course I don't object to Westminster making those decisions for England, but I'm quite sure that we in Wales would be doing the same things as Scotland is doing if we had the power to do so. Why should we put up with a situation where investment flows into Scotland and not into Wales? We are blessed with geography that gives us every bit as much marine energy potential as Scotland ... our waves might not be quite as big, but our tides are a good deal better!

We must devolve responsibily for energy to Wales. It's not a matter of more powers for the sake of more powers, but the ability to set the rules so that they work in our favour. To bring development, and therefore jobs and profit, to Wales.

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