Talking Sense on Green Energy

Perhaps more by accident than design—it was taking place at the same time as the BBC's programme was going out on Saturday—I can show people part of the panel discussion on the green economy, and energy production in particular, at Plaid's Spring Conference:


One of the main reasons for me wanting to highlight this discussion is because it debunks the all too often repeated myth that subsidies for renewable energy are primarily responsible for increases in electricity prices. As Madoc explained, subsidies for renewable electricity generation in the form of tradable Renewables Obligation Certificates are indeed responsible for some of the increase in electricity prices ... but only a very small part of it. The bulk of the increase is due to the rising cost of fuels: of oil, as we can see all too well in the cost of transport fuel; but of gas in particular, as we can see in our heating bills. About half of Wales' electricity is currently generated by gas.

The basic underlying reason for the rise in fuel costs is the inexorable rise in demand, particular from large developing countries like China, India and Brazil. Prices will continue to rise in parallel with the increase in demand for finite and ever more difficult to exploit resources.

Haf made the point that fossil fuels receive a far greater subsidy than renewables. These articles and papers explain that in more detail:

     Guardian, 27 February 2012
     Guardian DataBlog
     OECD Report

On tidal power, and with regard to the question of the maximum installed capacity for electricity generation that can be decided by the Welsh Government, both Madoc and Ian were wrong. The 50 MW limit applies only to land based projects. The limit for marine energy projects is actually much smaller, only 1 MW. Decision making responsibility for marine projects between 1 and 100 MW currently rests with the Marine Management Organization. I only found that out a year ago, as I noted here.

I also have to take issue with Ian on the idea of combining tidal lagoons and coastal protection. There are two different types of tidal lagoon: detached or offshore tidal lagoons such as that proposed by Tidal electric for Swansea Bay, and attached tidal lagoons that are built against the shoreline. One of the big disadvantages of a barrage is that it adversely affects the ecological habitat on the shoreline, but attached tidal lagoons have exactly the same negative impact. They also collect silt from any rivers that flow into the lagoon (although with careful positioning, this can be minimized) and this will reduce the amount of electricity they are able to generate. There's a more detailed explanation here. I think offshore tidal lagoons such as the one proposed for Swansea Bay are much better from both an ecological and electricity generation point of view.

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Richard said...

Wish I'd been there now! Some interesting stuff in this blogpost - didn't know about the smaller marine energy limit for devolved powers.

We really need to get to grips with this in Wales. Scotland is really steaming ahead and it seems like every week new jobs are being created there in the renewables sector.

Well done for pointing out the facts on cost too. It will cost money to build renewable capacity but the costs of NOT doing so will be much greater.

One thing I would like to add is energy saving and energy efficiency. 'Negawatts' must be considered as a key part of the energy mix. Upgrading our housing stock is crucial in meeting our targets to reduce carbon emissions, as well as creating jobs and tackling the scandal of fuel poverty.

Cibwr said...

I will come clean here, I work for one of the privatised power companies, a call centre worker, so lowest grade. I often have conversations with customers about their increased electricity usage and part of the problem is more and more energy intensive appliances, for example a Plasma Screen takes typically 4 times as much electricity on average as an old fashioned CRT TV. Modern vacuum cleaners use more electricity over a year than the average tumble drier etc... we need both better insulated homes with more efficient heating systems and we need to move to lower power consumption appliances.

Naturiaethwr said...

Carwyn and the midas touch. 2 weeks ago Welsh Government energy policy for the first time backed nuclear. Today nuclear is finished in Wales. It certainly makes Leanne look prescient.

Anonymous said...

You cannot make up the stuff about Carwyn. It is ridiculous. They did exactly the same thing with St Athan.

I'm not against jobs and don't particularly mind nuclear on Ynys Mon in the grand scheme of things. But whenever politicians start presetning one big development that can deliver 'thosuands of jobs' the alarm bells should start to ring.

Anonymous said...

Can I also add how impressed I am by Madoc Batcup in this clip. He is not even a politician but on detail could walk over most Assembly Members. You do not get policy discussions of this level at party conferences in Wales anymore except for with Plaid. I found this clip highly interesting.

Siônnyn said...

MH - last figures I saw had ROCs accounting for 9% of extra energy costs, projected to rise to 60% over the medium term. I'm afraid I can't supply a reference as I don't remember where I saw it, but it would have been a reputable source, or it they would not have registered. (it might even have been Syniadau!)

Siônnyn said...

And, MH, I cannot agree with your rather dismissive attitude to the benefits to coastal defences. It is true that offshore lagoons offer the best option for places like Swansea Bay where there is no immediate threat to the coast, but in places like Conwy and Tywyn which are susceptible to tidal surges and storms, and where extensive coastal defences are being built any way, why not incorporate a lagoon with that, and get free electricity?

Anonymous said...

Plaid's reaction to the nuclear announcement today:

“This is extremely disappointing news for Anglesey, given that the project had the potential to provide hundreds of good quality jobs for local people and opportunities for local companies in the new build phase. I will now be working with the local authority and the Welsh and UK governments in efforts to secure another company to take the project forward.”

Anonymous said...

This is actually the official Plaid comment on today's news:

“We're waiting for full details of developments from Horizon - but this scheme has massive economic implications for Anglesey.

“Plaid's main focus is on working to ensure that employment is available on Ynys Mon now and in the future. We need urgent action from both the Welsh Government and UK government to develop new sustainable industries which create jobs on the island.

“Holyhead port is a fantastic facility for the island and the whole of Wales - we must invest there in order to develop opportunities in both tidal and wind power generation.”

Anonymous said...

shame this excellent discussion wasnt better attended...but yesterday's news that wylfa b wont be going ahead because there basically isnt enough profit in it for a private company shows that discussions and ideas on meeting wales energy needs in the 21st century are more pertinent than ever!

Perhaps now that nuclear is to all intents and purposes dead in wales some of the excellent proposals for barrages, lagooons and offshore wind will actually start to be created.....

leigh richards

MH said...

Sorry that it's taken a while for me to respond to the comments, and I won't address every one, especially the ones I agree with.

Madoc is one of Plaid's biggest assets. On matters of finance and the economy he is very much on the ball, and he is responsible for a lot of Plaid's behind-the-scenes thinking – though I think we could use him more. He's also a good friend and we talk about these things very frequently.

To Siônnyn, if the figure is 9% then the other 91% of the price increase is due to other factors, so ROCs are a small factor. It's harder to work out the longer term percentage, and it's not as simple as saying that if we use more renewable electricity the percentage will rise proportionately. But I'd appreciate input from anyone else on this, especially with links to figures.

I didn't mean to sound dismissive about attached tidal lagoons, but I don't think they are as good as offshore tidal lagoons. For me, one of the big advantages of offshore lagoons is that they have no negative effect on the coastline habitat. In this respect attached lagoons have all the same disadvantages as a barrage.

I'd accept that it is true that building an attached barrage might mean that you don't have to build separate coastal defences. But the cost of improving coastal defences is quite small compared with the cost of the impoundment for a lagoon. The impoundment for a lagoon does not need to be any higher than the highest high tide, because overtopping isn't a problem. So if we say that the need is to increase the height of a coastal wall by a metre, it is actually a lot easier to put that extra metre on the current coastline than it will be to build the whole impoundment of a lagoon a metre higher than it would otherwise need to be. Of course a lagoon will also provide good storm/wave protection even if it was not necessary to provide flood protection, but an offshore tidal lagoon will tend do that too. So in short it's one of those ideas that sounds good, but probably isn't as good when considered in detail. In certain circumstances it might well work, but I don't think we can say that it will work generally.

The other factor is that any rivers that feed into an attached lagoon will carry silt, and therefore reduce the ability of the lagoon to generate on both ebb and flow. So the revenue gained from the extra electricity could more than pay for the cost of standalone coastal defence improvements.

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