Coffee House

Spectator debate: Scotland’s energy policy is just hot air

21 September 2012

21 September 2012

Donald Trump and the world’s first ‘professor of carbon capture’ clashed last night in the Spectator’s first debate in Edinburgh over the motion :  as they sparred over the contentious motion – Scotland’s Energy Policy is Just Hot Air. Andrew Montford posted his argument on Coffee House earlier, and I thought CoffeeHousers may like to know how the rest of the debate went,
Trump could not, alas, be there in person but he sent in a video message in which he supported the motion. It was, as you’d expect, a coruscating attack on the SNP administration’s pro-wind farm policy. He is a well-known opponent, having been campaigning against a proposed off-shore wind farm which, he claims, will ruin the views from the golf course he has just built on the Aberdeenshire coast. ‘Your country will go bankrupt because you will not be able to afford it,’ he declared, before warning: ‘Don’t let Alex Salmond ruin Scotland. I don’t know what his problem is.’Mr Trump has been in trouble this week for a newspaper advertisement he ran warning about wind farms when it emerged that the picture he used was from Hawaii, not Scotland. He also claimed in the advertisement that Scotland was going to get 8,500 wind turbines – this figure is considerably higher than the official estimates of 5,500 turbines. But undeterred, he claiming in his address that Scotland would get 10,000 turbines and also that ‘they kill thousands of birds’.

Enter professor Stuart Haszeldine, teh world’s first Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage. He advises both the UK and Scottish Governments on climate change. An Edinburgh University scientist, he opposed the motion saying he was a scientist not a debater and his role was to explain the facts about climate change and the need to pursue alternatives to finite fossil fuels. Using graphs, tables and charts, Prof Haszeldine said he could prove, both that the world was getting warmer and also that the world had to end its reliance on fossil fuels because they were running out.

“Oil and gas have 50 years left at the present rate of consumption, coal has 100 years left, at a present rate of consumption,” he declared. Prof Haszeldine stressed that it took time to develop new energy sources which is why he backed the Scottish Government’s drive to generate the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity supplies from renewable sources by 2020 – thought to be the most ambitious renewables target in the world.

The professor warned that nuclear energy, although good for reducing greenhouse gas emissions was very expensive, particularly because of the disposal costs and that, when these full costs were taken into account, nuclear energy cost twice as much as renewables.

He also attacked the opponents of climate change for spreading misinformation and not basing their arguments on proper scientific research. “Pseudo science is being used to show global warming doesn’t exist,” he warned.

Andrew Montford, whom CoffeeHousers heard from earlier, was one of the “climate change sceptics” that Prof Haszeldine had in his sights. Mr Montford has written books decrying what he claims is the bias of climate change enthusiasts and he hit back to claim that the Scottish Government’s drive for renewables was a waste of time and money. “It almost defies belief,” Mr Montford said. And he added: “The idea that this is a plausible future for Scotland relies on that combination of ignorance and wishful thinking that you only get at Holyrood.” Mr Montford claimed that the cost of meeting the UK’s 2020 emissions targets would be £120 billion because wind was so much more expensive than existing systems.

Niall Stewart is the Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, the industry body for the renewables sector in Scotland and he was there to oppose the motion. His contribution started uncertainly. “I might be wrong,” he declared, only to hear the rejoinder from a sceptical member of the audience: “You are.” But Mr Stewart recovered to set out what he claimed were the facts about renewables in general and wind energy in particular. Mr Stewart said it was necessary to get away from the hyperbole and claims about the sector and focus on statistics.

He claimed that 11,000 jobs were being created in renewables in Scotland, that old industrial units were being revived and re-industrialised by inward investment into this sector in Scotland. Mr Stewart dealt with the thorny question of what happens when the wind does not blow to claim that wind power was designed to dovetail with oil and gas, with traditional power stations scaling back whenever the wind did blow. “The truth is that every megawatt of wind displaces output from gas and output from oil,” he declared. Mr Stewart spent some of his allotted eight minutes criticising the website of Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, who has become something of a noted critic of the Scottish Government’s wind-based energy policy.

Mr Stevenson then got the chance to reply and was blunt in his assessment of the Scottish Government’s approach. “It doesn’t work, it’s horrendously expensive,” he declared. And he added: “It is not clean, it is not green and it is certainly not free as Alex Salmond likes to tell us.” Condemning the reliance on wind power as “ill-conceived and financially unsustainable,” Mr Stevenson argued: “It’s a no-brainer. Wind is simply not financially sustainable and would not exist were it not for the massive subsidies pumped into the industry by the poor, beleaguered consumer.”

The second, and final, video address came from author Stephen Bayley, an expert on design. Speaking against the motion, Mr Bayley admitted that wind turbines were far from perfect but he praised those pursuing the wind energy dream because of their desire to achieve something industrial. Accusing the opponents of turbines of “technical prejudice”, Mr Bayley argued: “They (the turbines) are ugly and intrusive and inefficient but so were the first generation of steam railways.” And he added:  “But at least wind turbines are at least a nod towards Watt and Stevenson and Brunel.”

The debate was then thrown open to the floor, where there was some discussion as to whether shale gas could provide the answer to Britain’s energy needs. Mr Stevenson, a supporter of the development, dismissed warnings about an earthquake of 1.2 on the richter scale which is supposed to have been produced by a pilot project off the coast of England. “1.2 on the Richter Scale? That’s probably what happens every time Alex Salmond sits down,” he retorted.

One questioner raised the issue of tidal power – there are a number of offshore experimental projects already underway off the coast of Scotland – but the speakers found it hard to get away from the really contentious issue of wind farms, where the real disagreement lay. Other questioners queried the number of jobs which Mr Stewart claimed would be created with others demanded more evidence on the claim that wind power actually displaced electricity generated from oil and gas generation.

The motion was decisively supported.


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Show comments
  • Dimoto

    Every time there is a debate on “renewables”, it becomes painfully obvious that, (at an absolute minimum), there is zero agreement on the costs of the various possibilities.
    To begin tossing the nations eggs into any one of these dodgy baskets, without having an authoritative and agreed cost model, is the height of irresponsibility.

  • Noa

    “…Enter professor Stuart Haszeldine, teh world’s first Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage…”

    Otherwise colloquially known as the Professor of Hot Air and Flatulent Omissions.

    • dercavalier

      Only to you and your ilk dear boy.

      • Noa

        He is hardly likely to critically examine what he regards as the ‘settled science’, which provides him with status and a lucrative income from the bien pensant like yourself.
        And needless to say, except to a patronising and remarkably ill-informed practitioner of Godwin’s law,I’m not your dear boy, unless that is, you are a remarkable 96 years young.

        • dercavalier

          Are you trying to insult me with your comment ” bien pensant” because if you are you clearly don’t understand what it means? For your education, even at your age, bien pensant = conventional or orthodox in attitude, and I am certainly that, because I am not a climate change believer.
          I also don’t know why you refer to me as a practitioner of Godwin’s Law, because I didn’t raise the “Nazi” word, someone else did in a post insulting me. Maybe at your great age you should think before you post.

          • Noa

            Which advice you should consider and take yourself before presuming to offer it to others.

  • arun1

    We need just 400gw of wind and solar farms , costing 400b , just one year of QE to supply Britain with all its energy needs for ever. With the new lithium batteries recharging in less than a minute , we will no longer need oil powered trucks and cars.

    The future looks bright if the govt goes ahead with the scheme to loan every owner £10000 to install solar power on the roofs.

    http://cleantechnica.com/2012/09/11/lithium-ion-battery-that-charges-120-times-faster-than-normal-developed/

    • Noa

      A ludicrously deranged and entirely unthought-out idea!
      Where and how does the government borrow such a colossal sum? How is it to be repaid? What will happen to the refuseniks who refuse to have their property damaged?
      The only sane explanation for your proposal is that you are a bankrupt solar panel company director, trying to resuscitate a useless, state subsidy dependent industry.

      • Daniel Maris

        Coal power and nuclear power stations don’t last forever. They too have to be replaced or renewed. Whatever you use, you will be spending figures of that order over a 50 year time span.

        I favour the money for green energy investment coming through stamp duty. This will mean the buyer gets a return on their tax in the form of direct power generation in their property (eg.solar panels being fitted or insulation improved), meaning lower energy bills and an income from energy sales back to the grid – or if that is not practical, through shareholdings in bigger schemes, with dividends being paid as reductions on energy bills.

        • Noa

          So. as green energy is not commercially viable you simply resort to normal ‘tax’n spend’ socialism. Of course you still need those power stations to cover the variables in your green power supply, only because they are not running efficiently and economically you also have to tax for them…

          The natural consequence of such policies will start to result in the near future, as in Germany now, in power cuts, massive cost increases to industry and a commensurate loss in competitiveness and of course an increase in the public mortality rate.

          • Daniel Maris

            When Germany goes into economic meltdown let me know. Until then, please don’t use it as an argument. It’s not.

            Things can be economically viable without being commercially viable. You might not be able to raise the money commercially to build a tunnel from Scotland to Ireland. That doesn’t mean it isn’t economically viable (i.e.will benefit the economies on either side and make people wealthier on both sides, as has been the Channel Tunnel I would expect, which was only built with government guarantees). Equally things can be commerically viable without being good for your economy – it’s wasn’t necessarily a good idea to let Kraft take over Cadbury. If they close down all the Cadbury factories, it certainly won’t have been a good idea for us even if it was a good idea for Kraft, purveyors of over-sugary Milka.

            • Noa

              Get your hands off my wallet please Daniel!
              Please don’t claim that a green policy is of economic benefit to Germany (or to Britain), when this is demonstrably not the case.
              By doing so you are, incorrectly, conflating an economic benefit with a specific political objective.
              There is, and can be, no economic or commercially viability from green energy and you indulge yourself in the deceptive fantasies of a Brown or Balls when you seek to equate an energy policy, or indeed any other policy, enforceable only by tax impost onto an unwilling public host.
              To use the example of the channel tunnel is in fact to highlight precisely the problems of political fantasy flying in the face of financial and commercial reality which is still bankrupt and requires mammoth French state aid.Recent
              Recent Cost benefit analysis of the Channel Tunnel has identified that there were
              few impacts on the wider economy and few developments associated with
              the project, and that the British economy would have been better off if
              the tunnel had not been constructed.

              One may argue legitimately that the sole justification for massive government expenditure is in time of war, to the existence of the nation state. In all other circumstances such expenditure is doomed to failure, as the economics of the market would have tested the concept and Darwin-like have determined its success or failure.

              • Daniel Maris

                You’ve got your hand on my wallet – you want to make me pay for dodgy nuclear energy and polluting hydrocarbons, enriching Muslim fanatics and Russian oligarchs. I’d rather have the opportunity to pay for an indigenous energy resource that provides honest employment to my fellow citizens. It’s called choice.

                If you don’t like democracy, just come out and say it – admit you are a Francoist or something worse.

                The idea that there is a “perfect market” that makes rational decisions is an article of faith and has nothing to do with reality. All markets are imperfect and corrupt to varying degrees. To the extent that they are not imperfect it’s normally as a result of state action e.g. anti-trust legislation, monitoring offices, externality schemes (e.g. to deal with air pollution).

                Why as a Randist you have any affection for a nation state I have no idea – you might as well have affection for the Hapsburg dynasty, the slave owning Confederacy or the Vatican.

                • Noa

                  A Randist? No, patently I’m not. And in advocating compulsion you are the totalitarian, not me.
                  The individual should be free to select the best source of energy for himself. The only way to truly achieve this is through the market, which should be the sole arbiter, and not foolish, duplicitous and self interested politicians and their green drones.
                  However imperfectly it may work, you are completely free to chose to invest your money in windmills or say, shale gas, as you want to or not.
                  Of course you’d have to be barking mad to throw it away on the former through choice, which is why its supporters insist on its implementation by compulsory confiscation though general taxation.
                  And of course the same argument goes for nuclear or oil. If its too expensive people won’t buy it. If you don’t want to use these energy sources you are free to change your electricity supplier, or to sell the car and buy a bike or walk.

                • Daniel Maris

                  Today we hear that bill payers will be asked to subsidise new nuclear to the tune of £70 per household per annum.

                  Dreaming of a “free” market in energy is just that – dreaming. Many of the biggest energy companies on the planet are far bigger than most countries. They can afford to cross subsidise themselves.

  • abystander

    Where in Edinburgh was this debate held, under whose auspices and how did the audience select itself?
    I hope this wasn’t one of those Tory boy debates organised by Tory boys for Tories.
    The Spectator has a habit of doing this in respect of matters Caledonian.

    • dercavalier

      Of course it was.

  • Augustus

    What environmentalists have in common is a sense of superiority over all the people who they see as insisting on driving anywhere, flying anywhere, using plastic bags, or
    polluting the air. They fear that carbon dioxide is going to destroy the Earth when all life on Earth depends on this gas (0.038% of the atmosphere) for all vegetation growth and on oxygen that keeps all living creatures alive. These are the same people who give no thought to the hundreds of thousands of birds that are hacked to death by wind turbines or the acres of countrywide panels on solar farms that destroy the natural habitat of various species. They don’t even favour protecting forests areas against catastrophic fires by the managed removal of dead or diseased trees and clearing out undergrowth. And stoking all the fears environmentalists have are the environmental organizations that make millions out of these fools. The widespread use of the term “fossil fuels” is a deception created by anti-energy propagandists and earlier theorists to make people believe that oil is the result of countless dead dinosaurs and decaying vegetation. Oil, however, is “abiotic”, a term that means it is a natural product of the earth itself manufactured at deep levels where there never were any plants or animals. There are in fact more proven crude oil reserves worldwide than ever in recorded history, despite the fact that worldwide consumption of crude oil has doubled since the 1970s. The Earth is not running out of oil and likely never will.

  • El_Sid

    In the interests of balance, perhaps the other contributors could be persuaded to post a piece?

    Hopefully they will be less full of tosh than Montford – I’ve commented in detail in the comments over there, but someone really should have pulled him up on the bits where he is just plain wrong – wind electricity is nothing like an order of magnitude more expensive than gas, and shale gas is not cheap gas.

    The basic problem is that our power stations are knackered, and electricity prices need to rise 50% for any new power plants, of whatever kind, to be viable. Centrica is either closing of mothballing many of its gas plants because the economics just don’t work at current gas prices. On the flip side that does mean there’s several GW of spare gas capacity available to back up intermittent sources, without spending anything on new construction.

    tidal power – there are a number of offshore experimental projects already underway off the coast of Scotland

    Trouble is that tidal electricity costs a fortune, £200/MWh or more compared to a wholesale price of £55/MWh. Sure, we should fund research to get that price down, but at the moment cost-effective tidal power seems a long way off.

    • Daniel Maris

      The costs debate is aribtarily set in a 20 year old time frame. La Rance in France, a tidal barrage dating from around 1960 was long ago paid for and now produces the cheapest electricity in Europe.

    • Daniel Maris

      The costs debate is aribtarily set in a 20 year old time frame. La Rance in France, a tidal barrage dating from around 1960 was long ago paid for and now produces the cheapest electricity in Europe.

    • Curnonsky

      If gas capacity exists to back up intermittent sources, and gas is cheap (especially shale gas) why on Earth introduce some vastly expensive and unreliable wind farm into the equation? Baffling.

  • MichtyMe

    Pump storage hydro unfortunately not mentioned. Pump storage acts like mega batteries, utilising surplus electric which would otherwise be dumped and releasing hydro power instantaneously when required. There are long established examples at Cruachan and Foyers and two more really big stations are planned for the Great Glen. A contribution to the mix which will smooth the fluctuations in the supply from diverse sources.

    • Daniel Maris

      Not just pump storage. The Germans already have a working facility that can make methane (virtually the same as our natural gas) from wind and solar power when there is an excess. Methane can be used directly to heat homes or used to make electricity. It’s not as costly as it sounds because as excess wind and solar, there really is only a marginal cost to the original energy.

      They are going to scale up the facility. In my view that will be the main storage technology of the future and it will put paid to the idea that intermittency prevents green energy becoming the standard source of energy.

      • Noa

        “The Germans already have a working facility that can make methane
        (virtually the same as our natural gas) from wind and solar power when
        there is an excess…”
        And we have 60 million here similarly producing methane here with wind power!
        Capturing that would be a start.

  • Poster

    So very tired of people quoting jobs figures as those these were a benefit of a technology. Jobs are a cost. The more people it takes to make something, the more alternative production we are giving up in order to have it.

    If I invented a alternative supply of the amount of energy we consume in the UK that required 60 million employees to work, would this be a good thing? Obviously not; we would all be employed producing energy and nothing else.

    Conversely, if I invented a supply of energy for the whole UK that required just one employee, would we oppose its introduction on the grounds that it didn’t create many jobs? Of course not; it would imply very cheap energy in terms of opportunity cost. Everyone else could be making other things we all value.

    Please pick up people when they try to extol the benefits of a technology by pointing to job creation. It’s nonsense. Incidentally, it’s nonsense whether or not you believe in climate change.

    • Daniel Maris

      Poster –

      The issue is more how many UK citizens are involved in the current energy technologies and how many would be involved with wind and solar. Also, a related argument I think is where the jobs are located. With wind and solar, we will get a good spread of jobs around the country. If we are paying Sheikhs in Arabia and oligarchs in Russia, we aren’t doing much for our own economy.

      Sadly we let our wind turbine manufacture industry collapse – so it is the Danes and Germans who benefit from the manufacture element.

      There may be an argument for getting wind and solar production re-established in this country.

  • dercavalier

    “… The motion was decisively supported …”
    What else would you expect from an audience attending (chosen by?) a meeting in Scotland set up by The Spectator which is only read by the handful of Tories who still exist in Scotland. And they must all have been at the meeting as only Tory crackpots would support the arguments of … an eccentric American who has thrown his toys out of the pram because he can’t get his own way, a climate change denier of no known merit, and an MEP and ex local councillor who tried and failed to be elected to either the Scottish or Westminster Parliaments. What an ignorant group of people.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Ignorant meaning they don’t agree with you.

      • dercavalier

        As a matter of fact I’m a bit of a climate change sceptic myself.

        • Noa

          As well as being a bit of a prat?

          • dercavalier

            Oh my! Have I hurt your teensy weensy feelings? Bloody good!

            • Noa

              No, I’d have to have value your views to have regard for them.

              • Stuart Eels

                decavalier
                You are such a drunken pratful!

    • Fergus Pickering

      Ignorant meaning they don’t agree with you.

  • 2trueblue

    Has anybody looked at the reality of wind farms? They are massively polluting and not proven to do the job. The amount of cement needed to put them in situ, the roads needed to maintain them, etc. The whole thing is off the wall. All this is the name of….. What?

    • Daniel Maris

      Yes, of course people have looked at these things. They are still a good deal, environmentally.

      I’d say it’s in the name of energy independence and creating a strong, durable domestic economy that benefits people across the country, not a few financiers in the City of London.

      • anyfool

        As opposed to a lot of rich landowners across the country.

        • Daniel Maris

          I don’t like the way the investment in green energy infrastructure has been organised. In Germany wind energy is much more popular because local communities can benefit from it. However, that is an argument over financing rather than the general benefits.

          Personally I think wind and other green energy should be financed through stamp duty on house sales not through the current subsidy system.

          • foxoles
            • Daniel Maris

              So what? You can’t switch to 100% green energy overnight. But the Germans are working steadily towards it.

              • foxoles

                The Germans will be running a large number of their new plants on lignite (the ‘dirtiest’ coal of all, as you would have it) because they have fallen out of love with the green scam. The German grid nearly collapsed 900 times last year, as a result of problems caused by windmills.

                • foxoles

                  Forgot to add, they’re not bothering with Carbon Capture and Storage for their new ‘dirty’ plants either.

          • anyfool

            Regardless of how they are financed they are just not a reliable source of power,There is a lot of rubbish written about the safe disposal of nuclear waste and would be about the cheapest going were it not for doom-mongers who like climate junkies over egg the pudding.

            • Daniel Maris

              They are about the most reliable source of power going as we saw in Japan during the typhoon.

              • anyfool

                That Japan having typhoons while sitting on a very active quake fault does in no way reflect on the UK nuclear safety regime, we have neither as you well know.

                • Daniel Maris

                  If you think we don’t have earthquakes and tsunamis you are showing your ignorance of geography.

                • anyfool

                  When in the UK was the tsunami that would sweep away a power station and when was the earthquake that damaged more than a couple of badly maintained chimneys, you just cannot help yourself conflating the most destructive earthquake in a hundred years with the popping of a crisp packet in Derby, you socialists cannot help it, anything in the furtherance of a lost destructive cause that in itself will do more damage to people than a hundred similar earthquakes.

                • Daniel Maris

                  There was a major tsunami in the 1600s which flooded huge areas of Somerset and around. There is no reason why such a tsunami should not recur tomorrow. Just because tsunamis are rarer in the Atlantic than in the Pacific doesn’t mean they won’t occur. Earthquakes do happen and are a factor considered in the siting of nuclear power stations.

                  Nuclear power stations are very vulnerable to terrorist attack either from outside or inside.

                • anyfool

                  Tsunamis, earthquakes and now terrorists,
                  Wind generated electricity is still useless to our needs.

                • Daniel Maris

                  What do you mean “now” terrorists? The state devotes huge sums to counter-terrorism (and counter-espionage) in relation to the nuclear industry. It’s just no one talks about it – for obvious reasons.

                • anyfool

                  Yes,now” terrorists? but wind is still as much use to the UK as a chocolate fireguard.

                • Dimoto

                  You, so very obviously, have no scientific or engineering background whatsoever, but continually spout pseudo-science clap-trap.
                  Still, puts you alongside the BBC and the popular rags, so not to worry.

                • Dimoto

                  That was aimed at Maris BTW.
                  Bloody stupid format !

                • anyfool

                  Ok maybe it was formatted in the 1600s when the last tsunami occured according to Maris.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mhaseler Mike Haseler

    Thank you Spectator for holding the debate! There’s more comment at the Scottish Climate & Energy Forum:
    http://scef.org.uk/news/1-latest-news/290-spectator-debate-scotlands-energ-policy-is-just-hot-air

    And Bishop Hill:
    http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2012/9/20/a-win-against-the-windies.html

  • Wilhelm

    The SNP and Labour are both socialist / marxist , the only difference is one wants independence and the other doesn’t. The SNP want to flood Scotland with African and muslim immigrants to boast how virtuous they are, which makes the whole idea of independence a bit pointless, doesn’t it ?

    • dercavalier

      To Wilhelm
      I see the racist King Billy has turned up again. Is there nowhere he won’t go to purvey his racist views? Wouldn’t The Daily (Hate) Mail be a better location for his bizarre views. And I fail to see what his point has to do with wind farms.

      • Wilhelm

        Dercavalier.

        You seem to be the one who is the Fascist, you don’t want people to express their opinions.

        Ps. When you name call that’s what you do in Primary 3, that’s the most graceless act of admitting you’ve lost the argument . When you’re insulting people please remember the correct mantra is ” You’re a racist, bigot and nazi.” Always, always bring up the nazis, it’s a great smear and works a treat to close down debate.

        • dercavalier

          You are talking rubbish! You are obviously the one who thinks he has lost the argument when you descend to the nasty insulting diatribe you have just written. No-one here would believe that I have lost any argument to a bigot and racist like you. And since YOU brought up the Nazi word … if the cap fits and all that.

          • Noa

            Dercavalier writes, variously:-
            1) “..No-one here would believe that I have lost any argument to a bigot and racist like you…”

            2) “…I see the racist King Billy has turned up again. Is there nowhere he won’t go to purvey his racist views…”?

            So you can plainly see that you started the abuse with your bien pensant, marxist thinking, the instant reflex of which is to personally try to belittle and abuse the person rather than to produce a convincing counter-argument. In so behaving you demonstrate yourself to be the fascist, and so Godwin’s laws most certainly applies in your case.

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