This paltry supply of onshore wind, nowhere near enough to hit the 2050 targets, has devastated landscapes, blighted views, divided communities, killed eagles…” So said former Cabinet Minister Owen Paterson in his well-publicised Global Warming Policy Foundation lecture last week.
When this was quoted extensively in the media, he was saying no more than millions of ordinary people have been saying for years: wind turbines are an expensive mistake. Yet it was very striking to hear it in public, because no other elected person, who was once charged with these responsibilities, had said anything like this before.
Mr Paterson, who was the Environment Secretary until a few months ago, went on to say that wind turbines have devastated “the very wilderness that the ‘green blob’ claims to love, with new access tracks cut deep into peat, boosted production of carbon-intensive cement and have driven up fuel poverty, while richly rewarding landowners”.
As widely reported, Owen Paterson also said: “Let’s rip up the Climate Change Act”. In doing so, he has at last set off a proper debate on our energy future, one that is many years overdue.
In 2008, Ed Miliband pushed through the final version of the Climate Change Act, when he was in the Cabinet of the last Labour Government.
The Act made the UK the only country in the world legally committed, between now and 2050,to cutting our emissions of CO2 by a staggering 80 per cent. Even then, the Government projected that this would cost us up to £734 billion.
The latest figures from the EU and the International Energy Agency suggest that for Britain to reach this target, it would now cost even more: £1,300 billion.
The Bill passed the Commons by 463 votes to three, after a debate in which not a single MP asked how such an ambitious target could in practice be achieved without destroying virtually our entire economy.
Energy policy is primarily about politics. There is essentially now no difference between the three main Westminster parties. Currently, there is refusal of the political parties to address the increasingly visible failure of their policies, with no one wanting to discuss the causes.
Owen Paterson, when he was Environment Secretary, was the only minister who dared raise doubts. He annoyed what he calls the “green blob”, hence David Cameron duly sacked him from his post this summer.
In his speech last week, Mr Paterson was able, backed by a mountain of expert research, to show how the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) current policy, outlined in its “2050 Pathway Analysis” and added to by similar statements from the European Commission, is pure make-believe.
Officials at DECC are seriously contemplating closing down all our existing energy supplies from CO2-emitting fossil fuels which currently supply 70 per cent of our electricity. Out will also go all cooking and central heating by gas. Almost everything, including our transport system, will have to be powered by electricity, for which we will, by 2050, need twice as much as we currently use.
This will largely be supplied by 17 times as many wind turbines as we currently have and up to 12 more monster nuclear power plants like the one proposed in Somerset, which may not produce a watt of electricity within 10 years.
Mr Patterson is suggesting that our energy future might be transformed by hundreds of small, wholly safe nuclear reactors which could provide us with a huge new source of both electricity and heat within a decade or so.
New, sophisticated “demand management” technology could shave another huge chunk off our electricity needs, without us even noticing. And he stated this could achieve a far greater cut in our carbon emissions than we can hope for under DECC’s unworkable policy.
When Owen Paterson’s radical proposals are properly examined, I hope that they will become the subject of a properly informed national debate.