The real contribution of renewables

Wind Farm (colour)Lyn Jenkins (South Wales Evening Post, Letters, 13 October) gives a very partial view of the contribution of renewables to our energy needs by focusing solely on wind and on one particular day.

In October 2014, on the day that Didcot B Power Station went up in flames, three of our nuclear power stations also had to be taken off line for urgent maintenance. The lights did not go out and nobody among the general public noticed. Reason: it was a windy day and wind-generated electricity filled the gap.

That was the first occasion on which renewables generated over 25% of the electricity consumed on a single day – but it was not the last.

In the second quarter of this year renewable energy produced 25.3% of the country’s electricity – more than either nuclear power (21.5%) or coal (20.5%).

Far from being “petty” and “unreliable”, renewables are now an essential part of the UK energy mix, and Lyn Jenkins and friends are just going to have to get used to it!

A truly “common sense energy policy from British politicians” would see them throwing their full weight behind renewables and reducing support for the multi-national corporations currently making huge profits from the heavily subsidised, over-priced electricity being generated by fossil fuels and nuclear.

The International Monetary Fund estimates UK subsidies to the fossil industries in Britain at £30 billion annually – more than £1,000 per household per year.

In contrast, support for all renewable energy amounted to £2.6 billion last year, about £100 per household per year, with onshore wind adding just £10 to household energy bills.

Renewable energy receives one-tenth of the support that fossil fuels do, yet powers 25% of the country.

Ecologist article ‘UK rigging power market against clean energy


No place for fracking in Wales

(Letter to the South Wales Evening Post)

Something seems to have gone awry with Lawrence Bailey’s usually excellent column this week.

His piece ‘Fast track to digging deeper’ (Evening Post, 25 August, page 10) appears to have been edited to the point where it’s difficult to understand just what his point is.

UK Methane Ltd has applied to Swansea Council for Planning Permission to test drill for Coal Bed Methane in Llangyfelach. As the company has made very clear, the proposed development does not involve the controversial process of Hydraulic Fracturing (or “fracking”).

The current moratorium in Wales applies to “unconventional extraction techniques, including hydraulic fracturing … but does not include the making of exploratory boreholes.”

So this application does not fall within the terms of the moratorium, nor is it a way of getting around the moratorium.

Quite how this could be seen as curtailing “Celebrations in Cardiff Bay” is difficult to see.

On 14 August Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant AM wrote to all local councils in Wales to assure them that measures to fast track fracking were applicable to English councils only and reiterated the Welsh Government’s preference for renewable forms of generation over oil and gas exploration.

The Minister said, “We continue to believe that the technologies behind hydraulic fracturing are unproven …” and, “Our vision for future energy generation is based on embracing Wales’ abundant renewable energy resources which provide exciting and immediate opportunities.”

He added, “Wales is a green and clever land and we want to ensure … that we address the issue of climate change immediately through the effective deployment of renewable energy technologies.”

Methinks it will be the frackers whose celebrations may yet be short-lived!

The real beauty of renewable energy

It is axiomatic to say that developers exaggerate the benefits of their products. (‘Solar panel output only 10 per cent‘, South Wales Evening Post, 22 May 2015). ‘Twas ever thus.

Readers of my age will no doubt remember the promises made in the 1950s that nuclear power would provide us with electricity that was too cheap to meter. And let’s not get started on broadband speeds!

When the National Grid was first established in the 1930s, over 50% of the energy produced was wasted through inefficiencies. It has taken us 80 years to get to the current state where transmission losses are below 10%.

These days technology moves a lot faster, and we are seeing improvements in the efficiency of renewable energy systems almost daily.

But the real beauty of renewable energy is that we can all do it. We no longer need to rely on multi-national big business to provide our energy needs.

Even with the current state of the technology it is possible for individuals and community groups to get a net benefit from renewables.

And if we were to develop small scale renewables to the maximum extent, with solar panels on all our houses, schools, public buildings and businesses, that would be an awful lot of 10 percents; an awful lot of clean, safe energy generated; an awful lot of carbon footprints reduced; an awful lot of domestic energy bills cut.

As the Scots say, “Many a mickle maks a muckle” – a lot of little things add up to a big thing.

Politics is a dirty game

Ballot Box (Green Cross)I find myself in a quandary over whether to vote tomorrow.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to something Russell Brand said (I think to Ed Milliband; quoted in last Sunday’s ‘Independent’):

It is not that I am not voting out of apathy. I am not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery and deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations.”

Of course he seems to have changed his mind in the last few days, and is now advising people to vote Labour unless they live in Scotland or Brighton Pavilion; but the argument remains compelling.

In the 30+ years since I began voting I’ve always voted Green when I could – when there was a Green candidate to vote for – with one exception.

About 10 years ago I found myself unable to support a local Green candidate due to my concerns about his personal veracity.

That individual subsequently withdrew from active involvement in Wales Green Party, but has recently re-emerged and taken up his erstwhile strategy of flinging mud around at anyone and everyone who disagrees with him or has a different viewpoint.

Yesterday I was given details of a recent facebook post in which this person attacked not only me but also a close friend who was until recently a very active member of Wales Green Party.

The attack is completely unfounded, cowardly and extremely distasteful, the more so as it comes from someone who purports to represent a party that claims to be different and above the dirty tactics of the other parties.

The fact that both my friend and I spent years working hard for the Green Party, campaigning, canvassing, funding our local parties (in my case from my own pocket) and standing in elections at all levels – much of the time with scant help from anyone beyond our local parties – obviously counts for nothing with this particular individual. It seems that, for him, commitment and hard work do not earn credit unless you’re working to his vision of the world.

This incident has further dented my already shaky faith in Wales Green Party, and led me to wonder if the Welsh Greens are anything other than just another political party.

My quandary now is can I vote for a party that gives voice and perhaps even credence to such an unpalatable individual?

When it comes to it I’ll probably do the right thing and vote Green, even though a good result for the local Green candidate will almost certainly be used as another stick to beat me with (because I was the previous candidate, and lost my deposit (which I remind you, came from my own pocket!)).

But my vote will be a tactical vote, rather than a vote for either the party or their candidate.

I’ll be voting for electoral reform, because only then will we be able to form governments that truly reflect the people of the UK and the way they vote.

If the smaller parties get more votes but no more seats in this election, it will add authority to arguments for electoral reform.

Politics is such a dirty game, but I live in hope that somebody will eventually stand by their stated principles and begin the long overdue job of cleaning it up!

There is an alternative

Labour Leader Ed Miliband has today launched the Labour Party campaign for the General Election with a promise to lead a “crusade to change the country”.

In recent years we’ve learned not to put much faith in pre-election promises (Obama and Guantanamo Bay; Clegg and Tuition Fees; Cameron and ‘The Greenest Government Ever’; just about everyone (except Caroline Lucas) and dealing with Climate Change).

The last five years have seen the virtual completion of Margaret Thatcher’s grand vision of the corporate capture of government at all levels within the UK.  Even at local government level, the needs of business take precedence over the needs of the community almost without fail.  And Labour has been complicit in this from the day Tony Blair was elected as Leader of the party.

Even if Ed Miliband is sincere in his promise, so long as his party and their policies prioritise the needs of capital over the needs of ordinary people and communities, there is very little hope for any real change.

The financial deficit is not the real problem – the real problem we face is the political and democratic deficit.

History teaches us that change does not come from politician’s promises but “by the dynamic force of real events alone.” (Ferdinand Lassalle in a letter to Karl Marx; 1854)

If we want change then it is going to be up to us to make change happen.  Labour will not change unless they are forced to change; and we have to create the force for change by doing something different at the coming election – and persuading our friends and neighbours to do likewise.

There is an alternative to the old, grey parties of the Centre Right.  All we have to do is choose it!

Plaid in Wales; Green in England; SNP in Scotland.,-snp-and-plaid-cymru-austerity-has-failed.-time-for-a-new-approach-to-politics/

Plaid Logo  Green Party Logo  SNP Logo

The simple logic of renewables

It baffles me that seemingly intelligent people like Dave Lees (‘We need right energy answers’. Evening Post Letters, 4 December) cannot see the simple logic of renewable energy.

The fuel is free, it doesn’t have to be dug out of the ground, it doesn’t need to be processed, it doesn’t need to be transported, and there’s no waste.

Granted the sun doesn’t shine all the time, and the wind doesn’t always blow, so renewables may be less efficient than fossil fuels (although that’s debatable) – but surely, pound for pound, renewables has to be our first choice when it comes to generating electricity.

The more we generate from renewables, the less carbon emissions we produce, the better for all of us and the planet.

Exploiting these relatively free forms of energy that are all around us makes perfect sense from both an environmental and economic point of view.

Domestic Wind TurbineSolar PanelsOf course, the problem for evangelical supporters of “business as usual” big energy, is that given the right encouragement and support from government at all levels, it would be possible for most of us to be producing at least some of our electricity from renewable resources, thus reducing our energy bills and lifting millions out of fuel poverty.

Unfortunately that would do serious damage to the ability of the big energy companies to make obscene profits and pay excessive bonuses while at the same time raking in massive public subsidies.

Facts and Mathematics

(Letter to the South Wales Evening Post)

It is Dave Lees (‘Energy policy is just lunacy’, Letters, 10 November) who stands “in total disregard of the facts and the mathematics” – the facts of climate change and the mathematics of energy subsidies.

As the latest IPCC report has made clear, we need to be drastically reducing carbon emissions as a matter of urgency rather than burning more fossil fuels.

Whilst gas may be “a relatively low pollutant” when compared to coal, it is still a pollutant that emits greenhouse gases.

Producing natural gas using fracking carries a significant risk of methane leakage to atmosphere, which can only add to the problem.

Energy companies have enjoyed many a Christmas at the expense of British taxpayers.  All forms of energy production in the UK are subsidised from the public purse, with nuclear being the most heavily subsidised of all.  Yet the power companies continue to make massive profits and pay their executives obscene salaries and bonuses.

David Cameron promised us “the greenest government ever”, but from the moment they came to power the Coalition government began cutting subsidies to renewable forms of energy and offering even more incentives to the nuclear and fracking industries – the very opposite of what we ought to be doing if we are to play an active part in dealing with climate change.

Whilst I would prefer that we were building a wind farm or solar array on the Felindre site, using the gas fired power station in order to back up renewable energy production is at least a step in the right direction.


What are we paying these people for?

npower logoThe npower Saga (see previous posts on facebook) seems to be drawing to a close. At least I’ve now received “Your amended final energy” (which I guess is the same as the final bill I asked for!).

This shows an outstanding balance of £6.72. I’m assured this has been written off due to the length of time it’s taken to sort out (currently 301 days and still counting). But that begs the question of why they sent me a cheque for £5.62 recently, which, as with the previous two payments, was not accompanied by any sort of explanation.

One week ago I had an e-mail from my “main point of contact” in the Executive Complaints Team informing me that I will receive a goodwill payment “in 10-14 working days”.

The book is now open on whether this will happen as promised, or not!

British Gas logoMeanwhile, this morning we had a visit from someone who wanted to read our gas meter on behalf of British Gas. We explained that we don’t get our gas from British Gas. The man checked his machine and confirmed that he had the right address and correct Meter Reference No – and that we get our gas from Ecotricity.

So we asked why did he want to read our meter. He double-checked his machine, and realised that he shouldn’t be reading our meter before 5 November.

So we persisted with our query as to why he wanted to read our meter when we do not now, and have not in the past, had our gas from British Gas. He responded that he was just following instructions, and went away promising to return on Bonfire Night!

HMRC logoBut the best part of my day was the letter from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the oldest and proudest Government Department.

I’m coming up to the age at which I would have retired had the government not abolished retirement. Anyway, I’m lucky enough to still qualify for State Pension, so I’ve been getting lots of letters from the Pension Service to explain what’s going to happen.

Those nice people at HMRC have now written to me to explain one of the implications of having a private pension as well as State Pension.

Apparently there’s something called the ‘Contracted-out Deduction’ (COD), which relates to people who have been part of an employer’s pension scheme in the past.

Despite working as a Benefits Adviser for the Refugee Council for some years, I’d never heard of this, so naturally I read on with great interest.

Did you know that part of your private pension includes an amount of COD; “broadly speaking, the amount of Additional Pension you would have received from the State if you had not been contracted out.”

Well that sounds like good news. So how much do I get? Read on!

In April 1997 “changes were made to the law that mean COD amounts are no longer taken into account when calculating State Additional Pension.”

So, because I “became a member of an employer’s or private pension scheme after April 1997” (pause for effect).

“Your total weekly COD has been calculated as £0.00.”

Brilliant. So some body (or probably computer) at HMRC has spent his or her precious time working out that I’m not entitled to something that I’m not entitled to.

Bear in mind, that this is also something that I’ve never heard of, and so would never have considered querying anyway.

Don’t laugh. Your taxes are paying for this gold standard service (I no longer pay tax!).

A more positive vision

It’s easy to dismiss those who disagree with you with fatuous labels such as “Nimbys” or  “the no-no brigade” (‘We must tackle energy issues’, South Wales Evening Post, Letters, 15 October).  Far better to engage with your opponents to find a solution that suits all.

Vic Collier is quite right in that we need to tackle the question of how to provide our future energy needs, but we need to do so in a way that protects future generations rather than adding to their woes.

The solutions proposed by former Energy Secretary Owen Patterson amount to nothing more than continuing along the road that has brought us to the sorry state in which we find ourselves; rising carbon emissions, accelerating climate change, and increasing levels of highly toxic waste that will plague our descendants for centuries.

Far from objecting “to any and all projects”, those who oppose fracking and nuclear power share a positive vision of the future with many of our political and business leaders.

A vision of a carbon neutral Wales, powered by renewable energy, tapping in to the tide, sun, wind, knowledge, talent, academic excellence and business expertise that Wales has in abundance.

I would urge Vic Collier and others of his ilk to develop and encourage an attitude of how that can be achieved rather than why it must not be done.


Footnote: The “vision” in the penultimate paragraph above is an extract from a recent e-mail from my friend Donal Whelan.  The full quote is:

“I’ve been working with some fantastic people recently while campaigning against fracking, from NGOs to community groups, with people at workshops, protests, renewable energy conferences and village hall meetings. Out of all of these places there’s a shared vision emerging, one of a future carbon neutral Wales, powered by renewable energy, tapping in to the tide, sun, wind, knowledge, talent, academic excellence and business expertise that Wales has in abundance. People feel really passionate about this!
It’s not rocket science – tidal lagoons like Swansea dotted discreetly around the coast; ranks of majestic wind turbines miles out to sea, like sentinels against the coming storms of climate change; every house in Wales fully insulated and solar panels on every east and west facing roof (for a more balanced load than south-facing, we learn from Germany); half a dozen pumped water energy storage systems like Dinorwig evening out the load; a cutting-edge smart electricity grid called back into public ownership; community owned projects feeding benefits back in to local people; enough surplus energy to sell to other countries, earning enough to maintain the national energy system and keep it up-to-date.”

Fracking is sheer folly

Councillor Ioan Richard is mistaken when he says that fracking is not used for coal bed methane extraction (‘Energy debate ‘hi-jacked’ by anti-fracking protests’; South Wales Evening Post; August 22). 

There is ample evidence of the use of hydraulic fracturing to stimulate the flow of coal bed methane, most often in the sorts of conditions that are likely to be found in the South Wales coalfields.   

Far from “hijacking” the energy debate for some unspecified devious purpose, anti-fracking campaigners seek to open up that debate and lay the full facts before communities and decision makers, as a counter balance to the spin and misinformation propagated by those who have a vested interest in the unconventional gas industry.  

Methane may be the “cleanest of all fossil fuels” – but it is still a fossil fuel.  

If we are serious about dealing with climate change we need to leave around 80% of the known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground until such time as we have adequate processes for dealing with the greenhouse gas emissions that they create. 

To do anything else at this critical time for our climate would be sheer folly.









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