Gossage: Gossip October 2017


Lies, damned lies, and statistics

“It does not matter how low the price of offshore wind is, on last year’s figures it (sic) only produced electricity 36% of the time.” This is verbatim what listeners to the BBC Radio 4 flagship Today programme were told by the CEO of the Nuclear Industry Association, Tom Greatrex. He was being challenged regarding the official recognition by government that new offshore wind developments are now at least one-third cheaper that the price agreed for new nuclear power stations like Hinkley Point B.

The trouble is, Greatrex was talking complete bunkum. In practice, whilst output from offshore windfarms undoubtedly fluctuates, the sector was producing  electricity almost 48 weeks of the year. 

But then he has no training in electrical engineering, let alone nuclear physics. Instead he boasts a degree in ‘government and law’. He was however for one term a Labour MP, initially elected with a majority of over 21,000, which he succeeded in the remarkable feat of making disappear within five years, losing his constituency by almost 10,000 votes. 

Last year Greatrex was appointed to run the nuclear trade association. It used to be official spokespeople for the nuclear industry were  trained engineers, not failed politicians. I cannot believe any trained engineer would ever have made such a fundamentally egregious and completely misleading statistic.

CCS-less endeavour

Last year the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)was formed, by merging the Business Department with the Department of Energy and Climate Change. A merger that had led to at least 632 core and permanent staff being jettisoned.

The subsequent loss of expertise has opened up serious skill gaps within the workforce. So serious indeed the Department is now seeking to recruit 95 new experts. The precise areas of policy that the new recruits would cover are unspecified within the job descriptions. Instead the department is open to applications coming from a range of backgrounds, on a full-time or part-time basis.

The highest paid position BEIS is overtly seeking to fill is for a director of energy development, sought on a permanent contract with a salary of £95,000 per year. es.

Among the many responsibilities the new director will have is “devising a clear and effective roadmap for the safe and sustainable exploration and development of shale gas”.

What is not mentioned is any interest in, concern about or involvement with the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS). Whilst even the shale-industry funded Task Force on Shale Gas (led by Lord Chris Smith)  has emphasised  this putative new resource should not be deployed at scale unless CCS is developed alongside it,  it seems that any mention of CCS is entirely absent from any of the job descriptions listed on the Government website. Truly yesterday’s fad..

Is Trump running Ofgem?

In another pathetic attempt to try to justify its vast staffing and budgets, the energy regulator Ofgem is challenging National Grid’s plans to spend £840m to connect the new Hinkley Point nuclear plant to the country’s high-voltage transmission grid. The regulator is claiming that the cost could be at least a fifth cheaper, and has warned National Grid that it may instead choose to take the entire  project out of their hands, by putting it out a competitive tender.

Part of Ofgem’s objection is to the Grid’s plans to use a new design of ‘T’ shaped pylons. My readers with longer  memories may recall  this design won a 2011 government-backed competition to replace the taller “lattice tower” style that have been in use for decades. And by common consent, would be an undeniable aesthetic improvement.

Absurdly the regulator is also challenging National Grid’s budget of £116m to cover the “extreme weather risk” of building these cables through parts of the Somerset Levels. This was the very area that suffered such severe flooding in 2012 and again in 2014.

In an argument worthy of the climate-change denying President Trump, OFGEM is countering that it is “impossible to be certain of the level of extreme weather that will affect the project”, and that the company should not assume these would definitely occur.

I do hope that OFGEM will take the trouble to visit the Meteorological Office. They are based in the next-door county of Devon. And will undoubtedly be able to endorse the Grid’s concerns about the likelihood of there being many more extreme weather events in the future.

A poisoned chalice

Amongst the many new posts the government is seeking to fill is that of “policy leader on smart meter technology”. This is a policy that seems to have no friends (except possibly in the advertising industry, flooding our televisions with chirpy calls to  “take charge of Gaz and Leccy.”)  I have lost count of the number of Parliamentary committees ringing alarm bells about this £14bn programme officially set to install 53 million meters in our buildings by 2020. But currently on a trajectory unlikely to deliver one-quarter of these.

The consumer organisation Which? keeps calling for its abandonment. As does the Institute of Directors. Even keen environmentalists doubt that such meters will prompt much energy conservation. The present meters being installed fail if consumers switch to another supply company. They actually eliminate the development of tariffs for different times of day, a real body blow for electric vehicles. They even cancel out dear old Economy Seven.

And now the very energy suppliers who once lobbied for the meters to become compulsory, so as to enable them to fire all their meter readers, are overtly blaming the programme for pushing up consumer prices. My commiserations are already extended to whomever takes on this particularly poison chalice of “policy leader on smart meters”.



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