Key report and presentation by Dr John Green: The power to transform the South West
This report suggests that embracing renewable energy in an effective and coherent manner could be the single most decisive step in developing a strong, independent local economy for Cornwall.
On Monday 14th September, Dr John Green*, a renewable energy specialist, gave a presentation on the report he has researched and written as part of his work with the Resilience Centre. The report was commissioned by Molly Scott Cato, MEP and funded by the Green/EFA group in the European Parliament.
Headline messages from the report as they apply to Cornwall
- Many of the constraints around developing renewable energy potential relate to political will rather than technical or environmental constraints. The latter can now be overcome by sympathetic design, improved engineering and control of generating equipment. (pg10)
- 161% of Cornwall’s total future energy needs could be produced through renewable energy generation. (pg11) assuming a 40% reduction in energy needs due to energy efficiency measures by 2050
- This energy could be generated through a broad mix of different technologies: on and offshore wind could make up 23%, hot rock geothermal 17%, solar pv and thermal 14%, biomass 13%, wave power 13% and air and ground heat pumps 11%.
Renewable energy: benefits to Cornwall’s economy
- Full development of these resources could lead to the creation of 16,537 full-time equivalent jobs; something particularly important to a county with relatively low income per capita at present.
- The direct financial benefit to the Cornish economy has been calculated at £659m per year, representing an annual increase of 9.4% p.a. in the size of the county’s economy.
- Cornwall also has the potential to become a significant exporter of energy
Key drivers towards a renewable energy future for Cornwall
- Political will – the report commends Cornwall Council’s positive and progressive policy framework that ensures a stable planning and permission process, one that has encouraged developers to invest in the County
- Geography – its geographic position gives it significant wind energy resources and marine tidal flow. Hot rock geothermal remains the greatest untapped potential
- Economic – Renewable energy could contribute an additional £659m to the Cornish economy, an estimated increase of 9.4% a year(see page 13 of report). Could be increased through local ownership – but economic gains also dependent on 40% reduction in energy use through energy efficient measures (low energy housing, electrification of transport)
- Technical – The key technical obstacle facing the renewables industry in Cornwall is the lack of grid capacity. A committed programme of electrification of the transport network along with introduction of local Smart Grid energy storage systems will go a long way to overcome the current grid constraints (page 15). The report also refers to the significant up-front investment needed to develop hot rock geothermal energy.
Throughout the report, the author stresses that the key barriers to development are political will.
The technology is there and the benefits are obvious – especially in terms of stronger local economies, but nothing can really happen unless government about both the national and local level changes direction. Dr John Green referred to Cornwall Council is one of the more progressive local authorities in the South West with regards to its plans for a renewable energy future.
Unfortunately, the current government is much more enthusiastic about pursuing nuclear energy despite the fact that, as the report makes clear, it is the more risky and expensive option. On a cost comparison basis alone the capital cost of delivering a renewable energy programme for the whole of the South West would be £59,484m,including £8,784m on Smart Grid energy storage. This is 72% of equivalent nuclear costs for delivering the same amount of energy (page 3).
So why are we we flying in the face of rational economic judgement?
see Addendum below
Personal comment on Dr John Green’s report: while this landmark report maps out a clear, practical vision backed by detailed technical evidence and costs, it does raise a couple of awkward issues.
The first is who owns the renewable energy resources? So long as these are privately owned, with head offices outside Cornwall and even the UK, it means that the pricing structure will always be subject to market demand from outside Cornwall – and of course the need to meet head office costs and shareholder dividend.
This feeds into the second issue – the danger that private ownership and the drive to maximise profits leads to an intensification of wind and solar farms in order to export energy to other parts of the UK. This could both diminish Cornwall’s natural beauty (some say it already has) and fuels local public resentment, while failing to meet local energy needs. So long as private ownership remains the dominant model, this is always likely to be the potential outcome. Public resentment at wind and solar farm development also acts as an obstacle to sorely needed community ownership initiatives that Cornwall Council are looking to explore.
The result may be public alienation that dismisses out of hand the genuine opportunities for future prosperity and a stronger local economy that such a renewable energy future affords.
Other possible energy futures
Cornwall Council is not alone in exploring a renewable energy future for its communities. Nottingham Council has set up its own energy company – the Robin Hood energy company – which promises ‘no private shareholders, no directors bonuses’ and ‘low tariff prices you can trust’. It will use locally generated energy topped up with gas and electricity from the open market to offer competitive tariffs that could save customers on their energy bills.
Housing associations are also getting in on the act and in Scotland Our Power, a group of 35 housing associations and local authorities in Scotland, plan to launch as a supplier at the end of 2015. Why not Cornwall too?
*John has a PhD in Energy Systems from the University of Edinburgh and has spent the last 25 years working on renewable energy projects and energy policies.
Addendum: So why are we we flying in the face of rational economic judgement?
Much of this has to do with big politics and the obsession by the current government to promote trade with China at any cost, regardless of their appalling human rights record, their state sponsored cyber espionage that hacks highly sensitive commercial and government information, and regardless of the national security implications of letting the Chinese state own a third of Britain’s nuclear power stations. As a senior intelligence official quoted in the Financial Times has allegedly put it
“The most charitable spin we can put on the current China policy of the British government is to say it is a pure mercantilist, unprincipled, self-serving decision aimed at attracting short-term investment. The big question is whether it actually works.” (see alternative economics blog>>>)
That ‘short term investment’ is arguably a way of getting round government borrowing by ensuring others – be they companies or foreign governments – pay for the infrastructure we so badly need. Yet in the long term, that money needs to be paid back by taxpayers with interest and at a cost that is likely to be higher than had the present government simply issued government bonds at today’s record low interest rates.
Government bonds however show up as government debt and George Osborne cannot be seen to do that given his public commitment to eliminate the deficit. And yet all he is doing is shifting the debt in a way that disguises government borrowing, while making it by far more expensive in the long run. For a more complete explanation read here>>>
Report by Dr John Green: The Power to Transform the South West