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Powering down Britain


THEY were temples of modern industry. Their task was to produce abundant cheap energy safely. They were the coal-fired power stations from Kent through Megawatt Valley around the River Trent  to Fife. They provided reliable British electricity 365 days a year using British coal and British-made turbines, generators, instruments and cabling. They were owned by the British state.

European Community Directive 2001/80/EC signalled their end in Britain; this directive was taken up by Europhile Ed Miliband and his 2008 Climate Change Act. This was the first legislation to enact in law CO2 reduction to 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. We had to ‘prevent dangerous climate change’.

Although Prime Minister Theresa May’s time in office was running out in 2019, she managed to pass without opposition an amendment to the Climate Change Act, making the UK legislate for net zero emissions, despite her Chancellor Philip Hammond saying it would cost £1trillion. With May gone, her successor Boris Johnson did a volte-face from a green critic to a trumpet player for the green anti-growth agenda, doubling down on May’s commitment.

In November 2022, Prime Minister Sunak reaffirmed HMG’s commitment to Net Zero, backed a fracking ban in the first of many hand-brake turns and, in a second, decided to attend COP27 after saying he would not attend. Back of all this was the shadowy climate change committee led by John Selwyn Gummer, aka Lord Deben, assiduously working to push a green agenda regardless of the cost.

There were dissenting voices. Viscount Ridley said about Net Zero: ‘I am genuinely shocked by the casual way the Commons has committed future generations to vast expenditure to achieve a goal that we have no idea how to reach technologically without ruining the British economy.’ The Centre for Economic and Business Research has calculated that the cost of the 2030 petrol and diesel new car ban alone will be £400billion between 2022 and 2050.

Separately, climate alarmists had been hard at work for 30 years. At first, they said the planet would be overwhelmed by a new ice age. Then they changed their rhetoric to global warming. In 1989 the UN caused fear by stating that ‘entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by 2000’. In 2006 Al Gore said: ‘We have less than ten years to make dramatic changes in our global warming pollution’. In March 2009 Prince Charles claimed: ‘We have less than 100 months to alter our behaviour before we risk catastrophic climate change.’ In November 2022 at COP27 the UN Secretary-General, the former Portuguese socialist Prime Minister António Guterres catastrophised: ‘We are on the highway to climate hell.’

So, the great temples began to be pulled down.

In December 2012 Kingsnorth power station in Kent closed: 1,940 MW gone. March 2013 Cockenzie power station, Midlothian: 1,152 MW. March 2013 Didcot A: 1,958 MW. August 2013 Tilbury B: 1,428 MW. November 2015 Ironbridge B, Shropshire: 1,000 MW. March 2016 Ferrybridge C: 2,000 MW. March 2016 Longannet in Fife: 2,400 MW. (Scotland’s first minister would in 2021 be chauffeured from Edinburgh to press the button on the explosives which demolished its tall chimney.) June 2016 Rugeley B, Staffordshire: 1,000 MW. March 2018 Eggborough, Yorkshire: 2,000 MW. September 2019 Cottam: 2,000 MW. March 2020 Aberthaw B, Glamorgan: 1,586 MW. March 2020 Fiddlers Ferry, on the Mersey: 1,961 MW.

What was the long-term plan to replace all these lost megawatts? Gas in the interim, and electricity imports via interconnectors, but ultimately renewables, mainly wind, a medieval technology.

Compared with the output of these thermal power stations, the rated output of windfarms is small. Consequently, there have to be hundreds of them all over the countryside, and around our coasts. Most onshore windfarms are within the 20 MW to 60 MW range, though offshore windfarms are rated more highly. The London Array offshore windfarm is the biggest in the UK but is rated at a maximum of only 630 MW, still modest when you consider a 2,000 MW thermal power station will power two million homes. Not ‘could’ but ‘will’. There is a difference between rated and actual output. When the wind is too strong or too light the (non-recyclable) rotors are moribund.

In December 2015, at the closure of the last deep-mined colliery in Britain, Kellingley, the supplier of Ferrybridge, its general manager said of the closure of coal-fired power stations: ‘If we have a hard winter, Britain will be struggling to power.’ That happened as early as February 2018 when the ‘Beast from the East’ struck. Only the handful of coal-fired stations running at maximum output saved the Grid from going down. And if the Grid does go down, a ‘Black Start’ to power it up will now be extremely difficult. Big power stations like Fiddlers Ferry could be started by an engine, the engine started a gas turbine and this got the generators and steam turbines going. How do you start up 12,000 stationary wind machines?

And all this to reduce the UK’s domestic CO2 output from its present level of 1.1 per cent of world CO2. The climate change industry majors on the supposed causation between global temperature increase and increase in CO2. They say the latter causes the former. Alas, CO2 increase follows temperature rise, which undermines their whole argument. And as for ‘unprecedented’ weather events, have they never heard the phrase ‘floods of Biblical proportions’? In 1876 the Backerganj Cyclone with winds of 140 mph caused a 40ft storm surge across the Bay of Bengal, drowning 200,000 people in half an hour and devastating the land for hundreds of square miles.

Just what on earth is going on?

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William Loneskie
William Loneskie
William Loneskie is a retired geography teacher. He lives in the Scottish Borders.

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