One of the most unattractive features of modern British life is the way those in power no longer pay any attention to scientific fact, expert advice, public opinion or, indeed, to anything that gets in their way. There was a time when they would have shrugged their shoulders in disgust and said "Oh, bugger! They're all kicking up a stink, so we'd better chuck the idea!"
But nowadays they simply plough ahead regardless. "Nobody wants road pricing?" Well, no decision's been made yet, but when it is, we'll make it. We're the government, not you.
"Nobody believes in man-made global warming any more, not even the scientists who contribute to the IPCC (or, more to the point, don't contribute but get put on the IPCC's list anyway)?" Rubbish, don't they know there's a consensus? There must be, or we wouldn't keep saying there is. They must all be in the pay of "big oil".
"The entire country is up in arms about unrestricted immigration?" Pah, they're all racists so who cares what they think, and anyway we don't want to offend any Muslims, so … least said, soonest mended …
"Everyone knows that speed cameras are just a means of raising revenue and providing jobs for hundreds of road-safety jobsworths, and have made no significant contribution to road safety?" No, no, you're quite wrong, safety cameras save lives. Well, actually, they don't save very many lives, but if just one life is saved then all the inconvenience, all the expense, all the criminalisation of innocent motorists will have been worth it. Or are you in favour of killing little children?
"It's a well-known and much-discussed fact that wind-power does not and will not ever make a significant contribution to the national grid simply because the wind doesn't blow strongly enough of the time, and coal-fired and gas-fired power stations will always be necessary to take up the slack?" Nonsense! Whatever you think, we must save the planet/the whales/the Arctic ice-pack/the polar bears/Anneke Rice's job, even if it means you've all got to move to Birmingham so the rest of the country can be totally covered in wind-turbines. If wind-turbines aren't very efficient, it simply proves we need an awful lot more of them, so the government had better increase the subsidies - the extra cost can always be passed on to the customer, who exists for just such an eventuality.
They exhibit all the symptoms that were identified as long ago as 1977 in a book by Jannis and Mann called "Decision-making: a psychological analysis of conflict, choice and commitment" (New York Free Press). The book explored the concept of "group think" …
"illusion of invulnerability" - members of the group ignore danger, are overly optimistic
"collective rationalisation" - they discredit and explain away any contrary argument
"illusion of morality" - the group feels its decisions are morally correct and anyone who opposes them is "bad"
"excessive stereotyping" - the group constructs negative stereotypes of rivals outside the group. Nobody who opposes them can be represented in a positive light for any reason or facet of their character
"pressure for conformity" - the group will pressure any of its members who argue or question decisions, viewing any dissent as disloyalty
"self-censorship" - the group stifles and withholds any dissenting views
"illusion of unanimity" - the group perceive falsely that everyone agrees with them. Silence is taken to indicate consent
"mind guards" - some members appoint themselves to protect the group from adverse information that might threaten group complacency
Remind you of anyone?
Nowhere is this unpleasant habit more clearly exemplified than in Scotland, where the proposal to devastate the beautiful island of Lewis by covering it with 460ft. high windmills, absolutely refuses to go away whatever anyone says or does.
The Lewis Wind Project would erect 181 wind turbines to a height of 140 metres, each with a foundation and crane hardstanding, 88 miles of access roads, 8 electrical substations, 134 electricity pylons, a control building, 11 300ft. wind-monitoring masts, overhead lines and underground cables, 5 rock source areas (I think that's damn great quarries in ordinary English), 8 temporary compounds and 4 concrete batching plants. Quite a big project for a small island, then.
As one islander wrote to the Sunday Herald, "This whole project is based on a blatant lie, or, to be more precise, a series of blatant lies. There may be 400 jobs on offer during the construction phase, but most of these jobs will go to people from outwith the islands; probably Poles as they can and do exploit them by paying them less than the going rate. As for the alleged 70 ongoing jobs, that is utter rubbish. In the large scheme they built in Wales, there are only 3 full time ongoing jobs, and only one of them has gone to a local.
The people in the islands will not benefit in any way from the construction of these monstrosities. They will not get a halfpenny extra in their pocket, and they will not get cheaper electricity. The power from this scheme will be sold to England, and the profits will go to foreigners also. These towers will be 487 feet high, and the proposal was for 187 of them spread out over an area the size of greater London. They will be blight on the landscape, and will not even be able to be utilised for a high percentage of the time because the winds will be too strong for them to operate. The majority of the people (90%) do not want or need to have these monstrosities despoiling their island, especially when they will have no benefit from them."
He's right, except in one important respect. The electricity from this wind farm may indeed be sold to England, but ordinary English people will not benefit from it - in fact, the opposite: the massive government subsidy it attracts will be paid for by higher energy bills throughout the country.
Despite the fact that the project has caused a storm of protest in the island (more objections than any previous planning application, apparently); despite the opposition of the EU which said in 2006 that the project has not followed their rules for protecting the natural environment; despite the united front displayed against the scheme by environmentalists worried about the destruction of wildlife and a rare and fascinating natural environment; despite the outrage of archaeologists and historians who haven't yet finished with the island's rich store of unique and ancient remains; despite the fact that most of the ordinary people who actually make their home there just don't want the bloody thing looming over them; despite the fact that the developers have already been forced to cut the number of windmills down from 234 to 181 even to get this far; despite the fact that as a recent Herald article explained, cancelling the project will actually save money; despite the fact that the Scottish ministers are "minded" to turn down the application, the businessmen and their cronies on the local council (no suspicion of any bungs or other inducements, none at all, definitely not) are still fighting away and have appealed to First Minister Alex Salmond to intervene personally in their favour.
I suppose some might say that this displays a doughty fighting spirit, British determination, true grit and never-say-die*, but others might differ, and make suggestions concerning enormous government subsidies to be grabbed, building costs to be recovered in less than five years and a tidy profit-stream thereafter at the British taxpayer's expense.
In fact the whole idea of wind-farms is an expensive and useless tree-huggers' fantasy and a wonderful business opportunity for greedy financiers. As Edward Heathcoat Amory explained in a recent newpaper article, "In the last financial year, electricity consumers were forced to pay a total of £600million in subsidy to the owners of wind turbines. This figure is due to rise to £3billion a year by 2020 as vast areas of the most beautiful parts of the country will be pockmarked with 500fthigh windmills.
The sudden growth in this area of energy supply is because the green lobby has convinced many that this renewable power source is the answer to our looming energy crisis. But the truth is that not only do renewables provide a mere 1.3 per cent of the country's energy needs but also that this money is being wasted.
The subsidy system works on the principle of encouraging the development of new wind farms by forcing traditional energy companies to pay producers of renewable energy. The firms then recoup the money by charging consumers higher bills.
After an initial surge in the number of new wind farms, few are currently being built. The most obvious sites, far from human habitation, have already been filled and energy firms are now facing delays in obtaining planning permission to build in more environmentally sensitive locations. As a result, the huge subsidy is concentrated in a small number of hands. There is a rising amount of money for renewable energy and if less is produced each turbine gets more of the pot.
At current subsidy rates, anyone who constructs a wind farm, which is expected to last for a minimum of 20 years, will have paid off their investment in only five years. From then on, its profit all the way to the bank.
John Constable, director of policy at the Renewable Energy Foundation, says that the system "has encouraged underperforming onshore wind turbines in low wind areas. Though of little engineering value, such plants attract speculators because they require little capital investment". As a result, consumers will soon be paying billions in unnecessary subsidy to a bunch of sharp-suited businessmen who have spotted an opportunity for easy money.
But the wind farm disaster story does not, by any means, end here. Even in the unlikely event that ministers managed to get the subsidy system right, there would still remain fundamental problems with wind power. First, the fact that the turbines stand idle when the wind doesn't blow. This leaves gas or coal power stations to be switched on and off at a moment's notice to fill the gap - something that is very environmentally inefficient.
Second, even if you accept that it's worth desecrating some of the most beautiful parts of Britain in pursuit of a renewable energy policy, you then must transport the energy to a population centre. That means building an expensive infrastructure of new power lines.
The third problem is the potential threat wildlife (including rare birds colliding with the blades) and the damage to quality of life of those people who live near the wind farms. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors estimates that the price of house located close to a new turbine falls by 20 per cent, if the owners are able to sell it at all.
Of course, none of this much matters while the turbines are out of sight, but that could be about to change. Although Britain currently has nearly 2,000 onshore turbines; ministers have signed up to European targets on renewables that will mean 7,000 more. The Government claims that most of these will be built offshore, but that's not true because the costs of building in deep water are still too high.
Finally, there is the revelation that wind farms stop the Ministry of Defence's radar working, so we can forget about early warning of an airborne attack.
Behind all this is one certainty: Britain is facing a looming energy crisis. Our ageing nuclear power plants, which currently provide 20 per cent of our energy, are nearing the end of their useful life. The Government, having dithered for years, wants to build new ones but says that, unlike renewables, there will be no subsidies or price guarantees for the nuclear industry. If they really mean this, then the energy companies won't build any reactors, because the commercial risks will be too great.
That will mean Britain becomes even more dependent on gas power stations, at a time when our supplies of North Sea gas are running out. We will have to import our supplies from unstable Middle Eastern nations, or from Russia, whose leaders have already shown they are happy to turn off the gas tap to make a political point. Britain could be held to energy ransom; even plunged into darkness.
Meanwhile we waste time fiddling with wind power. The solution … is a proper commitment to nuclear energy which, like wind power, doesn't generate greenhouse gases."
*This is not the same as the Welsh tradition of "never say Dai", which refers to one Dai the Choirmaster (Welsh: Dai kiddlli-fiddlla) who did something awful in the organ-loft with Cantoris, or was it Decani? …
The GOS says: You know these ideas about harnessing the power of the tides by building dams across the Severn and other big rivers? There's one thing I don't understand - perhaps some scientific bod can explain …
There's a rule, isn't there, that every action has an equal and opposite reaction? And the tides are caused by the pull of the moon and, to a lesser extent, the sun, and are also affected by the spin of the earth (Venturi effect?) which makes the tides on the North coast of France a bit higher than those on the South coast of England (as you can see, my scientific intelligence is a trifle … under-developed)?
Now if you interfere with the workings of the tides, won't the equal and opposite reaction have an effect on the things that cause the tides? How long will it be before our desire to generate enough electricity to keep that bloody gherkin building in the City of London lit up like a Christmas tree all night every night, causes the Earth to stop spinning and the moon to spiral slowly off into deep space?
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Copyright © 2008 The GOS
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