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Sunday 3 July 2011

Booker Continues To Make It Up

Proof that the Government is tilting at windmills” shrieks the Maily Telegraph’s resident inventor in chief Christopher Booker in his latest column. Yes, the man who says white asbestos is no more harmful than talcum powder has figured out that the UK’s energy strategy is centred on a “ludicrously expensive, self defeating joke”.

It sounds like strong stuff – until subjected to a little investigation, which customarily takes no more than a few minutes’ Googling. For instance, when Booker refers to the EU’s “trillion-Euro budget”, which sounds truly scary, he is totalling seven years’ budgets. Only then does the total exceed a thousand billion Euro.

And when he tells of 20% of this being spent “fighting climate change”, the actual wording isclimate related”, which is not the same thing. The lack of total precision extends to the alleged meeting between energy providers and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Because there wasn’t a meeting, and the event that Booker references didn’t happen last week, as he asserts.

What there was, was a speech the previous week by Centrica CEO Sam Laidlaw, in which he talked of 30% of UK generation having to be replaced by 2020. The speech also talked of “Recognition of the future role of natural gas in a low-carbon generation mix – providing back-up to large-scale intermittent wind power”. Sounds a bit broad brush and non-specific to some, but watch Booker retranslate it.

And here’s the translation: “Centrica ... told DECC that ... it will require the building of seventeen new gas-fired power stations simply to provide back-up for [wind power]”. Moreover, those seventeen power stations “will be kept running on ‘spinning reserve’, 24 hours a day, just to make up for the fundamental problem of wind turbines”.

This is, not surprisingly, total drivel: no mention is made of other energy sources, especially nuclear, with new build imminent. And wind power doesn’t just switch in or out instantaneously: the need for even warm standby has been exaggerated to a ridiculous degree. There will no doubt be some of that 30% covered by a mixture of wind and backup gas power. But only some.

As before, there will be a mix of energy sources, with more emphasis on low carbon generation: nuclear for baseload, wind and other renewable when available, and natural gas in reserve. That is the prosaic reality: Booker is, not for the first time, scaremongering.

So when he tells that “I’m afraid we are in the hands of very dangerous children”, one can only be thankful that we are not in the hands of one particular very dangerous adult. Nobody who matters listens to Booker, and long may that continue.

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