A recent article in the Telegraph aimed to expose:
The aristocrats cashing in on Britain’s wind farm subsidies
Growing numbers of the nobility are being tempted to build giant wind farms on their estates by the promise of tens of millions of pounds being offered green energy developers.
It’s an interesting article that attempts to put numbers to what most have suspected for a while. However, due to the incoherent and chaotic nature of the government’s energy policies, nobody can really put a precise figure on the sums involved…
The Duke, who is worth about £100 million, will reportedly earn as much as £2.5 million a year from the deal although a spokesman, who declined to discuss the actual amount, said that figure was not accurate. One industry expert said a more realistic figure was in the order of £720,000 a year.
Only £720,000. Oh, that’s all right then.
It would take me the best part of 30 years to earn, before tax, and by actually doing work, what the Duke would get a year, from sitting around on his noble posterior. The government oblige electricity suppliers to take a certain, rising proportion of their electricity from renewable generators, at a premium, determined by government, to ‘incentivise’ the renewable energy sector. In other words, the government guarantee the Duke’s income.
Where have we heard of that sort of thing before? Well, it’s been going on for centuries. But for the last few of them, at least, it’s been regarded as a bit of a bad thing, belonging to the past.
When you think about it further, is there any form of ‘renewable’ energy which does not reward the landed classes in the same way? They are each land-intensive. Solar power, at scale, requires significant tracts of land. Business Green — an online news service — reports that,
The government has rejected claims that its planned increase in biomass and biofuel use to meet clean energy targets will result in the displacement of people or competition with food crops in developing countries.
At issue here is the UK’s absurd target-driven renewable energy policies. These are justified on the basis that they ensure ‘energy security’, by decreasing our dependence on foreign and ‘unstable’ economies (i.e. Russia and MENA), and ‘unsustainable’ substances. Yet, these ambitious targets cannot be met by domestic production of fuel crops.
The UK currently burns or co-fires around one million tonnes of wood, but the government has highlighted the importance of biomass in 2009’s Renewable Energy Strategy and this year’s Renewables Roadmap. Planning permission has been granted to more than 7GW of biomass power plants, which the IIED said is likely to increase demand to 60 million tonnes a year, five or six times the nation’s currently available resources.
It is something of an irony that it is the International Institute for Environment and Development which have criticised UK policy. It demonstrates first that the concept of ‘sustainable development’ is racked with contradictions, and that it allows for the expression of some fairly ancient bad ideas.
The IIED report states,
As governments in the global North look to diversify their economies away from fossil fuel and mitigate climate change, plans for biomass energy are growing fast. These are fuelling a sharp rise in the demand for wood, which, for some countries, could outstrip domestic supply capacity by as much as 600 per cent. It is becoming clear that although these countries will initially look to tap the temperate woodlands of developed countries, there are significant growth rate advantages that may lead them to turn to the tropics and sub-tropics to fill their biomass gap in the near future. Already there is evidence of foreign investors acquiring land in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia to establish tree plantations for biomass energy. If left unchecked, these trends could increase pressures on land access and food security in some of the world’s poorest countries and communities
The IIED are naive. It is their emphasis on ‘sustainability’ which increases the value of land. It is inconceivable that increasing the value of land won’t benefit those who already have title to it, and won’t otherwise cause the cash rich to rush towards it. Imagine if the vacant plot of land didn’t say For Sale, but instead advertised free money, to those who don’t need it: no risk, no work, guaranteed income. The sustainability agenda has created a virtual Inclosure Act for the 21st Century: as our dependence on land increases, so too has its value, but so to has our ability to access it has been reduced. ‘Sustainability’ is a de-facto dispossession.
It was the use of fossil fuels which finally created the possibility of a comprehensive break from dependence on land, and the feudal political order that this dependence created. For instance, one of the consequences of using fossil fuels is the effective amplification of land: with machinery and industrial techniques, the productivity of land increases. Fewer and fewer people need to live on the land, and are able to live in cities. It’s not all good, all the way, of course. There are ups and downs. The point is that, had none of it happened, we’d might still be living in bondage to the Lord of the Manor; liberal democracy struggles to thrive where people are worked from dawn to dusk, each and every day.
Yet even those who seem to extol the virtues of peasant lifestyles, while trying to defend fluffy liberal values, seem to understand the principle that renewable energy schemes create a mechanism to transfer wealth from the less well-off to the better off. As the IIED acknowledge, renewable energy policies may turn out to be anything but ‘sustainable’ for the poor. And even George Monbiot agrees:
Buying a solar panel is now the best investment a householder can make. The tariffs will deliver a return of between 5% and 8% a year, which is both index linked (making a nominal return of between 7% and 10%) and tax-free. The payback is guaranteed for 25 years. If you own a house and can afford the investment, you’d be crazy not to cash in. If you don’t and can’t, you must sit and watch your money being used to pay for someone else’s fashion accessory. […] If people want to waste their money, let them. But you and I shouldn’t be paying for it. Seldom has there been a bigger public rip-off; seldom has less fuss been made about it. Will we try to stop this scheme, or are we a nation of dupes?
What did he expect all those years? What did he think he was asking for, when he campaigned so vociferously against energy companies? Did he not realise that merely abolishing Big Oil only creates an opportunity for Big Land? Did he really beleive that national and international bureaucracies and treaties would create an equitable and robust challenge to the dominance of people with more cash, on behalf of the less well-off? Did he really beleive that the interests of Big Oil were at odds with yours and mine? Of course not…
And we find ourselves in an extraordinary position. This is the first mass political movement to demand less, not more. The first to take to the streets in pursuit of austerity. The first to demand that our luxuries, even our comforts, are curtailed.
But it never was a movement, of course. There never were more than a few hundred of the UK’s 60million+ inhabitants, out on the streets ‘demanding less’ at any one time.
Reducing household energy use is the only real way to offset high energy prices from the wholesale market, National Energy Action has said.
Speaking to the BBC Wake Up to Money podcast, Peter Smith, campaigns and policy manager for the organisation, explained that it is inevitable that wholesale energy prices are fed into peoples’ energy bills.
“The only thing that householders can do at the end of the day is reduce that volatility through looking at the volume that they consume and that means looking at energy efficiency as a long-term solution to try and mitigate these problems,” he remarked.
The above is from the Energy Saving Trust, a £60million a year UK government-funded organisation, designed to ‘help’ people to use less energy. The advice they are quoting is from National Energy Action, which ‘develops and promotes energy efficiency services to tackle the heating and insulation problems of low-income households‘. In reality, however, rather than addressing the interests of the energy-poor, the NEA is joint funded by the state and corporates with an interest in energy efficiency. This is not unlike feudal lords, gathering themselves into an organisation intended — at face value — to represent the interests of serfs. Their advice — to reduce household energy use — is equivalent to ‘can’t they eat cake’.
Let’s not imagine that all this policy-making is just an accident of some slightly ill conceived idea about ‘nature’ and some dodgy science. This is not about slightly altering the ways we do things; minor adjustments to our lifestyles. Let’s see it for what it is: as a political idea. It changes the fundamental relationships between people. To see it as anything else is to roll over. It’s no use just saying that this science, or that measurement is bunk — the idea which we should challenge is that the science justifies the politics, whether it is bunk or not.