News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lib Dems looking both ways on energy policy

We all know that the Lib Dems struggle to set coherent policies. The latest example is Nick Clegg's statement on energy policy, enthusiastically supported by the Lib Dem Prosepective Parliamentary Candidate for Folkestone and Hythe.

Apparently, a Lib Dem government (don't laugh too loudly) would strive for "UK energy independence." I'm intrigued as to how they intend to achieve that. A glance around the Kent Lib Dems' websites shows that they oppose new nuclear build at Dungeness, the windfarm on Romney Marsh, the offshore windfarm off the north sea coast, the coal fired power station proposed for Kingsnorth and the Allington waste to energy incinerator. They have opposed just about every type of power generation which could be utilised in Kent! Given that we have an urgent need to find means of generating electricity to replace power stations which are soon to reach the end of their natural lives, Lib Dem actions in local government mean that it would be highly likely that Britain would need to increase its level of electricity imports to meet demand.

Apparently, the proposals would see electricity generated through wind, tidal, wave and biomass technologies, to reduce Britain's dependance upon overseas fossil fuels. The aim is commendable, but we need to consider what it really means.

Wind energy is intermittent at best, so requires alternative generating capacity to provide backup support for days when there is no wind, too much wind or the wrong sort of wind. Wind farms also take up large amounts of virgin countryside, which has a direct impact upon the ecology of that land - which is why Shepway Lib Dems joined the Conservatives and others in opposing the wind farm on Romney Marsh.

Tidal power is controversial. Previously proposed schemes have actually failed on environmental grounds. For example, the proposed Servern tidal generation scheme would have resulted in the marshy wetlands on either side of the Severn Estuary flooding, depriving endangered and protected species of birds and other wildlife of their natural breeding grounds. I can't think of any suitable sites in the British Isles which would not have similar impacts on biodiversity. Tidal power is probably the greatest threat to many marine and coastal species of animals, and should not be considered a green alternative.

Wave power is a very good idea which is in its infancy. In due course, the technology could prove to be a genuine alternative means of power generation. However, the technology is not ready yet. Given time, this could become an option, but unfortunately, the time is not now.

Biomass technology is by far the most controversial of the four means of generation proposed by Nick Clegg. There are two sources of energy for biomass power generation. The first is biodegradeable waste, such as garden and food waste. That's the kind of thing burnt at Allington's incinerator. The Lib Dems have consistently opposed Allington. Similar plants have been proposed in Eastbourne (opposed by the local Lib Dems, who won control of the council partly because of their opposition), and in Lympne. It will be interesting to see whether Shepway Lib Dems match their rhetoric with actions by supporting that plan. The other source is vegetations grown specifically to be burnt for power. That has become increasingly popular in recent years, and is the principle reason for the dramatic increase in the price of food lately. As the biomass crops need to be grown, they take up land which was previously used to grow food, reducing the supply of land for crops. The result has been a reduction in supply of food, as well as intensification of production on the remaining land, by means of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Moreover, the increased demand for land to grow biomass crops has resulted in a rapid increase in the rate of destruction of the world's rainforests, which had previously stabilised after that became the cause celebre for publicity seeking eco-celebrities like Nick Clegg in the 1980s. So biomass power stations have five problems 1) people don't want to live near to an incinerator 2) crops grown to be burnt are reducing the supply of food, increasing prices and starving Africans 3) rainforests are destroyed to supply more land to grow biomass crops 4) increasingly intensive farming methods are required, leading to loss of hedgerows, increased use of chemicals and GMOs and loss of biodiversity and 5) waste which is incinerated could have been recycled or composted, which would have been a cleaner option than burning it.

Overall, the Lib Dem report on energy policy cannot be rated as anything better than a C-. Must try harder next time.

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