Senior academic raises serious questions about wind power – job creation, cost, performance and policy

Professor Gordon Hughes, a Professor of Economics at Edinburgh University, specialising in the economics of natural resources and in public economics, has also been, until 2001, senior adviser to the World Bank on energy and environmental policy and responsible for some of its most important environmental guidelines.

In the past eighteen months he has published three research papers [two in the last six months] which together raise the most serious questions about the UK and Scottish governments’ renewable energy policies and in particular about their unhedged commitment to wind power.

It is important to note that none of these specific research pieces were published by climate change deniers nor by, say, nuclear power lobby organisations.

In September 2011 and in August 2012 Professor Hughes’ respective papers, The Myth of Green Jobs and Why is Wind Power so Expensive?, were published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

In December 2012, his paper, The Performance of Wind Farms in the United Kingdom and Denmark, was published by the Renewable Energy Foundation.

The focus of the first paper was on testing the substance of the repetitive claims of lobbyists and evangelists that green technology creates jobs. The second was on the impact on carbon emissions of wind power and its comparative economic viability. In the third, Professor Hughes has concentrated on the viability of wind as an energy supplier and again also on its comparative economic viability.

In the second paper, Hughes follows a wearily withering analysis of a presentation by former UK Energy Minister Chris Huhne by saying: ‘The casual assumption that expenditures on green technology represent an efficient and economic use of scarce resources is little more than a convenient fairy tale for troubled times.’ He goes on to say, with a hint of the wry: ‘It is the – perhaps unfortunate ­ job of economists to be sceptical, subjecting such claims to detailed scrutiny.’

It is indeed – and thank God that there remain some academics who remember that.

These days the growth of the profoundly dishonest ‘consultancy’ industry means that ‘expert’ opinion can demonstrably be bought – leaving no sensible person with any security in believing in anything.

Much of what Professor Hughes has to say to the special interests of the organisations who have published these researches is off message in what we might expect them to want to see. This speaks for his intellectual independence – as his dual background of experience in the worlds of the economics of renewables and of state-level finance speaks for his authority.

Each of these papers raises issues that intellectual integrity and the responsible management of the economic future of the country require to be addressed.

The recent paper provides evidence on the performance of wind farms that cannot but demand pause for genuine thought.

Opportunity cost

In each of these three papers, Professor Hughes continually reminds his audiences that opportunity cost must be taken into account. This is about counting the cost of a chosen course of action in terms of the benefits lost from the actions not chosen.

So he says that, yes, more people will work in the construction of wind towers and turbines – but that these will largely not be new jobs but transferred jobs. Those working in these industries will move over from other industries which, with less investment in them as capital is diverted to renewables, will employ fewer than before.

Similarly, the massive capital investments that require to be made to enable the implementation of renewable energies are investments that are  not being made in others aspects of economic activity, other areas of infrastructure.

And the prioritising of renewables in energy delivery policy removes the level consideration of other forms of energy. Here, in all three papers, Professor Hughes makes repeated reference to the much greater efficiency in energy delivery and in economic performance of combined cycle gas plants.

In the matter of performance, Hughes evidence in his most recent paper would suggest that almost any alternative source of power than wind would throw the opportunity cost of Scotland’s wholesale investment in this form of electricity generation into cruelly sharp relief.

The job creation issue

Professor Hughes says tartly that if job creation per se was a key issue, any state has the option of creating as many jobs as it likes – maintaining the same output and cutting the wage rates. This was, of course, the route followed by the old Soviet ‘command economy’ where everyone had a job of some description and all needs were met – after a fashion.

Hughes’ view is that ‘…job creation has no merit as a basis for judging policy’.

He notes that ‘green energy is highly capital intensive – evidencing this in saying that meeting the given energy targets via green energy: ‘…will involve a capital cost that is 9 -­ 10 times the amount required to meet the same demand by relying upon conventional power plants’.

In terms of the impact of this capital investment on job creation, Professor Hughes says that, with green energy: ‘about 35% of total investment is translated, directly or indirectly, into wages and salaries. He compares this with the 70% translated into wages and salaries by investment in other forms of infrastructure or government services.

Hughes says: ‘If green energy projects are entirely financed by diverting money from other forms of business investment, the immediate impact will be approximately neutral but both productive capacity and employment incomes will be lower in the medium or longer run.  In practice, however, a significant part of the cost falls on the taxpayer, through a variety of disguised subsidies, with the consequence that spending on public services and capital projects will be lower.  This will reduce either employment or employment incomes in the short and long run.’

He summarises the overall employment position by saying: ‘In terms of the labour market, the gains for a small number of actual or potential employees in businesses specialising in renewable energy has to be weighed against the dismal prospects for a much larger group of workers producing tradable goods in the rest of the manufacturing sector.’

Hughes also focuses on an issue rarely raised in relation to green energy targets and the impact on employment and income levels – inflation.

Noting that the Bank of England is tasked with managing monetary policy to meet given inflation targets, he cites the figure of 0.6%-0.7% per annum as what renewable energy policies will add to core inflation every year between 2011 and 2020.

This means that for the Bank to deliver at or below the overall inflation target, allowing for the pressure of increased inflation from this source, it will have to deflate non-energy targets with more severe monetary policies than would otherwise have been the case. This, Hughes says, will bring about ‘…a significant loss of GDP over the period’. [Ed: 2011-2020]

The cost of wind

Hughes’ core arguments here centre on the unavoidable vulnerability of wind power – its intermittency.

Because this form of energy generation is capital intensive, it is in competition for investment with conventional means of generation from coal fired plants [with or without carbon capture capacities] an d nuclear plants.

But, in the context of a national policy heavily committed to wind, the resulting system would have to see nuclear and coal fired plants being run to enable their outputs to be matched to fluctuations in demand, according to what wind, in the moment, could or could not deliver. This imposes inefficient and expensive management of nuclear and coal fired resources. It means that the substantial investments in wind actually ‘undermine the economics of investment in nuclear or coal fired capacity.

Yet wind cannot reliably deliver baseload nor contribute predictably to peak demand periods.

Of course this weakness can be countered by parallel investment in pumped-storage hydro electricity; using an extended grid to enable wind power input from distant sources experiencing different weather conditions; or using price mechanisms to manipulate demand away from peak usage.

But, as Hughes says, if these devices worked, they would already be in in use because the increased supply of power or the smoothing out of demand peaks is already an issue in the energy context in which we currently operate.

Two key paragraphs in Hughes’s argument describe the rock and the hard place of the scenario.

‘Meeting the UK Government’s target for renewable generation in 2020 will require total wind capacity of 36 GW backed up by 13 GW of open cycle gas plants plus large complementary investments in transmission capacity – the Wind Scenario.  The same electricity demand could be met from 21.5 GW of combined cycle gas plants with a capital cost of £13 billion – the Gas Scenario. Allowing for the shorter life of wind turbines, the comparative investment outlays would be about £120 billion for the Wind Scenario and a mere £13 for the Gas Scenario.

‘Wind farms have relatively high operating and maintenance costs but they require no fuel.  Overall, the net saving in fuel, operating and maintenance costs for the Wind Scenario relative to the Gas Scenario is less than £500 million per year, a very poor return on an additional investment of over £105 billion.’

In dealing with the issue of emissions, Hughes says that: ‘… there is a significant risk that annual CO2 emissions could be greater under the Wind Scenario than the Gas Scenario.’

He says that, because of wind’s intermittency: ‘… wind power combined with gas backup will certainly increase CO2 emissions when it displaces gas for base load demand, but it will reduce CO2 emissions when it displaces gas for peak load demand.’

Coming to the detail of the relative cost of emission reduction, Hughes says that: ‘Under the most favourable assumptions for wind power, the Wind Scenario will reduce emissions of CO2 relative to the Gas Scenario by 23
million metric tons in 2020 ­ 2.8% of the 1990 baseline – at an average cost of £270 per metric ton at 2009 prices.’

He goes on to point out that this average cost ‘… is far higher than the average price under the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme or the floor carbon prices that have been proposed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).’

The overall picture emerging here is that: ‘if this is typical of the cost of reducing carbon emissions to meet the UK’s 2020 target, then the total cost of meeting the target would be £78 billion in 2020, or 4.4% of projected GDP, far higher than the estimates that are usually given.’

In summary, Hughes puts the reality of the position of the Wind Scenario thus:

‘The key problems with current policies for wind power are simple.  They require a huge commitment of investment resources to a technology that is not very green, in the sense of saving a lot of CO2, but which is certainly very expensive and inflexible. Markets have to be rigged in order to persuade investors to fund the investment that is required. The economic cost of fixing markets in this way, especially if there is a possibility of making mistakes, is very high.  Before proceeding along this path, any Government ought to be very sure that [a] the economic and environmental benefits outweigh the substantial costs incurred, and (b) the risks of pre­empting better options that may emerge in future have been minimised.

‘In reality, neither of thee conditions is close to being satisfied. To misquote another aphorism, unless the current Government scales back its commit­ment to wind power very substantially, its policy will be worse than a mistake, it will be a blunder.’

The performance of wind farms

In his most recent paper – for the Renewable Energy Foundation, Professor Hughes has researched data from the UK and from Denmark to evaluate the historic performance of wind farms in both countries.

One of his typically succinct conclusions in this paper says: ‘Wind power is a highly capital-intensive technology for generating electricity. Its merits rely entirely upon a substitution of capital for fuel inputs. The same is true for hydro or tidal or wave power. In comparison with hydro power, wind is a low quality resource because of its variability and because it cannot be stored. So, the economic case for wind power must rest on obtaining the most out of the wind that is available.’

Hughes’ overall conclusions here demand profound rebalancing of current governmental policies in the UK and in Scotland.

He has found a picture where, in the relatively  mature technology of wind energy, one would expect to see the achievement of a fairly reliable level of operation in ageing plants  – but where the reverse is the case. Wind turbines today are less reliable as they age than was the case a decade ago. He says: ‘…there is strong evidence that the average normalised load factor for new onshore wind installations in the UK has fallen significantly over the period from 2000 to 2011.’

This research also shows that wind farms are unlikely to operate for longer than 12-15 years, rather than the 25  years used by the UK and Scottish governments in their calculations.

It shows too that performance in large scale wind farm installations declines faster than in modest sized ones.

The decline of performance in offshore wind is even more marked but the evidence here comes only from Denmark, is not seen as centrally reliable by Professor Hughes and may be attributed to the relative immaturity of offshore wind technology.

The data available from both countries in the study is not such as to point to any secure identification of the cause of the decline in performance but the increased incidence over the years of mechanical breakdown is seen as a likely major contributor.

The performance figures cited by Hughes show:

  • ‘The normalised load factor for UK onshore wind farms declines from a peak of about 24% at age 1 to 15% at age 10 and 11% at age 15.’  Yet, as Hughes says: ‘ our governments have assumed that the average load factors for both onshore and offshore wind farms will either remain stable or increase in future.’
  • ‘The decline in the normalised load factor for Danish onshore wind farms is slower but still significant with a fall from a peak of 22% to 18% at age 15.’
  • ‘For offshore wind farms in Denmark the normalised load factor falls from 39% at age 0 to 15% at age 10.’

Hughes says: ‘Analysis of site-specific performance reveals that the average normalised load factor of new UK
onshore wind farms at age 1 (the peak year of operation) declined significantly from 2000 to 2011. In addition, larger wind farms have systematically worse performance than smaller wind farms. Adjusted for age and wind availability the overall performance of wind farms in the UK has deteriorated markedly since the beginning of the century.’

Hughes elaborates on the size issue in saying: ‘Not only are recent plants less efficient than the average for the whole period, but the plants which are below-average in efficiency are typically larger than the more efficient ones and account for a disproportionate share of the recent additions to generating capacity.’

He concludes that:

  • his findings indicate that wind generation policy in the UK is providing an ‘extremely generous’ subsidy regime if investment in new wind farms is profitable ‘despite the decline in performance due to age and over time’;
  • meeting the UK Government’s targets [Ed: and the even more ambitious targets of the Scottish government] for wind generation ‘will require a much higher level of wind capacity – and, thus, capital investment – than current projections imply’;
  • ‘the structure of contracts offered to wind generators under the proposed reform of the electricity market should be modified since few wind farms will operate for more than 12–15 years’.

Key paragraphs we see as germane to the policy failures identified in Hughes work are:

‘…80% of the discounted cumulative output of a new wind plant is likely to be produced in the first 10 years of its life and 90% in the first 14 years. This is consistent with the structure of Danish subsidies for onshore wind farms which extend over a typical period of 12.5 years. Since sites for wind farms are scarce and involve the payment of significant rents that may be linked to output, it is very unlikely that any new installation of wind turbines will have an expected life of more than 15 years. Instead, as has happened in the past, wind operators will have a strong incentive to decommission plants after no more than 15 years and replace the turbines with newer equipment.

‘As a consequence, any economic assessment of wind generation should not be based on an expected life which is longer than 15 years. In recent work reported in evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change I assumed that wind plants would have a residual value equal to 20% of their initial cost in real terms at the end of 15 years. The analysis in this paper suggests that this is too favourable an assumption. Given the costs of decommissioning old turbines the residual value is likely to be well below 10% of their initial cost and the decision point may be at 10 rather than 15 years.

‘The corollary of this observation is that it makes little sense to offer long term contracts for 20 years or more that guarantee prices or feed-in tariffs (FiTs) to wind operators. A contract length of 10 to 12 years would be sufficient to remove most of the market risk associated with investment in wind generation. In this respect the subsidy arrangements implemented in Denmark are better designed.

‘At the same time, the offer of subsidies and/or guaranteed prices may have serious adverse consequences for the efficiency of wind generation. Returning to the unit fixed effects measuring the performance of wind plants commissioned after 2005, only 28 out of 159 units have an operating performance that exceeds the average for the period. Those 28 units account for 360 MW of capacity whereas the remaining 131 units account for 2,810 MW of capacity. Not only are recent plants less efficient than the average for the whole period, but the plants which are below-average in efficiency are typically larger than the more efficient ones and account for a disproportionate share of the recent additions to generating capacity.’

In summary…

Hughes says:

‘Whatever the reasons, the deterioration in initial performance means that the expected returns from the expansion in wind capacity, both for investors and in terms of the reduction in CO2 emissions, have been falling without a concomitant decrease in the private and social costs that are borne by customers and the general public. Clearly this is unsatisfactory at best and it suggests that the benefits claimed for current policies cannot be taken at face value.’

We recommend reading the full text of these papers – accessed as downloadable pdfs here:

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67 Responses to Senior academic raises serious questions about wind power – job creation, cost, performance and policy

  1. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Thank you for reproducing this definitive demolition of the case for these wind farms which shows without the shadow of a doubt how they are a mechanism almost expressly designed to impoverish the country and all its inhabitants, quite apart from ruining the landscape environment, while contributing little if anything to the reduction of CO2 emissions, in fact for much of the time will increase them.

    How on earth can we get government to recognise this before irreparable economic and environmental damage is done?

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  2. Indeed, thanks Newsroom for this piece. During my first skim read through I read ‘unhinged’ instead of ‘unhedged’!

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  3. Newsroom – you have surpassed yourself in your ability to assess important documents and convert then into very readable and understandable synopses – many thanks.

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  4. We have now added all three of Professor Hughes papers as downloadable pdfs at the foot of this article. We had intended to do this last night but one of them refused to load – and we didn’t want to publish the sequence incomplete. [Problem now solved.]

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  5. Newsroom – Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation is without a shadow of doubt a climate-change-sceptic organisation, so why claim that “It is important to note that none of these specific research pieces were published by climate change deniers…” when two of them most certainly were?

    The third paper is published by the so-called Renewable Energy Foundation, which is, whatever the complex web of motivations underlying its position may be, very definitely an anti-windpower lobbying organisation.

    What is more notable is that not one of these, or indeed any of the other oft-quoted anti-windpower ‘papers’ seems to have been published in a respected and peer-reviewed scientific or engineering journal. Does that not strike you as significant?

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    • And what can you say about the Renewable Energy Foundation? Take your time. There’s no hurry.
      Professor Hughes declares at least one of the articles to have been peer reviewed – for what that’s worth anyway.
      Such peers can be either mates or out to score over an academic rival. Too much of such reviewing is little more than in-crowd bitching, something the academic world delivers in large measure.
      Today the best reviewing comes from being available to a wide spectrum of audiences bringing to bear a range of expertise upon an argument.
      So get on with that.
      It would better behove you – and anyone – to address the evidence rather than, for lack of heft, to play the man or the publisher.
      Wind is not only fashionable but tied to a political agenda in Scotland which has made it a sort of shibboleth. Too many feel that if they admit to concerns or to the existence of serious evidences giving rise to concerns on the current wind policy, they will look as if they have ‘deserted’ a political camp.
      This is dangerously anti-reason and an equally damaging politicisation of the principles of knowledge and argument.
      No intelligent and open minded person should fear evidence.
      The challenge is purely to make the best possible decisions in the interests of a nation – and that includes the interests of its economy, its environment and the protection of its consumers from exploitation.
      If you cannot, on counter evidence and on analysis, dispute the evidenced positions arrived at by Professor Hughes, you would be advised not to try to dismiss patently serious argument by a reduction to crude smearing attempts.
      Test the evidence. Take it on in the economics.
      We have no vested interest in winners or losers on this nor do we see it in this light. We are interested only in serious reasoned debate on a major issue where there is substantial evidence that the country is on the wrong course. This is an issue in which Professor Hughes has properly engaged and you have not.
      We have given access to the three Hughes papers, so the primary source material is at your easy disposal.

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      • Newsroom – phew! Wot a scorcher!

        After all that, I’m confused. Are you still saying the GWPF and REF are unbiased? That’s all I was really asking after all… I didn’t say anything about Prof Hughes, nor about his papers (the most recent of which I have yet to read).

        I don’t think I played the man, but it appears that you might have…

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  6. An excellent article which deserves wider distribution. We electricity consumers are undoubtedly being ripped off (scammed) by the wind industry who see Scotland as a huge financial trough from which they can feed. These cretins are not in the slightest bit interested in “saving the planet” – they are only interested in making money and filling their coffers are our expense. It is not only Prof Hughes who casts doubt on the ability of wind turbines to reduce CO2 – there are numerous engineer conducted surveys which confirm his assessment that turbines DO NOT have any significant impact on CO2 from the electricity generation industry.

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  7. I believe it was Ed Milliband who said that opposing wind energy is like opposing seat belts (or something to that effect) so there isn’t much hope of the Labour Party waking up and smelling the roses.
    I believe the problem is that the power of policy makers has become controlled by lobbyists from major energy industries and no amount of evidence is going to sway the politicians away from thelobbyists greed for money and profits until it is too late and, as with the banks, we will all have to pay for it along with the extra costs of rectifying the consequences.

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    • I believe the problem started with all international politicians wanting to be seen on the world stage as ‘ saving the planet’ – except the US of A – the only country to have actually decreased substantially their CO2 output whilst not being part of the Kyoto treaty.
      It was a Liberal policy so Westminster had to go along. However since then Salmond and the SNP have nailed their flag to the ridiculous idea that renewables would save the world and Salmond would be be seen as a ‘ GOD’. Reality is about to hit home and the SNP are going to rue the day they sacrificed the beauty that has made Scotland so famous throughout the rest of the world for egoistic personal and political gain

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  8. Newsroom, good article with one reservation – “denier” has extreme pejorative connotations wrt the holocaust and use of the word in this context is generally a deliberate ad hominem ploy. It has no place in rational debate about a set of hugely complex scientific, technological and economic interactions. Its use usually says more about the closed mind of the user than it does about the sceptic it is directed towards.

    I agree fully with your comments regarding publication and academic debate. Peer reviewed print journals are old technology, too slow to publish (as much as two years from first submission) and all too often prone to mutual back scratching within cliques of “anonymous” reviewers. Many academics see direct online publishing as the way forward. Gordon Hughes has put his findings in the public domain to a hugely greater degree than was possible ten years ago, he claims that they are academically rigorous and if anyone cares to tackle the veracity of his data or of his assessment then it’s up to them to do so. All the power of the interweb is there.

    As for the GWPF, it asks difficult questions. Its chairman is, of course, Nigel Lawson, and to anyone who glibly dismisses their views as being those of ignorant deniers, I would ask for a detailed critique of Lawson’s well argued and thought provoking book on the subject (not all of which I necessarily agree with).

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    • Willingly admit to having loosely picked up the phrase ‘climate change denier’ from popular usage and, now that you have described its reverberations it will be – rightly – impossible to use it again. And thank you.
      Being a sceptic is a respectable default position on anything, so there’s a crucial difference between a ‘sceptic’ and someone who refuses to accept a demonstrable phenomenon [it takes longer not to say the word].
      Clearly some head scratching to be done to find an alternative.

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  9. Newsroom – what a day – 54 positive thumbs up after only four posts – 1 thumbs down. At the last count 89 thumbs up. If only this could represent a Scottish wide poll – well maybe it does !!!!
    I have forwarded your excellent piece to those who are in the process of forming a Scottish wide group opposing the proliferation of wind farms. The new group – new name – new committee – will be announced in the next few days. It will be a follow on to CATS which was well meaning and productive but lacked a heavy punch.

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  10. It’s since the SNP came to power that Scotland has received international accolades from CCN and National Geographical and many more.

    Im sure there were Luddite academics who thundered against the motor car and dark satanic mills in their day. Who was right given the changes these innovations introduced?

    The greater threat to the astounding beauty we enjoy is the dire state of uncared for buildings and new buildings with no architectural merit which
    detract so much from our towns and villages. The built environment should lift the spirit and enhance the landscape.

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    • SNP come across more and more as glory hunters, seeking approval from those that matter least, rather than from the people they serve. (It’s at this point I will get the ‘We won the election’ piece, but we’ve discussed this before – it’s hardly unanimous approval of the SNP.)
      Nonetheless, it’s an interesting point about new buildings with no architectural merit, if fairly irrelevant to the damage wind turbines are doing. Sainsbury applied recently to build a store in Gourock, in an area marked to be a conservation area. Despite being refused for various reasons, one of which being the new building was not in keeping with local architecture, when referred to the Scottish Government, it was overturned. Now we are having some steel and glass affair right in the middle of a street that has most of it’s buildings dating to before 1900. All credit to the SNP Government ignoring the will of the local people.
      It’s one example of many.

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  11. The devastating costs, to us, of wind turbines is even worse than what I expected. The wind industry (or racket) really does intend to pick our pockets clean.

    Only one faint glimmer amongst the gloomy predictions – these hideous machines are expected to fall down much sooner than we have been led to expect. So at least we can look forward to the day when these plukes will be removed from the face of Scotland.

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  12. Can anyone envisage a situation where the UK government would entertain a proposal from Ireland that massive Irish windfarms would be built in the UK with significant adverse impact on British landscape and unknown impact on wildlife, to help Ireland meet its targets for renewable energy.? NO ? This in reverse, is the scenario a handful of rapacious Irish developers are attempting to promote at EU and British /Irish Council level. Speculation and inadequate regulation still flourish in Ireland. No other country in the world would permit such a scenario . However speculation and inadebWake up Irish Government! Ireland got its independence from UK over 70 years ago.

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  13. Uppermost in the minds of the political executive should be the term “opportunity cost”, Economics 101 as the First Minister, a former practising economist himself, should be well aware. Professor Hughes has highlighted this, though it should never be necessary.
    About ten to fifteen years ago, during my frequent debates/fights with engineering colleagues regarding the benefits of building a new nuclear power station to replace Hunterston, I repeatedly threw in the challenge – Why not build a HVDC interconnector to Iceland where there are TRULY viable, reliable and economic hydro and geothermal energy opportunities.
    I came up with a figure, back then, of, conservatively, about £1 billion to carry power equal to the original 1.5 GW generating capacity of Hunterston B. Today, a 1.4 GW connector is about to be laid between Blyth and Norway, cost about £1 billion. Scotland – Iceland? Twice the distance and in very much deeper water: certainly well under £5 billion, with a very recent estimate putting it as low as £1.6 billion.
    Obviously there would be generating plant costs on top of that but, by contrast, 1.5 GW of new nuclear would cost somewhere in the region of £10 billion.
    So … what is the opportunity cost, in a national sense, of (negative true rate of return) investment wind? Or the opportunity cost of (arguably worse rate of return) investment in new nuclear and its associated unknowns and risks?
    What, in fact, is the opportunity cost of refusing simply to burn gas in efficient, cheap, combined-cycle generating plant?
    One thing is for sure: Hunterston B’s days are, literally, numbered. With that comes a day of reckoning for Scotland. And it’s already in the calendar.

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  14. Couldn’t agree more with Peter McKenzie in his assessment that nuclear energy is the wrong way to go.

    It’s expesnsive to build, it suffers from outage after outage, it’s horrendously expesnive to decomission or decontaminate if you prefer, and when it goes wrong as ity does, the environmental consequences are horrendous.

    No surprise then that there is a rush towards green energy of which wind is only but a part.

    The seas will likely produce robust and cost effective power since the tides come and go twice a day aside of wave energy being available as well.

    This is a technology that was held back many years ago by the UK government, the nuclear lobby and the atomic weapons lobby.

    Thirty years ago, Professor Salter of Edinburgh University was envangelical about developing the potential of recovering power from the treasure trove of the kinetic energy sloshing about in the sea.

    His plans however were undermined and now 30 years later we are playing catch up, when we could have been years ahead so long ago.

    A union dividend. Ah well, I don’t think so.

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    • Salter’s ducks never hatched because the engineering and materials of the day could not produce them in a durable form for a viable price. Pelamis seems to be getting somewhere, but progress is slow.

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      • Beg to differ re Salter being held back by engineering or materials limitations. The major limitation is a practical one, it still persists and it applies to all wave energy systems and that is the ability to withstand storm force seas in locations specifically chosen to have large waves, and still to be viable economically. The technology and the materials are there, it’s the economics that hurts.

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  15. Well ! Well ! Well ! Whats it all been about – all these billions to save the planet because the atmosphere was supposedly warming at an alarming rate – all those dammed wind farms blighting the countryside.
    According to BBC online news this afternoon the Met Office has updated it’s forecast – ” If the forecast is accurate the result would be that the global average temperature would have remained relatively static for about two decades ” It brings tears to the eyes does it not !

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    • ……………………but:-

      “It says that the average temperature is likely to rise by 0.43 C by 2017 – as opposed to an earlier forecast that suggested a warming of 0.54C.” I don’t think that equates to cooling.

      If it hasn’t been getting warmer how come all the glaciers & ice caps are melting? Natural temperature variation of course. Silly me.

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      • Re ice caps, here’s only one of many examples to the contrary, Journal of Climate, 2011, AD Fraser et al: East Antarctic ice increased by an average of 1.4% per year in a study covering 2000-2008. Plenty of other anomalous observations if you care to look. The use of sweeping generalisations doesn’t improve your case.

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  16. Oh, what a surprise. Newsroom pedalling more denialist (and it is the appropriate word for people who ignore evidence for ideological reasons) claptrap. The “Renewable Energy Foundation” and the “Global Warming Policy Foundation” are both anti-wind denialist lobbying groups.

    The denigration of the internationally accepted peer-review system is entirely in character. This seems appropriate:

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  17. As someone who has published scores of peer-reviewed papers in international scientific and engineering journals, who has acted as reviewer for many of them for decades, and above all, who has been a reader, a consumer of research, I can assure you that you should take nothing for granted. By their very nature, research publications were meant, first and foremost, to invite scepticism and further enquiry, not to be the blunt tools of public policy. And, especially, that applies to all sides of this particular debate.

    But to paraphrase the News of the World, in academia “all of human life is there”, good, bad and ugly, and in the chase for jobs, tenure, promotion, “grant dollars”, patronage, and straightforward filthy lucre, some of it is very ugly indeed. And some of it is just downright inept. Why would you expect it to be otherwise? To argue against a dominant paradigm is difficult, even dangerous (read Thomas Kuhn’s seminal Structure of Scientific Revolutions; I have, cover to mind stretching cover) but as Kuhn shows, it’s an essential component of the research business, otherwise we dig ourselves deeper and deeper into redundant, spent paradigms. Without scepticism, you have no constructive argument.

    With regard to the omniscient purity and excellence of the academic peer review process, you are entitled to hold whatever views you wish but I believe you are being naive or disingenuous or possibly both. I am more comfortable with my scepticism.

    Lawson and the GWPF take the view that climate has always been changing, that AGW may or may not be a significant factor, and that the human race has proven itself to be highly adaptable to huge changes in the past. Above all, and I emphasise this, their economic analyses of the scenarios open to us are interesting, to say the least. That is, to those of us with open, sceptical minds.

    To Arethosemyfeet, as I said before, read Lawson’s book and only then do you have the right to make criticism of it. Yes, it’s hard work, I know, but try to keep up.

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  18. Peter – Our lives today seem full of whingers and whiners – moaners and complainers – he’s wrong – she’s wrong etc. At what point do we accept someone else’s work as being correct and worthwhile so we can make decisions based on it. Even scepticism has to be ‘severe’ or just ‘ ‘mild’. Somebody has to be right, or at least near enough to act on and do no harm. For instance I firmly believe that Professor Gordon Hughes’s papers come into this latter category.

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    • Malcolm, I fully agree with you regarding the Hughes papers. What I am denigrating very firmly is the selective, fundamentalist view of the world of some critics of people like Hughes, that something published in this journal or that must be gospel, whilst something published elesewhere is de facto false, or that peer review somehow assigns a hallmark of absolute truth to data, assessments, theories or whatever.

      I think that in order to be ‘severely’ sceptical, as you put it – I think severely critical might be closer to what you mean, as true scepticism is neutral – you really need to read and understand the work that you’re attacking. Many strongly held views in this regard, on all sides of the debate, and especially among the lazier category of journalist, are based on nothing more than propaganda and press releases.

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  19. Publication in a peer reviewed journal isn’t a guarantee of truth. It is a minimum benchmark that what is published has at least some credibility as reasonable, original science. Generally if a paper has either been rejected by the process or hasn’t been submitted, it is because there are gaping flaws in the methodology. The scientific research supporting climate change isn’t based on one journal or one article, it is based on the preponderance of evidence from several entire scientific disciplines. One paper is rarely sufficient to prove anything. Thousands upon thousands, all pointing in the same direction, are not refuted by the ramblings of elderly politicians.

    I don’t need to read (and worse, give money to) everything written by an ignorant crank in order to know they’re spouting rubbish.

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  20. Thanks for that – however the Public have to rely on the people they believe are the experts to come up with answers. We can’t all start reading technical books so that we can judge those who judge the authors. If 9 out of ten of the good professor’s fellows agree with him, well and good – if 9 out of ten disagree equally good because we would then have little difficulty in coming to our own conclusions. The worse scenario is of course when the experts we listen to are split 50/50.
    However as to the deviousness of some journalistic organisations look no further than the Biased Broadcasting Company and the ’28′. This refers to a meeting the BBC held 6 years ago to decide their policy on Global Warming. There were 28 people present – only 3 having any expertise. The BBC decided from that meeting that they would support the scare that was Global Warming and nothing else. Google ‘BBC 28 Global Warming’ and you will find plenty to read on the matter. They were saved from major headlines by the Jimmy Saville story breaking.

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    • The claim that the BBC has blocked climate change dissenters from getting airtime since 2006 is patent nonsense, Malcolm, and is unfortunately just the latest example of you presenting bigoted bullshit as fact.
      You’ve got every right to argue the case against climate change – but please, please, don’t keep feeding us garbage, you just devalue your own case.

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  21. Robert, Malcolm has a point. “28-gate”, predictably so called, has been bubbling just below the news horizon for several weeks now, not just here but around the world. Malcolm didn’t say that sceptics or dissenters from the BBC line had been blocked, what he was saying does appear to be factually correct: that the BBC has taken a position on climate change, formulated in 2006 by a panel of 28 “experts” on AGW, almost all of whom were, as it turns out, nothing of the sort.

    In classic BBC style, the corporation spent several hundred thousand pounds in legal fees at the end of 2012 in an attempt to block a move by a pensioner to have them reveal, under FOI, the list of panel members. Although the court found for the BBC (journalistic source anonymity would you believe) most embarrassingly for them, the list was already out there, for all time, in an open web archive.

    Judging by scope of responsibilities of the high-level BBC attendees at the 2006 meeting, the findings of the 28 were of relevance well beyond news and current affairs, encompassing drama, education, CBBC, etc., etc.

    All fact, apparently, and you can draw your own conclusions.

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      • Robert, for what it’s worth, my understanding of the BBC story is summarised in my earlier post and based on my reading of news reports and other sources published over the past couple of months. There is no evidence that I’m aware of that the BBC actually block sceptics. However, a matter of considerable interest to me is the extent to which their statutory obligation to provide balanced coverage has been influenced, if at all, by the panel of 28. I suspect we’ll never know the truth on that score.

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    • Malcolm’s link describes as ‘evidence of a conspiracy’ a statement by the Beeb that it had “…come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus”

      That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable position to take, and you could argue that there is no need for a panel composed entirely of climate experts to reach it. A wide mixture of people from many different disciplines are evidently able to recognise a scientific consensus when they see one. Indeed the only howls of outrage about ’28 gate’ are coming from the predictable sources such as anti-wind Telegraph blogger James Delingpole (who this week has received a ‘Sane and Rational Comment of the Month’ award from Private Eye for his gem: “If Jimmy Savile were alive today, he would definitely be heavily into wind farming” :-) )

      The ‘Climate Change Dispatch’ headline says “because the debate is NOT over” – true enough, and it probably never will be. By way of an analogy, there is also plenty of evidence across the web of dissent over Darwin’s theory of evolution, but you do not expect to see a national broadcaster giving equal coverage to Creationists and Evolutionists. That is not to denigrate the Creationist view, sincerely held by some for good reasons, but just that it is a small minority view and thus to give it equal prominence would clearly be unbalanced.

      There will always be those opposed to any scientific paradigm, and I would agree with Peter that this is a vital part of the scientific process and to be encouraged. However, there is an obvious distinction to be made between disagreeing with a consensus view (because you believe you have enough evidence to the contrary) and claiming that the consensus does not exist and that anyone who says so is a ‘biased’ broadcaster. The latter is not a credible position and does far more harm than good to the cause of whoever claims it.

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      • Peter – the price of electricity in Denmark is almost exactly equal to the EU average, and is the 14th most expensive (or 13th cheapest if you prefer) out of 27 countries.

        The reason Danish consumers pay the highest overall electricity tariff (per the graph you have linked to)is because their government levies a very high energy tax on electricity, and also a high VAT rate. Renewable electricity generation is subsidised through a PSO (public service obligation), the cost of which is, as here in the UK, included in the electricity price, not the tax.

        Danish electricity is relatively cheap – certainly a good deal cheaper than the UK (4th most expensive), which is doubtless a reflection of many factors including the high efficiency of its (largely CHP) thermal plant.

        Of course to get a true picture, you would have to factor in the cost of living, average wages etc. but what can be said with some certainty is that the claim that high wind tubine numbers in Denmark gives it the highest electricity prices in Europe is a fallacy.

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        • Regrettably the high cost of renewable energy across Europe, especially Germany, is being transferred from industrial consumers to retail consumers; increasing levels of fuel poverty are the inevitable result. Denmark is an extreme example and most folk would fail to see how you can not make the connection between high installed capacity of wind power and high costs.

          Spain were, until recently, one country which chose a different route by allowing retail consumers to simply not pay the additional costs; the electricity companies were instructed to bear these costs by the Spanish government. They are now owed billions by the Spanish government who can’t afford to pay them back. The last I heard, they were trying to securitise the debt.

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          • What connection ? I can see the connection between high electricity prices in Denmark and an almost punitive energy tax regime, but this has nothing to do with renewable energy subsidies which are funded through a PSO and included in the basic electricity price and not the tax.

            Page 26 of this report from the Danish Energy Regulator which breaks down the cost in more detail should help to clarify, and also shows that the PSO is really quite a small fraction of end-user prices:-


            It is true that the TAX burden on industrial consumers is much less than on domestic consumers but again this is nothing to do with renewable energy.

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          • Well, not sure what more to say. I’ve posted quite a bit of information, some links to EU statistics websites and a report by an energy regulator in support of my point that high energy prices in Denmark are unrelated to high installed capacity of renewables.

            The Der Spiegel article, which is about tax breaks for industrial energy consumers in Germany, is very interesting in itself, but does nothing to alter or disprove what I was saying.

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          • Tim
            Here you will find a report entitled “WIND ENERGY: The Case for Denmark”
            Denmark exports 50% of its generated power at “a probable value of exported subsidies [of] Euro 1bn”. Denmark is regularly caught exporting power to the Nordic hydro schemes at very low prices and buying it back at very high prices. These issues explain why Denmark has the highest price in Europe. I don’t doubt the Danish regulator has produced such a rosey report but these people are the same who have managed to get the EU to recognise an official electric price which is a fraction of the true cost.

            I know not whether Cepos are, in your terms, a predictable source but I doubt anyone would disagree with them. Another useful source is Hugh Sharman’s “Why windpower works for Denmark” published in 2005 by the ICE.

            A great deal of what Denmark did was in support of Vestas. However, since 2006 or so virtually no new windfarm has been built in Denmark. This hasn’t ended happily.

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          • HB – that CEPOS report was responded to by a group called CEESA, who very much disagreed with them, and refuted many of CEPOS’s claims. One of these was the very one we are talking about.


            Page 22/23 (I have posted this link before, in case it looks familiar)

            CEPOS then issued a counter-attack, refuting some of CEESA’s findings. The electricity price issue was not one of them. I assumed from this exchange that CEPOS had accepted they were mistaken on that particular issue.

            I have copies of the four reports, but can’t remember where I found the second pair – doubtless Google will oblige :-)

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          • yes, we’ve been here before. The problem was that none of the electrons are conveniently labelled so you have to rely on common sense ie export graph matches wind o/p graph so …. Seems straightforward?

            There view on employment agrees with Professor Hughes?

            Knowing what I know, CEPOS and Sharman and Hughes make sense, as do Der Spiegel

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    • Bill Jamieson’s got a strong argument (just compare the quality of Borgen / The Killing / The Bridge with that sort of drama on the BBC, let alone the soaps) but I wouldn’t write off Chris Patten just yet, and the current tributes to Alasdair Milne should be a reminder to everyone of the difficulties of maintaining the BBC’s editorial independence – just look at your ‘comment from Andrah’ on Newsnight’s Paul Mason, someone who is clearly to the left of centre but who to my mind is careful not to let that get in the way of excellent, balanced, reporting, and it’s surely better to have a social conscience than not. Your ‘Andrah’ might just be to the right of Genghis Khan, from the general drift of his comment.

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  22. For a lot of people in Scotland fighting wind farm planning applications eg – ‘further 500 wind turbines approve for Scottish Borders in 2013′ and ‘Over 1000 more turbines come to Clydesdale countryside’ – the results of the voting on ForArgylls excellent piece on Professor Gordon Hughes’s papers is extremely heartening. These are votes for the original post before the comments went on to other matters ie cost of electricity in Denmark etc.
    In favour of the Professors views 263 – against 33. Those disagreeing with the Professors views received 15 votes for and 43 against.
    Do these proportions represent the views of everyone living in rural areas across Scotland ?
    Another excellent article in the Telegraph this morning on the Met Office’s cock up on Global Warming.

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    • I’ve been following news reports and comments since the Met Office press release was issued on Christmas Eve. Judging by the growing mood, I think the Met Office jig may well be up. I can’t imagine their political paymasters being impressed, given the great store set by their predictions.

      Best go back to trying to forecast the weather a few days in advance perhaps.

      Wilmut, the Roslin Institute sheep cloner, has a big item in today’s SoS, claiming that Scotland will starve and “the lives of our grandchildren will be threatened” unless we accept windmills.

      I hope he reads the 80-and-rising comments. It would be good to have him take time to rebutt the well placed criticisms of his stance but I won’t hold my breath.

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        • I don’t think he’s an idiot, but in common with Sir Paul Nurse it would be best if he stuck to his area of expertise unless he’s actually going to do original work; uncritical repetition of discredited anti-science isn’t helping anyone, that article is riddled with errors.

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        • Is he an idiot? Just because his views are different from mine? I wouldn’t say that. But I think that having stuck his neck out by proclaiming that we’re going to starve, then, yes, he should be prepared to answer his critics. If his views as stated are well founded, he should have no problem in producing a rebuttal. But are they? I want to know. That’s the thing about discourse and the internet: broadcasting views as news or fact is no longer a one way street.
          But what I do know is that, as a mechanical engineer, I would expect that in the hypothetical event that I had alarmist views on embryology experimentation, then I wouldn’t be taken all that seriously by the biological sciences community, so I certainly don’t rate Wilmut’s opinion over mine in relation to the pros and cons of wind energy. Fair’s fair.

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      • Hmm, its a brave (and perhaps foolish) man that makes public comments linking CO2 emissions and short-term weather events. Of course this is not anti-science as such; the scientific view on anthropogenic climate change is that the frequency of extreme weather events will increase. However, individually such events cannot be meaningfully linked to climate change, so such comments are wide open to criticism.

        And boy does he get both barrels. Indeed, it looks as though the greater act of bravery was to write a pro-renewables article for the Scotsman in the first place. The level of anger in the responses below his piece is pretty shocking – if I were him, I’d be more than a little wary of trying to ‘engage’ with some of these cheerful people, even if he does have questions to answer about his assertions.

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  23. At last – a Government report that confirms everything we have been saying about the cost of Wind Farms – please – please read this :
    PS- this confirms the control the Biased Broadcasting Company and others had over our understanding of Global Warming – propaganda – or what.

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    • Malcolm – the Telegraph article is mainly about a political spat over which party is responsible for setting up contracts which provide above-market returns to investors, at the expense of consumers, which is obviously bad news. Good ringside entertainment, but nothing to do with the price of wind power per se.

      However, the Telegraph does say: “Energy bills have more than doubled since 2004 to more than £1,300 a year per household, largely due to rising gas prices. Bills are set to go up by hundreds of pounds a year under all the Government’s green and fuel poverty policies.”

      The first statement is precise, and as you say, agrees with what we have been saying about the reasons for rising energy prices – well, what some of us have been saying anyway.

      The second statement is vague: “…hundreds of pounds a year…” but does at least hint at the fact that a significant proportion of these ‘green levies’ are not for subsidising renewable energy but for assisting people to make their homes and businesses more energy-efficient in order to reduce both energy demand and fuel poverty.

      The other article is hardly a shocker – it reports that Sir David Attenborough reviewed his initial skepticism about climate change after seeing its effects in the Arctic for himself. I take it you have picked up the notion that he was forced to change his mind by the ‘biased’ BBC from some of the crackpot comments below the article?

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      • “nothing to do with the price of wind power per se”?
        Not quite. No other power generation has its transmission paid for whether or not power is being transmitted. Thank you Mr Miliband.
        You ought to admit how bad it is when its Margaret Hodge getting indignant (again)?

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      • Malcolm – a thumbs-up from me, on the basis that a ‘great politician’ is presumably to be taken as a compliment :-)

        I don’t think I’d make a good politician – being a boringly pragmatic engineer means an absence of the solid convictions needed to survive in that field. My ‘conviction’ that wind power is at least a modest part of the answer to our energy needs is really a bit weak in that regard.

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  24. Wilmut uses the example of his own property being flooded as evidence to support his apocalyptic view, “no wind farms, no food”.
    Perhaps SEPA’s assessment of the detailed facts pertaining to his neighbourhood and its increased flood risk is not scientific enough for Professor Wilmut:
    Being vice chairman of his community council, Wilmut must know this expensive study has been ongoing for some years and that, having identified the causes, SEPA are encouraging landowners along the Eddleston Water to take preventive measures, essentially to put the land and the river back to the way they once were.
    You know, I genuinely have an open mind in the AGW debate, but it’s both annoying and disappointing when I feel that people are deliberately out to deceive me.

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  25. The more we try to maintain our way of life, the worse the energy crisis gets. We waste, we waste and we waste and not for one moment does anyone mention here that we have to begin reducing energy consumption. Renewable energy is a waste of time and effort. Energy reduction is a must. The longer we delay in implementing energy rationing, the closer we get to an unmanageable crisis. What forms of power generation will Scotland have at its disposal when its population doubles to 10 million? and doubles again to 20 million? You don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to understand what’s ahead.

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    • Or how about curbing population growth too. Scotland’s population barely increased throughout the whole of the 20th century, whilst the rest of the world has grown from 1.6 bn to 7 bn, almost all of them, understandably, wanting our standard of living.

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  26. Just to add another slant to the renewables debate, I came across an interesting article in the Permaculture magazine (Winter 2012); “Cashing in on Creation” by Dr. Joanna Boehnert. “Dr. Joanna Boehnert explains why Rio + 20′s Green Economy program to capitalise natural resources won’t work because it is about profit, not ecological solutions.”

    I think she presents her argument very well and has given me a greater understanding of why I feel so angry at the green movement.

    Apologies for not being able to provide a link to the article but if anyone else has read it I’d like to hear their views.

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