United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson is taking lessons from U.S. Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden and has flip-flopped on his stance on energy. The Prime Minister made a pledge to power every home by wind by 2030, working at “gale-force speed” to usher in his “green industrial revolution,” despite previously indicating that wind turbines “couldn’t blow the skin off a rice pudding.” Johnson promised he would make Britain the “Saudi Arabia of green energy.” British environmental campaigner Zion Lights indicates, “Even if we cranked up wind-power provision to the level the Prime Minister proposes (40 gigawatts), this amount would power only about half the homes in Britain—or seven percent of the total national energy demand.” So Britain will be investing a massive amount of money—over £50 billion ($65 billion)—in an energy source that will satisfy less than ten percent of Britain’s energy needs. To meet the goal by 2030 will mean the equivalent of one turbine to be installed every weekday for the next decade.
The U.K. government plans to attract investment from the private sector through a contract auction next spring, which will also include support for onshore wind and solar power projects. “Support” in this case means subsidies. The upcoming auction is expected to secure over £20 billion ($26 billion) of investment and create 12,000 jobs, mainly in the construction sector. The government’s £160 million ($207 million) investment in upgrading the U.K.’s ports to manage the size of new generation mega-turbines will supposedly help to create supply chain hubs in port communities which face economic decline.
Britain currently has 10 gigawatts of offshore wind operating at an average 38 percent capacity factor, and Johnson’s goal would add another 30 gigawatts by 2030. The U.K. is looking to add floating wind projects in the future in addition to the traditional bottom-fixed technology.
The U.K. government is buckling under pressure to produce measures that will show the U.K. is taking its net-zero target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 seriously since it is the host nation for Cop26, which has been postponed by a year because of Covid-19. This United Nations convention and gala is scheduled to be held in Glasgow, Scotland.
Offshore wind turbines are expensive to build, expensive to maintain, polluting to construct and need replacing two or three times as frequently as traditional generating technologies—coal, natural gas or nuclear power. This means consumers have to capitalize new equipment frequently, rather than benefit from the savings associated with sunk costs. Meeting the Prime Minister’s target will increase current offshore wind costs because of the need to build turbines in deeper water with much higher operating costs. And, the hidden costs of integrating high levels of intermittent wind generation into the electricity system such as tying into the electric grid add at least 50 percent to the direct costs of the wind fleet. That means the U.K. will lose investors who might otherwise have funded manufacturing or other businesses with higher than average electricity consumption.
Jobs will also suffer. While some jobs will be created in the U.K. wind industry and many more where wind turbines or their components are made (China), those jobs will not offset the loss of U.K. jobs in businesses that are no longer viable because of higher energy costs, which are expected to increase by 200 percent.
It is estimated that 10.9 percent of U.K. households in 2017 were in energy poverty. A household is said to be fuel poor if it has above-average energy costs, and if paying those costs would push it below the poverty line as far as its remaining income is concerned. Fuel poverty affects the unemployed and those on low incomes and those living in energy-inefficient properties. Given the economic hardships brought on by Covid-19, now would not be the time to bring more hardship upon people, but Boris Johnson, like Joseph Biden, is having problems pushing away from the environmental agenda hoisted upon them by zealots and the pressures from the U.N. Paris accord.
Boris Johnson’s latest decision to push offshore wind will increase energy prices in the U.K. and place more households in energy poverty. His country’s commitment to the Paris climate accord and to the U.N. agenda is resulting in spending on offshore wind while retiring perfectly good traditional generating technologies. It makes little common or economic sense. Both Boris Johnson and Joseph Biden are pushing renewable technologies when the U.S. and U.K. need to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Now is not the time to artificially increase energy prices.