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Politicians should stop endorsing an energy source that isn’t particularly clean or secure, and won’t bring down prices.

It conceals the truth. Electricity from wind is not cheap and never will be. The latest auction of rights to build offshore wind farms failed to attract any bids, despite offering higher subsidised prices. That alone indicates that wind is not cheap or getting cheaper.

But the real reason for the lack of interest in the auction is that, for the first time, bidders are not free to walk away from their bids when it suits them. In the past, they could put in low offers, boast about them being cheap, then take the higher market price later. The Government has at last called their bluff, so they are having to admit that electricity prices need to be higher to make wind farms pay.

The cost of subsidising wind is vast. Then add the cost of getting the power from remote wind farms to where people live. And the cost of balancing the grid and backing wind up with gas plants for the times when the wind drops. And the cost of paying wind farms to reduce output on windy days when the grid can’t take it.

If wind power is so cheap, how come energy bills have risen in step with the amount of installed wind power? Says the energy expert John Constable: “We had a huge amount of wind… and it not only did absolutely nothing to protect against the recent gas crisis: it actually made it worse, because the UK’s security of supply now hangs by the single thread of gas, as the sole thermodynamically competent fuel in the system, coal being near absent and nuclear a small fraction.”

And yet the wind industry is complaining that today’s high electricity prices are not high enough, and without more subsidies they will stop building: “The race to the bottom on strike prices incentivised by the current auction process is at odds with the reality of project costs and investment needs, jeopardising deployment targets,” said RenewableUK recently. How does that square with claims it is cheap?

The wind industry’s capital costs were very high before the Ukraine crisis, and now, like everybody else’s, are shooting up still further: the cost of steel, concrete, carbon fibre, copper and all the other ingredients of a wind turbine have risen sharply. Operating costs are rising. Inevitably, the energy generated by wind is expensive.

And, as Constable suggests, wind itself is thermodynamically inferior. Consequently, it takes a huge machine – the building of which requires a lot of energy – to extract a small amount of electricity from randomly fluctuating, low-density wind, which bloweth as and when it listeth. By contrast, in a nuclear plant, it takes a small machine to produce a flood of energy from a dense, “thermodynamically competent” energy source, and on demand.

The man and woman in the street understand this intuitively. Politicians not at all. Here is a simple analogy to help them. Electricity, like coffee, is only any good if you can buy it when you feel like it. If I set up a chain of coffee shops and sell coffee no better than Costa’s, but I make hundreds of excess cups one morning and none at all the next, from a facility that towers hundreds of feet into the sky, ruins views, slaughters birdlife and requires government subsidies, I suspect the customer would prefer Costa. But in our benighted electricity market, you are forced to buy my coffee except on the days when I produce none, when you are allowed to go to Costa – which has put its prices up to compensate for my existence.

So, no, wind power is not cheap or secure. Nor is it clean. The mining of minerals and pouring of concrete that is required for a wind farm have a huge pollution impact and a massive carbon footprint. Voters know wind farms are a futile gesture and they will now punish the Tories accordingly.

By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  energy  telegraph