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Level Playing Field

The first thing I want to say is, ‘Level playing field my ass.’

The UK government recently passed legislation on two related topics, both of them discreetly late at night so as not to cause too much upset.

They made the further development of onshore wind much harder. Onshore wind is now internationally acknowledged as being the cheapest method to produce electricity.

They made the rapid expansion of ‘unconventional onshore oil and gas exploration’ (fracking) through massive tax breaks (subsidy) as easy as possible.

Gas produces the next cheapest form of electricity and is just about arguably, not as bad as coal.

Here’s an argument I’m trying out because obviously the day the Tories won the election anyone with any knowledge of the energy industry knew this was going to happen, so it’s anything but a surprise.

My argument goes like this:


“I’m fine with cutting subsidies to onshore wind as long as we also cut subsidies, or as they are often referred to ‘tax breaks’ or ‘special tax concessions’ to onshore coal, onshore nuclear (who get bowel distressing mega subsidies and we then pay to clean up after they’ve done) and onshore gas.

We should still give subsidies to offshore wind and if people want to, let them build new offshore coal burning power plants, or new offshore nuclear plants, offshore gas plants, sweet, go ahead, here’s the subsidies, knock yourself out.

But I don’t want those ugly, dangerous, out-dated onshore coal plants anywhere near me, I don’t want to see them in the countryside, massive smoke stacks and ugly cooling towers.

They are a barnacle from a bygone age.

I don’t want to see 100 meter tall drilling rigs on fracking sites surrounded by security fences because the companies that run them know the local population hate what they’re doing. But it’s okay because at the same time they are shovelling backhanders at the authorities that allow this debacle to take place.”


That’s my argument, in a fairly chunky nutshell, maybe a coconut shell.

However, even though the current situation is truly depressing, even though the people currently in power are corrupt and cynical beyond human endurance, their knob headed aims are ultimately doomed.

Fracking is a last ditch, short sighted attempt to eek out the final remaining jissom of fossil fuel stupidity.

America has witnessed the downsides and they are sealing fracking wells now as fast as they drilled them. Fracking only makes sense when the cost of gas and oil is unsustainably high so it’s folly on a gargantuan scale.

It’s a temporary stopgap measure to keep a few dunderhead rich blokes rich and the rest of us numpties stumbling about in confusion

Level playing field my ass.

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Reader Comments (12)

Why are they called benfits when received by the needy, expenses when received by MP's, and Subsidies when received by corporations?

It's all our money in the first place, so why a different name for these handouts, depending on who they're going to!

Why do corporations need government handouts anyway, surely it goes against the grain of free enterprise that the Tories are so keen to push the NHS into.

Emerging technologies in the field of alternatives, those alternatives that need to be ready for when the oil and gas reserves are depleted, arguably need a little help, whilst the fossil burning needs to be laid quietly to rest, not the other way round.

June 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeteUK

Sadly we are going the same way down here in Oz. Our *ahem* Esteemed Leader, Tony Abbott, believes Wind Farms are noisy, ugly and pose "...possible health risks..." and so plans to limit their number.

Meanwhile, coal is "...Good for Humanity..." and receives enormous government subsidies! They are trying to build a massive sea port on the Great Barrier Reef to export millions of tonnes of coal to the Chinese, Indians, and anyone else who wants to buy the stuff.

I don't want to live here any more.

June 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJasonS

Couldn't agree more with the sentiments of this post. It is absolute folly to continue with dangerous fossil fuel extraction...we have the chance to provide clean energy (oppourtunity for jobs as well) by expanding our renewables capacity. Ok, some folks don't like onshore wind (I like wind turbines personally) but there is so much more we could do with offshore wind, micro and macro solar generation, tidal etc. Dangerous fracking and expensive nuke stations (with resultant radioactive waste hanging round for ages) are not the way to go!

June 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike Lee

here´s the articel that i asked you if you had seen it about the swedish house that only use sunpower and hydrogen to power his house.

Yes it is in swedish BUT if you use google chrome, the browser can translate it to english or whatever laguage you want to read it in :-p just rightclick in the text and select translate. i have read it with translation and it is almost good, only a few mistakes in the translation. Happy reading :)

Twitter is just too limiting for a reasoned discussion.

The POTUS is a complete wanker. It's not necessarily his wanting to push the US towards cleaner energy generation, but his wanton disregard of the US Constitution and how government here is supposed to work. The legislative branch of the federal government (the House of Representatives and the Senate) are the bodies that draft the laws of the US. The president can veto any laws he doesn't like and those vetoes can be overridden by a 67% vote of the legislative branch. Checks and Balance. What the president is not allowed to do is create laws. As part of the Executive branch of government, his duties are to enforce the laws. Director Obama has been using a loophole called an Executive Order to get his way when he knows that he doesn't have a chance of getting what he wants through proper channels and procedures. The Executive Order is only supposed to be used in exceptional circumstances, such as a national emergency, where the safety of the country will pivot on an immediate decision. Congress is supposed to uphold or curtail the EO at a later date. Presidents from at least as far back as Reagan have been abusing EO's more and more. B. Obama is the worst to date. He doesn't lead, he bullies.

Electric companies have been getting the short end of the stick here in California for many years. Laws were passed to deregulate the power industry in the state when they, in fact, switched the regulations around to benefit a few companies such as Enron. Existing companies had to decide whether they would generate or distribute electricity, but they couldn't do both, with nuclear plants as an exception. In the mean time, "middleman" companies made long term fixed priced contracts with the generating firms and resold the electricity on short term contracts to the distributors. The distribution companies must still apply with the California Public Utilities Commission and hold hearings regarding any change in their pricing to customers. The middleman can change their rates on an hourly basis which they do when there is high demand. This forces the distributors to either buy electricity for more money than they can sell it on for or choose not to purchase the power and institute rolling blackouts. Either choice is not in the best interest of the public, but it's sure grand for those middleman. Is doesn't take much detective work to find out who lobbied for the new laws.

The companies that generate electricity are now getting their turn in the crosshairs. Due to a screw up by Mitsubishi, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was shut down. The problem was with a refurbished turbine on the "cold" side of the plant. It worked fine up to about 80% of the nameplate rating, but the regulatory agency would only certify the plant to operate if it worked up to 100% of original design. After years of arguing, name calling and trading lawsuits, Edison decided to cut their losses and cease operations. The rate payers will still be paying for the plant for the remaining couple of decades it was expected to be in operation. They can't just put plywood on the windows and walk away and the decommissioning money (a small charge on monthly bills) will need to be increased to make up for the loss of the asset. Now coal fired plants are in line for special treatment.

In the US, nuclear waste is, by law, the responsibility of the Government. Plant operators pay a waste fee towards that service. It was decided that because proper disposal was so important that it not be handled by a private company that might just take the money, waste and a full bankruptcy leaving the Government holding the bag anyway. An interesting fact about radioactive elements is that the longer it's half-life, the weaker the source. Stuff that's very short-lived is extremely intense for that time. Certain elements such as Iodine and Strontium impact people more due to their chemistry, so not all radioactive sources are equal. Stuff that's radioactive for thousands of years is pretty far down on the intensity scale.

Coal plants

Large coal fired power plants are a very large investment by a company that are expected to operate for 40 years or more. Given the life expectancy, projected sales price of the power they generate and the costs of financing, the plants HAVE to operate for several decades to pay back their capital investment. For the Government, in the person of Director Obama, to unilaterally say that coal plants are to be shut down at a date far sooner than the life expectancy of the asset is reckless meddling in a business sector that has consequences throughout the entire US and, to a certain extent, the world economy.

If you had a company that delivered medical oxygen to people and purchased a delivery van fitted out with everything to be compliant with regulations and after a year were told that at the end of the next year the van wouldn't be legal to drive on the road anymore, would you be happy about it? Of course not and especially so if you have a six year loan. The bank isn't going to care whether you can run the van or not, you still have to keep up with the payments. Now, to stay in business you need to purchase a different vehicle sooner than you had expected and budgeted. Your bank might not be willing to write another loan for the new van on top of the vehicle loan you are still paying on. What do you do? How much do you care what the reason is for not allowing your van on the road anymore? Everybody else with the same van is in the same boat as you are as well, so a larger percentage of businesses are going to take a massive hit all at the same time. On top of everything else, any IM/EX dealer that buys used vans and ships them out of the country is going to be flooded so the price will drop to rock bottom. Dealers are going to see a large call for similar vans, driving prices for those through the roof.

Most US power companies have been investing heavily in new natural gas power plants and at the same time shutting down aging coal plants with poor efficiencies. Clean coal is a joke. There is one plant in the US and it costs so much to operate that it may not be generating much of a return on the investment. Companies expect to make a return on their money better than just sticking it in a passbook savings account or why bother.

Allowing existing coal plants to operate with the emissions standards that were in place when they were built is how things have gone for a number of years. Older plants are considered no longer compliant if a certain amount of reconstruction/repair work is done over a certain time period so companies can't rebuild a large portion of an aging facility instead of building a station that meets the latest emissions standards. This is what I mean by "Timing". Waving your hands and saying that "everybody says that" doesn't make it any less valid of an argument. The electric infrastructure in the developed world has been built up over the last hundred and something years. It's not going to be changed overnight without killing lots of people. I do mean "killing". Massive loss of jobs, blackouts, rioting, demonstrations and civil unrest all wind up with dead people lying on the ground after the tear gas dissipates. Shut down all of the coal fired power plants in a country in one week and see if it doesn't. It's been reported that Japan had many deaths related to the shutting down of all their nuclear plants relating to the loss of electrical power and not the accident site.

The US hasn't had an energy policy in ages. We just get random sound bites and lip service when an election is coming near. Politicians are mostly failed blood sucking lawyers with nearly zero technical knowledge. Letting just one of them dictate major changes to an entire industry is bonkers. Especially something as fundamental as electricity. Our whole way of life is dependent on electricity. There is talk (or "They® say) that governments are trying to eliminate cash. Great, when the power goes out, you won't have any money either.

Renewables have a place, but, Bobby, you've talked with loads of people involved with the electric grid in the UK and know that there still needs to be a consistent and reliable baseline generation method to maintain proper voltage and frequency regulation throughout the system or things break in exciting and flamey ways.

Change is not the problem. Rate of change is. If petrol prices drift up a dollar/gallon over 6 months, it's easier to adapt than when they jump half of that amount in a day. The larger the change, the slower it takes for the change to be relatively transparent. In the US where coal is the major fuel to generate electricity, it's going to take more time to swap it out for something else without severely shocking an already unsteady economy. There isn't anything that can take up the slack that's ready to go. The US is just barely building new generating capacity to meet increased demand.

Now, aren't you glad I didn't send this out in a couple of hundred tweets?

Oh yeah, Elon is a wanker too. How much is the insurance on the Model S compared to your Leaf? In the US, just the insurance on the S is more than the payments on a more modest car. Registration fees are more than property taxes on a comparably priced home. I'm seeing lots of Chevy Volts coming off lease and I'm itching to pick one up. I like the Leaf, but I'd be right on the edge of it's range too much of the time. A solid 125 miles of range (new) would leave enough cushion and allow for a bit of drop off over time. The house I just bought has lots of south facing roof for me to cover in solar panels. Lucky for me really on that. I got the place cheap and how it sits on the lot wasn't a factor.



August 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKen Brown

This is good and quality type. Should visit here often to read more if I’m in the mood. Check out articrugs for sheep hides and take a look at the best price. Best selling price.

November 23, 2015 | Unregistered Commentersheep hides

Brilliant. Deffo wonky playing field.

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Off shore windfarms... they will put me off my swing.

Actually support Aberdeen and Hollyrood on off shore windfarms, especially after being screwed over by a certain passing of wind.

As many would state, wind and solar do not match the on demand culture that we have. Some how somewhere between these two point something has to be done. Battery walls at home, induction charging of cars at sports venues. Should smooth the surges after a dramatic event in soap land or the sudden surge in car charging after the whistle blows.

June 6, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterchris

You always developed an interesting topic! Quality presentation. more

January 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMore


Thanks for the interesting article. I was also very interested to hear of your BBC programme tracing your attempts to introduce renewable energy into your Gloucestershire village although I haven't had a chance to see it yet. I am working with Severn Wye Energy Agency, a not for profit charity promoting energy efficiency and reduction in fuel poverty in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Wales fro both private households and SMEs. From what I read your conclusions were that large scale generation was extremely challenging and you need to utilize storage to make the most of what you do generate. I think it is worth saying, as I am sure you might do in the programme(?), that efficiency and reduction in demand go hand in hand with microgeneration and storage as they give added leverage to the savings and potential of both your home grown energy and the storage capacity that is affordable.

I would really like to get in touch with you to discuss this further if you are willing?

June 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDr Erik Blakeley

Dear Happy Old Man,

Solar powered street lights have already been invented, but there doesn't appear to be conversion technology for existing non-solar ones. After seeing your “Twinning with Las Vegas” TV program, I thought this challenge might excite your electrons. All you need to do is design, build and test a conversion model, then using your panache, contacts and vertigo, market them to… whosoever owns them. I presume that’ll be local and national governments. Good luck if you like the idea.

All the best,

David Sultanti.

P.S. I didn't do much research so if they already exists and testing and implementation in progress, I do apologise.

June 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Sultanti

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