Magazine article The Spectator

A Green Dark Age

Magazine article The Spectator

A Green Dark Age

Article excerpt

The government's new emissions target will despoil the countryside, rob the poor - and enrich landowners like me

'Greener food and greener fuel' is the promise of Ensus, a firm that opened Europe's largest (£250 million) bio-ethanol plant at Wilton on Teesside last year, and has now shut it down for lack of profitable customers. This is actually the second shut-down at the plant - which takes subsidies and turns them into motor fuel - the first being a three-week refit to try to stop the stench bothering the neighbours.

Welcome to the neo-medieval world of Britain's energy policy. It is a world in which Highland glens are buzzing with bulldozers damming streams for miniature hydro plants, in which the Dogger Bank is to be dotted with windmills at Brobdingnagian expense, in which Heathrow is to burn wood trucked in from Surrey, and Yorkshire wheat is being turned into motor fuel. We are going back to using the landscape to generate our energy. Bad news for the landscape.

The industrial revolution, when Britain turned to coal for its energy, not only catapulted us into prosperity (because coal proved cheaper and more reliable than wood, wind, water and horse as a means of turning machines), but saved our landscape too. Forests grew back and rivers returned to their natural beds when their energy was no longer needed. Land that had once grown hay for millions of horses could grow food for human beings instead - or become parks and gardens.

Whether we like it or not, we are now reversing this policy, only with six times the population and a hundred times the energy needs. The government's craven decision this week to placate the green pressure groups by agreeing a unilateral and tough new carbon rationing target of 50 per cent for 2027 - they wanted to water it down, but were frightened of being taken to judicial review by Greenpeace - condemns Britain to ruining yet more of its landscape. Remember that it takes a wind farm the size of Greater London to generate as much electricity as a single coal-fired power station - on a windy day (on other days we will have to do without). Or the felling of a forest twice the size of Cumbria every year.

Yet this ruthless violation of the landscape is not even the most medieval aspect of the government's energy policy. Its financing would embarrass even the Sheriff of Nottingham. Every renewable project, from offshore wind farms to rooftop solar panels to bio-ethanol plants, is paid for by a stealth poll tax levied from everybody's electricity bills called the renewable obligation (RO).

The RO already adds an astonishing £1.1 billion a year to the electricity bills of Britons;

by 2020 it could be £8 billion, or 30 per cent extra. Unlike the poll tax, which was merely not progressive, this tax is highly regressive.

It robs the poor - including those too poor to pay income tax - and hands much of the money to the landed rich in three different ways: higher wheat and wood prices; rents for wind farms; and the iniquitous 'feed-in tariff', by which the person who produces electricity by 'renewable' means is paid three times the market rate. As a landowner myself I refuse to join the feeding frenzy of the last two, but I cannot avoid the first.

Lord Turnbull, the former Cabinet secretary, put it this way in a report for the Global Warming Policy Foundation this week: 'It is astonishing that the Liberals who attach such importance to fairness turn a blind eye to this transfer from poor to rich, running to billions a year. If you live in a council tower block in Lambeth you don't have much opportunity to get your nose into this trough. …

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