Monday, February 21, 2022

UK: Seizing land to make way for solar farms could worsen ‘deep and troubling’ farming crisis

Campaigners have warned that Britain faces a worsening agricultural crisis if it presses ahead with turning thousands of acres of land into solar farms to meet net zero carbon targets.

An analysis of data from the solar farm industry has shown that developments currently in the planning or pre-planning stage would total 37 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity.

Critics said that if the proposals are given the go-ahead, it could take as much as 150,000 acres of agricultural land out of production at a time when Britain has less farmland in use than at any time since 1945.

The country is already losing 99,000 acres of rural land a year to industrial and other uses.

Net Zero Watch, which monitors the implications of what it fears are expensive and poorly considered climate change policies, said the change will increase Britain’s dependency on food imports.

'Protect the national interest'

Dr John Constable, Net Zero Watch’s director of energy, said: “Farmland is already a renewable energy producer, making food from sunlight. Sacrificing that national asset to produce low quality electrical energy from solar photovoltaic panels is foolish in itself and will have deep and troubling long-term implications for British food security.”

Net Zero Watch said planning guidance should be revised to “protect the national interest” by changing the existing presumption of favour of solar development to one against, forcing developers to prove the case for proposals on their own merits.

The warnings come amid a growing row over plans to build one of the country’s biggest solar farms on agricultural land across a swathe of Lincolnshire and Rutland.

Its backers say that, if approved, the 2,175 acre Mallard Pass solar farm would generate in the region of 350 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy, enough to power 92,000 homes.

But local opposition groups say it will dominate the landscape and cause damage to farming and the environment.

Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton, said: “The Mallard Pass solar plant proposal is utterly inappropriate. By building on quality agricultural land, we will destroy a natural resource in the heart of England’s green and pleasant land.”

Keith Busfield, of the Mallard Pass Action Group, said: “As a country we need to ensure our energy policy dovetails with the nation’s approach to food and agriculture, rather than undermine it.”

Mallard Pass is one of nearly a dozen large solar farms currently at the planning stage, including 2,400 acre Cottam Solar Project on the Nottinghamshire/Lincolnshire border, which would produce 600MW, and a 1,400 acre solar farm near Chelmsford, Essex, which would produce 350MW.

Another is the 2,792 acre Sunnica solar farm on the Suffolk and Cambridgeshire border, aimed at producing 500MW.

MPs and residents living in many of the small villages in the area have criticised proposals by Sunnica to use compulsory purchase orders for land it needs.

Mallard Pass Solar Farm’s developer Windel Energy and Canadian Solar said there was an "urgent need to decarbonise our electricity system” by generating “a significant amount of clean, renewable energy”.

The National Farmers’ Union said solar farms should only be built on lower quality agricultural land, avoiding the most productive and versatile soils.

Stuart Roberts, the NFU’s deputy president, said: “As with any land use projects, we need to strike a balance to ensure we can continue to produce quality, sustainable food for the nation while also delivering on our net zero ambition.”

A government spokesman said it did not recognise the figure of 150,000 acres, adding: “Of those solar projects in the planning pipeline, not all are likely to progress, and not all would be sited on greenfield land.

“Ultimately, the more clean, cheap power we generate at home - like solar - the less dependent Britain will be on expensive gas prices set by global markets.”


Greenie obstruction of copper mining

By Robert Kunzig

The world needs copper. Humans were shaping it into spearpoints as long as 9,500 years ago. But demand really started soaring at the turn of the last century, after we discovered how well copper conducts electricity. Now we need it more than ever: It’s essential to transitioning off fossil fuels and toward renewable sources of electricity. “The shift to a clean energy system is set to drive a huge increase in the requirements” for copper, the International Energy Agency reported last year.

So where should we get the stuff?

Not from Bristol Bay, Alaska, where the long-delayed Pebble Mine is awaiting another decision this year from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The mine and the transportation corridor required to get its copper out to the world would threaten the rich salmon fishery in Bristol Bay and impinge on “one of the United States’ richest and most unique remaining stretches of wilderness,” my colleague Douglas Main wrote a couple of years ago.

Not from Oak Flat, Arizona, where, as Main wrote last year, plans to mine “one of the largest untapped reserves in North America” would create a massive crater on a site sacred to the Apache people.

And not from the proposed Nussir Mine on the northern coast of Norway, according to the environmentalists and Indigenous Sámi fishers and reindeer herders whom Brett Simpson and photographer Andrea Gjestvang met for this week’s story on the controversy. The mine would pump two million tons a year of tailings into the Repparfjord (pictured above). The company says it will use a chemical flocculant to bind the powdery tailings and confine them to a small area on the bottom of the fjord. Independent scientists are unconvinced, to say nothing of the activists (shown below at a protest camp), some of whom were chaining themselves to Nussir’s excavators last summer.

A few years ago, when I was reporting on the circular economy, I visited a plant in western Germany that belong to Aurubis, Europe’s leading copper smelter. That plant has been recycling copper since World War I, when copper was needed for artillery shells. It has gotten very good lately at extracting copper from such unlikely sources as municipal incinerator slag. Copper ends up there when people throw cell phones and other electronics into the trash.

Copper is valuable, and Aurubis is the world’s leading recycler. But two-thirds of its production still comes from mines, mostly in Chile and Peru. “Demand is growing,” deputy plant manager Detlev Laser told me. “You’ll never cover that with recycling.” Aurubis had signed a billion-dollar deal with Nussir to buy ore from the new mine—but after the protests last year the contract was canceled.

The IEA worries that underinvestment in mining—for copper but also for minerals such as lithium and cobalt that are needed to make batteries—could create bottlenecks that would slow the global energy transition. The average electric car requires 117 pounds of copper, it says, more than twice as much as a gasoline-burning one. A giant wind turbine may require more than 30 tons.

“This idea of leaving the metals in the ground doesn’t work,” Nussir CEO Øystein Rushfeldt told Simpson. “Then all of our hopes for handling the climate crisis are obviously lost and gone.”

There are a lot of ways to mine copper badly, in ways that environmentalists, scientists, or people living near the mine will take legitimate exception to (pictured above, Per Jonny Skum inspects an old mine in his district in Norway). What does mining copper well, or at least acceptably, look like? I should know the answer to that question, but I don’t. Maybe there’s a story in that. email


UK: Green energy cannot save us

Cheaper energy benefits the economy at every level. But today’s Government seems unable to look beyond the green groupthink that pervades Whitehall.

Amid the furore surrounding “birthdaycakegate”, “cheeseandwinegate” and “proseccogate”, which could still derail the premiership of Boris Johnson, the risks in Ukraine are looming large and the certainty of a cost of living crisis lies dead ahead. The government must deal with it. To restore trust with the wider public and the new voters who, perhaps for the first time voted Conservative in 2019, Boris Johnson has to show that he is the one with the solutions to the problems Britain is facing.

While inflation is soaring across the board, rising fastest of all is the cost of energy. Energy is an area where the Government has intervened repeatedly to exacerbate this crisis. It would take extreme propaganda to blame free markets and low taxes when we have had extensive state planning, high taxes, subsidies and misleading claims about the costs of renewables. Only by solving the energy crisis can the government’s economic agenda be revived, not least given the state of out pandemic finances.

We have heard this crisis shows we need to move more quickly away from gas (though habitually from people who would have said this whatever else was happening in the world). That may be a solution for decades ahead once technology evolves, but the problem we have is now.

Natural gas is used by the overwhelming majority to heat their homes, and it is the dominant single power source providing electricity to the National Grid. By sharply reducing domestic production and storage way ahead of the marginal reduction in our gas use, we have simply paved the way to increased imports and inadvertently assisted in the financing of Putin’s war machine.

This attitude also displays a certain complacency. Are people facing eye-watering bill increases supposed to wait until we have an economy that isn’t overwhelmingly powered by fossil fuels?

Far from protecting us from price rises, the present obsession with renewables has made the current crisis much worse. If you look at when wind and natural gas are supplying power to the grid, you see that when wind conditions are poor, gas ramps up to make up the difference. This winter, the predictable coincidence of both poor wind conditions and high natural gas prices has caught us out time and again. Wind has offered next-to-no protection. It is neither kind nor responsible politics to leave the most vulnerable the least well-protected.

The determination to push through Net Zero policies without adequate consideration of their implications could do even more damage to the Government than Partygate. Thankfully, there are solutions to our energy woes staring us right in the face. And they’re real, unlike the hysterical conspiracy theories supporters of the government’s ruinously costly energy policies tend to spout.

Oxford energy professor Dieter Helm was commissioned by the Government to do a “Cost of Energy Review”, published in 2017. In it, he attacked successive governments for ignoring the problem of intermittency and creating a complex web of overlapping policy interventions that led to bloated costs. He offered solutions such as the creation of “Equivalent Firm Power” auctions, that would have given renewable generators a strong incentive to invest in back-up and storage.

Helm’s recommendations were shouted down by the industries that had most to lose from their implementation. The proposals would have brought an end to the high prices being charged for network services and forced renewable generators to manage the grid instability that they were responsible for. Regrettably, the Government were unable to recognise these vested interests for what they were, and ignored their own report.

As my colleagues and I made clear in our letter to The Sunday Telegraph, consumers will need urgent relief from spiralling prices. Relief from VAT and from the cost of environmental levies, which now make up close to 25 per cent of electricity bills, will cushion the blow, but we have to deal with the market fundamentals to get bills down for good else face impoverished families and the final closure of remaining high energy intensive industries as production, jobs and the positive tax-take simply relocates abroad.

We must be able to use our own natural gas supplies, which are right under our feet as well as out to sea. Using our own gas will bring investment, jobs, a good helping of taxes and reduce emissions compared to imported gas, which often comes with geopolitical strings attached. To say that we ought not to try because it might not make that much of a difference to prices is utterly defeatist, neglecting the experience of the USA. It’s for businesses to experiment in the marketplace and not for the government to arbitrarily cancel industries and manage prices based on a hunch that may prove to be wrong.

The electricity market must be reformed, unravelling the unnecessary complexity of many layers of intervention, and bringing market forces to bear on prices. It is only by properly incentivising the provision of reliable power that we can hope to meet the changing energy needs of the future at an affordable price while maintaining security of supply.

Historically Conservatives at heart understood these principles well — that cheaper energy benefits the economy at every level. Or we did. But today’s Government seems unable to look beyond the green groupthink that pervades Whitehall. Getting this government back on track is going to require reliable power: we’re a long way from that..


Welfare in the 21st century: Increasing development, reducing inequality, the impact of climate change, and the cost of climate policies



Climate change is real and its impacts are mostly negative, but common portrayals of devastation are unfounded. Scenarios set out under the UN Climate Panel (IPCC) show human welfare will likely increase to 450% of today's welfare over the 21st century. Climate damages will reduce this welfare increase to 434%.

Arguments for devastation typically claim that extreme weather (like droughts, floods, wildfires, and hurricanes) is already worsening because of climate change. This is mostly misleading and inconsistent with the IPCC literature. For instance, the IPCC finds no trend for global hurricane frequency and has low confidence in attribution of changes to human activity, while the US has not seen an increase in landfalling hurricanes since 1900. Global death risk from extreme weather has declined 99% over 100 years and global costs have declined 26% over the last 28 years.

Arguments for devastation typically ignore adaptation, which will reduce vulnerability dramatically. While climate research suggests that fewer but stronger future hurricanes will increase damages, this effect will be countered by richer and more resilient societies. Global cost of hurricanes will likely decline from 0.04% of GDP today to 0.02% in 2100.

Climate-economic research shows that the total cost from untreated climate change is negative but moderate, likely equivalent to a 3.6% reduction in total GDP.

Climate policies also have costs that often vastly outweigh their climate benefits. The Paris Agreement, if fully implemented, will cost $819–$1,890 billion per year in 2030, yet will reduce emissions by just 1% of what is needed to limit average global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Each dollar spent on Paris will likely produce climate benefits worth 11¢.

Long-term impacts of climate policy can cost even more. The IPCC's two best future scenarios are the “sustainable” SSP1 and the “fossil-fuel driven” SSP5. Current climate-focused attitudes suggest we aim for the “sustainable” world, but the higher economic growth in SSP5 actually leads to much greater welfare for humanity. After adjusting for climate damages, SSP5 will on average leave grandchildren of today's poor $48,000 better off every year. It will reduce poverty by 26 million each year until 2050, inequality will be lower, and more than 80 million premature deaths will be avoided.

Using carbon taxes, an optimal realistic climate policy can aggressively reduce emissions and reduce the global temperature increase from 4.1°C in 2100 to 3.75°C. This will cost $18 trillion, but deliver climate benefits worth twice that. The popular 2°C target, in contrast, is unrealistic and would leave the world more than $250 trillion worse off.

The most effective climate policy is increasing investment in green R&D to make future decarbonization much cheaper. This can deliver $11 of climate benefits for each dollar spent.

More effective climate policies can help the world do better. The current climate discourse leads to wasteful climate policies, diverting attention and funds from more effective ways to improve the world.

Previous article in issueNext article in issue
This article will outline how to establish a rational climate policy in the context of many other, competing global issues.

It takes its starting point from the standard climate models as described by the UN Climate Panel, the IPCC, in its latest, fifth assessment (IPCC 2013a) and impact models (IPCC 2014a) along with its special 1.5°C report (IPCC 2018), showing that climate change is real and man-made, and CO₂ and other greenhouse gasses lead to higher global temperatures, which on average cause a net detriment to humanity.

Global warming1 has become a top priority across the world with almost every nation committing to a target of limiting global temperature rise at or just above 1.5°C. This is partly because climate impacts have been presented repeatedly as catastrophic, leading many people to believe that unmitigated climate change is likely to lead to devastated lives, collapsing societies, and even human extinction.

These claims of devastation are almost entirely unwarranted and can lead to wasteful climate policies in which resources are allocated and decisions made driven by fear and panic. In order to identify rational climate policies, it is first necessary to address these misplaced concerns about devastating impacts from climate change.

I will do this with data from the most respected sources. Given the divisive nature of the climate debate, my first choice where available will be data from the UN Climate Panel, the IPCC, which is respected by all parties. I will use global data where available and I will mostly use US data when I refer to a specific country, partly because of the much greater availability of long-term data for the US, and partly because of its uniquely highlighted profile in the global climate conversation.




No comments: