Why UK Electricity Prices Are so High
by Enza Ferreri, Editor
Why do Britons pay much higher electricity prices than before?
Because, by government decision, as consumers they have to subsidize low-carbon methods of energy generation, in particular wind farms.
There are 4 words that best describe wind turbines for energy production: inefficient, unreliable, very expensive.
Wind power is the most costly form of electricity generation.
Many British households, no less than 1 in 4, are already suffering from a newly-labelled condition, "fuel poverty", in which energy bills expenditure makes up 10% or more of the household's net income.
We've got to the point when many British people spend an astronomical 10% of their income on utility bills, and some of them say that they face a choice between food and gas: either they eat less or they'll be cold.
During the summer of 2011 great price increases decided by the UK "big six" power companies almost doubled the average household bill from £740 in 2006 to £1,345.
The British government for some time has tried to put the blame for the hike in utility prices on the energy companies that provide consumers with gas and electricity, saying that they did not act competitively with each other but arranged prices they all agreed on.
But now that argument has become difficult to defend. It's become clear that consumers are simply footing the bill for the people in power's desire to be "saviours of the planet", and by blaming the energy suppliers they try to cover up their responsibility.
The moribund Kyoto agreement to cut carbon emissions "to stop global warming", which has not been implemented in any part in the world except Europe, Canada and New Zealand having therefore little hope of "global" impact on the climate but having a potentially enormous economic impact on the countries implementing it, has its staunchest supporter in the European Union.
The EU's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol led in 2001 to a directive establishing that by 2010 the member states had to derive as much as 22.1% , over a fifth, of their electricity consumption from renewable sources.
As a result, in the UK Tony Blair's Labour government introduced in 2002 the Renewable Obligations Order. This system obliges companies supplying electricity to purchase an annually increasing proportion of their electricity from so-called green or renewable (non-fossil) sources. This means they have to pay inflated prices, which they pass on to their customers through their electricity bills.
Blair announced in May 2002 plans to meet Britain's Kyoto and EU targets, and in March 2003 the government published an Energy White Paper on the UK's future energy strategy. In its Section 4.7 it says explicitly:
"We have introduced a Renewables Obligation for England and Wales in April 2002. This will incentivise generators to supply progressively higher levels of renewable energy over time. The cost is met through higher prices to consumers. By 2010, it is estimated that this support and Climate Change Levy (CCL) exemption will be worth around £1 billion a year to the UK renewables industry". [Emphasis added]
The same White Paper estimated that meeting the carbon reduction targets would increase household energy bills by up to 15%.
"The renewables are very expensive, and in particular the offshore wind farms on which both the previous and this government are so keen are the most costly of all fuel sources."
The reason for this is that the renewables are very expensive, and in particular the offshore wind farms on which both the previous and this government are so keen are the most costly of all fuel sources.
Many different problems add to the bill. Wind is not predictable, which means that all wind farms must have a backup in the form of another source of energy.
Not many people like to have wind turbines disfiguring the countryside where they live, so the offshore solution is preferred but it's also more expensive, not least due to the great costs of transferring the energy to the places where it's needed - whereas traditional electricity power stations were located in the middle of the country for easier access to homes and businesses.
The pipes transporting the energy from the offshore wind farms to the various towns and cities stand on great pylons, eye sores that are usually not welcome by local residents, who - particularly those who live in areas designated as of outstanding natural beauty - have demonstrated against them. The alternative solution, having the pipes underground, is, you probably guessed it, very expensive.
That something done in the name of the environnment can be such a blot on the landscape - and seascape - is deeply ironic, not to mention the disturbance that all this causes to the wildlife. Birds in particular are killed in great numbers by wind turbines.
The government has embarked on a grand crusade to meet targets for carbon emission reductions set by the EU for 2020. Now the UK is committed to 30% or more of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
The electricity and gas prices will go up even more if this plan goes on.
Manufacturers have also warned that renewable energy subsidies and "green" taxes may force them to move overseas.
* The photo's giant wind farm at Little Cheyne Court in the Romney Marshes, covering about 1,000 acres of coastal land near Rye with 26 377-foot-high wind turbines, was opposed by each and every elected local authority, including 2 county councils, 2 district councils, 12 parish councils and the local MP, and by Campaign to Protect Rural England, Kent and English Nature and the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). The farm was opposed because its imposing presence visually spoils the landscape and for being close to an internationally important RSPB reserve, since wind turbines are known to kill birds. The UK government issued new rules to permit long-standing planning laws to be overriden to force through the construction of this and many other wind farms against the democratic wishes of local people.
Enza Ferreri is an Italian web editor and journalist living in London since 1984.
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