Cornish pixies

Following my post (Mutual backscratchers) in which I compared the time it took to bring a case involving the theft of £33,000 from the Pater Hall Trust to trial (18 months) and that taken over the investigation of the irregularities in CPGS grants in Pembroke Dock (two and a half years and counting) someone sent me a Western Telegraph press cutting on the Pater Hall case.

It records that, having admitted the offence, the Trust’s honorary treasurer Andrew Johnstone had been given a 15-month suspended jail sentence and ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work.

And that: “He was also subject to a Confiscation Order for £5 under the Proceeds of Crime Act”.

As the mathematicians among you will already have calculated, £33,000 for 150 hours comes in just shy of £220 an hour.

Who says crime doesn’t pay?

In last week’s Any Questions on Radio 4, the panel was asked whether it would prefer to obtain its electricity supply from “a radioactive white elephant or renewable sources.”

Given the way the question was put, it was no surprise that majority came down on the side of renewables.

Of course the sensible answer would be both because, during one of those long, cold, still nights in January when high pressure is in control of our weather, neither solar nor wind would provide enough power to meet our needs.

Indeed there are certain conditions when they would be lucky to provide any power at all.

There is an excellent website (Gridwatch Templar) that tracks the UK’s electricity supply on an hourly basis and as I write (12.30 pm Friday 5 August) it is showing wind providing just 1.01% of our total consumption.

Having visited this site regularly over the past couple of years it seems that the output from our vast fleet of turbines can, depending on weather conditions and the time of day, vary between 0-20% of requirements which perhaps explains why some experts have dubbed wind and solar “unreliables”.

Another thing to remember about wind turbines is that when promoters say “it will power 1,000 homes” or whatever, they are talking about its nameplate capacity and not its output, which, in the UK, turns out to be about 25%.

A bit like saying that my Ford Focus will do a ton when in fact it spends most of its life pottering around country lanes at 25 mph.

The intermittency of wind and solar, together with their privileged access to the National Grid when they are available, requires traditional fossil fuel plants to be kept on standby to cater for any dips in renewable output.

This so called “spinning reserve” means that gas fired plants cannot be run at full capacity i.e. efficiently, with the result that it is difficult to find investors willing to finance their construction.

Only last November the, then, energy secretary Amber Rudd admitted that this loss of efficiency meant that, if new gas-fired power stations were to be built, they would need to be subsidised by the government, or more accurately, electricity consumers.

Perhaps aware of the unreliability of wind and solar the Any Questions panel were enthusiastic about tidal lagoons, one of which is planned for Swansea Bay.

At least the tides are predicable, so one of the disadvantages of wind power is immediately overcome.

Comparison with Pembroke Power Station (PPS) which cost £1 billion – the same as the proposed Swansea tidal scheme – might have a sobering effect.

Total cost is where the similarities end because PPS has a capacity of just over 2,000 mw (say 1,600 mw – to allow for one of its five generating sets to be shut down for maintenance) compared to Swansea Bay’s 320 mw.

In addition, tidal lagoons like Swansea only produce electricity for 14 hours each day reducing its output to 7/12 of its rated capacity, or less than 200 mw averaged over a 24 hour period.

And that 320 mw figure only applies to spring tides and will be considerably less during neaps.

And if you thought Hinkley Point was expensive at £92 pmh (roughly twice the present strike rate) the £168 being asked by the promoters of Swansea Bay will make your eyes water.

Of course, the Swansea Bay lagoon with its recreational potential will be more than a mere power station.

And because of the variation in the tide times around the UK coast the problem of intermittency can be largely overcome by building a series of lagoons in different locations.
But to replace PPS you would need at least eight Swansea bays.

So anyone who believes that tidal lagoons are the answer to the maiden’s prayer probably has fairies at the bottom of their garden.

Judging from the applause there are quite a lot of fairies in Constantine, Cornwall, from where the programme was transmitted.

But by far the loudest clapping followed the suggestion by former Labour cabinet member Lord Hutton and Green MEP Molly Scott Cato that the referendum should be rerun once the exit terms from the EU had been finalised.

This was strange considering Cornwall voted 56:44 for Brexit, though it could simply be a reflection of the sort of unrepresentative, self-selecting sample who attend live broadcasts of Any Questions.

It didn’t seem to occur to either Lord Hutton or Ms Cato that the EU’s penchant for re-running referendums until the people come up with the “right” answer might be one of the reasons some of us question its democratic credentials.

And, having voted for Brexit, we are likely to take a dim view if our own government adopts the same tactics.