Untangling John Hayes on wind power

  • 31 Oct 2012, 13:20
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Shutters Photographic

Comments by Tory energy minister John Hayes have inspired conflicting statements about the government's wind policy in the UK media today. We untangle the mess.

Confusion reigns over the government's attitude to renewable energy targets. The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph are today lauding the "end of the windfarm", just as trade body RenewableUK and the Financial Times have issued positive reports on the industry's prospects.

Hayes praised the renewable industry at trade body RenewableUK's  conference in Glasgow yesterday. But in remarks the minister briefed to the Mail and Telegraph he implied that the government will allow no new onshore windfarms to be proposed, leading to front-page splashes in both papers. So what's going on?

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Is there enough wind to power wind turbines in Shropshire?

  • 30 Oct 2012, 13:30
  • Ros Donald

Roger Kidd

Environment minister Owen Paterson introduced an interesting take on windfarm siting in an interview on Radio 4 this weekend - the angle of the trees. Paterson believes windfarms shouldn't be sited in areas such as his own constituency in Shropshire because there's not enough wind in the county. Is that right? And is it the case that a lack of wind is a reason why people don't like wind turbines?

On BBC Radio 4's  Today programme last Saturday at the end of a segment on ash dieback, Paterson was asked some questions about his views on climate change and wind turbines (starting at 05.50). He said:

"I do not like windfarms in the wrong place. I've been absolutely clear as a local MP where the trees grow vertically because we don't get that much wind I think that's an idiotic place to build windfarms and do significant -  not just environmental, but economic damage."


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The Gulf Stream is defrosting undersea methane: What does it mean for climate change?

  • 25 Oct 2012, 16:30
  • Roz Pidcock

A Nature study released yesterday says that warming of the Gulf Stream in the past 5000 years has triggered the release of methane into the ocean that was once locked up in the seafloor. Since methane is a potent greenhouse gas, we ask how will the release affect global warming. 

Under high pressure and low temperature in the sea bed, methane combines with water to form frozen methane hydrate. Some scientists have raised concern that rising ocean temperatures could thaw hydrates, potentially releasing methane to the atmosphere. Scientists have already found that  ten times more methane  is escaping from melting permafrost in the Arctic than previously thought.

Since methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, around 30 times  more potent than carbon dioxide, researchers fear that methane in large enough quantities in the atmosphere couldaccelerate global warming. This has led some media outlets to talk about gas hydrates as  "the methane time bomb". We have discussed the appropriateness - or otherwise - of this phrase before.

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Meet Peter Lilley, the newest member of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee

  • 25 Oct 2012, 15:00
  • Christian Hunt

Yesterday it was announced that Peter Lilley, Conservative MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, has been appointed to the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.

The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee are tasked with overseeing how the Department of Energy and Climate Change spends government money. It also conducts public inquiries and makes policy recommendations to the Department. As a member of the Committee, Lilley will have influence over what form these recommendations take, and what evidence is considered.

Here are Lilley's on-the-record views on some of the key issues.

Lilley on climate change science

Lilley was one of only 5 MPs who voted against the Climate Change Act of 2008. The parliamentary scrutiny website, The Public Whip, categorises Lilley as 'strongly against' the issue of 'Stopping Climate Change'.

Lilley has called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  "a slightly shaky pillar" for the basis of climate science.

However, he recently  appeared on Newsnight defending the scientific findings of the IPCC. Here, he claimed the IPCC's scientific findings were a better basis for discussion of climate change than new calculations by Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, which he labelled as something "concocted by the BBC in a rather alarmist fashion".

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Confusion from the Telegraph about renewables displacing carbon dioxide north of the border

  • 25 Oct 2012, 12:00
  • Robin Webster and Ros Donald

When the renewables industry publicises a government calculations appearing to show that Scottish renewables displace more than eight million tonnes of carbon dioxide, how should a media organisation react? For the Daily Telegraph, the answer is to lambast the figure as "astonishing" and "incredible" and reference a lower figure - of five million tonnes - from the Renewable Energy Foundation. But actually, the alternative figure the Telegraph cites as being from REF is an estimate of the carbon dioxide displaced only by renewables that receive subsidies - and so lower.

The story starts when trade body  Scottish Renewables put out a  press release claiming that Scottish renewables displaced 8.36 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions last year. The figure - calculated by comparing the  total amount of electricity generated by Scottish renewable projects in 2011 with an estimate of carbon dioxide emissions if the same amount of electricity was  supplied by fossil fuels - was sourced to an answer to a  parliamentary question.


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Wind turbine syndrome: who’s doing the research?

  • 24 Oct 2012, 17:00
  • Ros Donald

Photo: Martin Pettitt

Are people getting sick because they live near wind turbines? Opponents to windfarms have been collecting testimonies alleging that communities near wind developments have been suffering a clutch of symptoms they're calling 'wind turbine syndrome'. But although studies that appear to support these allegations have started appearing in journals, the medical community remains skeptical that the evidence base proves the claims. We've taken a closer look.

Ever since a 64-foot wind turbine was erected just 300 metres from Aileen Jackson's home, family members have experienced ill health and sleepless nights, depression, rocketing blood sugar levels and high blood pressure. So claims skeptic columnist James Delingpole in an article for the Daily Mail. Delingpole thinks the link between the Jackson family's ill-health and the turbine can't be a coincidence. He says:

"[I]n order to believe that, you would have to discount the testimony of the thousands of people just like Aileen around the world who claim their health has been damaged by wind farms."

These testimonies, often collected by anti-wind campaigners, are now being cited in journal articles - mostly opinion pieces - claiming there may indeed be a wind turbine syndrome. There's an opinion piece in the British Medical Journal by sleep medicine practitioners Alun Evans and Chris Hanning, and the August 2011 theme edition of the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society is given over to what it says are the ill-effects of wind turbines on nearby communities. According to these articles, the only suggested cure is to move away from the structures.

Delingpole focuses on one article in particular in his piece:  'Properly Interpreting the Epidemiologic Evidence About the Health Effects of Industrial Wind Turbines on Nearby Residents' by Dr Carl Phillips, an epidemiologist. The piece argues that testimonies from people around the world offer "overwhelming evidence that wind turbines cause serious health problems in nearby residents, usually stress-disorder type diseases, at a nontrivial rate".

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The Mail on Sunday, David Rose and climate misinterpretation: Round two

  • 23 Oct 2012, 16:40
  • Roz Pidcock

Last week was a  big week for skeptics and climate scientists debating the long-standing (but  wrong) claim that global warming has stopped. Just to recap, skeptic journalist David Rose provoked  a huge response following his article in the Mail on Sunday last week, entitled "global warming stopped 16 years ago - and here's the graph to prove it". He suggested that the alleged finding was contained in a Met Office report that had been released under the radar. 

Although the Met Office and a host of scientists, commentators and bloggers criticised Rose's analysis, he published another article in this week's Mail on Sunday  sticking to his original story. Rather than treading more carefully around the scientific data this time, Rose made no acknowledgement of his previous mistakes and even threw a few more erroneous claims in for good measure.

The new article includes a climate Q and A and an invitation for readers to "decide what the real facts are". So we do just that by taking a look at what he says this time round.

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What will it take for the Sunday Times to report its climate and energy polling?

  • 23 Oct 2012, 16:00
  • Ros Donald

Poll results are a boon to journalists - especially if you've commissioned the poll. You have an instant story giving the public's answer to a question you want to ask. So why has the Sunday Times failed for the third time to report the results of its most recent polling questions on the UK energy mix - and what would it take for that to change?

Support for renewables

The Sunday Times's most recent YouGov poll, conducted last Thursday and Friday, indicates that the majority of the UK public wants an increase in wind and solar energy capacity - 55 per cent and 72 per cent respectively - in the UK, and less oil and coal-fired generation. 45 per cent wanted to see oil powered stations deployed less and 43 per cent wanted less coal. Attitudes to gas were more mixed: 36 per cent - the largest group - want to see less gas-powered generation.

The public also appears to favour an increase in the UK's nuclear capacity and seems divided over whether or not the government should support new shale gas exploitation. 32 per cent said the government should go ahead with shale gas, compared to 30 per cent who said it shouldn't. 38 per cent said they don't know.

The results chime with the Guardian's latest UK-wide survey, conducted by polling company ICM. Asked to choose between having a wind turbine or a shale gas well near their home, 67 per cent of respondents favoured a turbine over 11 per cent who support the gas development. Overall, 49 per cent of people said they would support a wind turbine being erected within two miles of their home, with 22 per cent against.

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Nigel Farage’s ugly disgusting windmills don’t cost as much as he thinks they do

  • 22 Oct 2012, 16:00
  • Robin Webster

Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party (UKIP)'s leader, railed against "ugly disgusting ghastly windmills" on BBC Radio 4's 'Any Questions' on Friday night. Everyone's entitled to their opinion of what wind turbines look like, but do his claims about the cost of wind power really add up?

Farage begins:

"Here you've got Cameron saying it's outrageous that [energy] prices are going up, whilst at the same time he more than anybody else has supported this loopy idea that we can cover Britain in ugly disgusting ghastly windmills and that somehow our future energy needs will come from that and that already everyone of you in this room is paying a 12 percent surcharge on your energy bills to subsidise a wind turbine programme that simply won't work...."

(Any Questions - 22 minutes into the programme)

At this point, presenter David Dimbleby points out that some members of the audience are shouting "that's just not true". Farage responds:

"I can assure you Jonathan, 12 per cent is a conservative figure - it may be slightly higher than that..."

Is he right? Let's turn to Ofgem's factsheet " household energy bills explained", released in May. It says the main support measure for renewable energy, the Renewables Obligation, adds £21 to the average household consumer energy bill. Feed in Tariffs - the support measure for microgeneration - add "less than £1" to the bill.

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This week’s top six rebuttals to David Rose’s “warming has stopped” claim

  • 19 Oct 2012, 16:30
  • Roz Pidcock

It's been a busy week for climate skeptics and myth debunkers alike. David Rose's Mail on Sunday  article, in which he rehashed an old and widely discredited claim that "global warming stopped 16 years ago", very quickly went viral. Many  media outlets  worldwide chose to accept Rose's version of events unquestioningly. But science hit back and this week has seen a plethora of rebuttals of Rose's claims, including one  we published  on Monday. Here's our pick of the best of the rest.

Rose's version of events

In his article, Rose presents the graph below, which shows global atmospheric temperature data for 1997 to 2012 compared to the average for this century, and uses it to claim that it is proof that global warming has stopped.

Offending _graph _davidrose _399x 222 (1)

You can read our full explanation of why Rose's claim is unjustified  here. But to summarise, the period in question shows  reduced warming  compared to previous decades. Such periods are not unusual in the historical record, however. Natural variability in earth's climate, due to things like the  El Niňo/La Niňa cycle, also affect global temperature. This means you have to look at the trend over a much longer time period than 16 years. Just looking at land surface temperature also ignores all the other ways we know the planet is warming, like melting ice sheets and absorption of heat  by the oceans.

Six articles explain why different aspects of Rose's article are unfounded:

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