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.

At the time Ofgem put the average bill at £704 for gas and £470 for electricity, a total of £1,174. So six months ago Ofgem's figures showed that support measures for renewable energy accounted for just under two per cent of a total combined bill - not 12 per cent.

Although Farage is referring to support for wind power specifically, it is not easy to identify exactly how much wind power costs, as Ofgem's figures don't separate the figures out. Industry group RenewableUK has estimated that in 2010/11 wind energy added £7.74 to bills - or about 0.7% of a £1174 bill. We haven't checked this calculation and it's worth noting that it comes from a lobby group. But it's still quite a long way from 12 per cent.

It's important to note still that energy bills have gone up since Ofgem released the May figures. Four of the big six energy companies have recently announced bill increases. But figures from SSE, Npower and Scottish Power indicate - very roughly - that the "environmental and social" contribution to the bill, covering everything from support for all renewables to winter fuel payments to the elderly and energy efficiency, rose by about 30 per cent between 2011 and 2012. Although it's not possible to discern how much of this rise is down to wind subsidies, it's not possible to arrive anywhere close to Farage's 12 per cent figure.

Next, Farage continues:

"And you're also paying a further four per cent for your gas..."

This statement comes out of the blue, but in this context, we assume he is attributing rising gas bills to wind subsidies. Ofgem's figures indicate that "environmental and social measures" were adding four per cent to the average gas bill in May.

But instead of blaming wind, Ofgem attributes the four per cent addition to the impact of measures intended to encourage householders to insulate their houses, like the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT).

Indeed, Ofgem states that both the Renewables Obligation and Feed in Tariffs have "no impact on your gas bill".

Interrupting another panelist who was making an - unfortunately slightly feeble - attempt to point out that his figures are flawed, Farage says:

"The other problem we've got with that on our energy of course is that next year six of our biggest coal-fired power stations in this country will be closing down due to another loopy series of European directives..."

The regulation that Farage is presumably referring to is the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) - a pollution control measure aimed at limiting emissions of pollutants harmful to human health, such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and dust particles from power stations.

Owners of the most polluting coal plant can choose either to install equipment to reduce emissions or opt out of the directive. Those that opt out have an allotted number of operating hours until they must shut down. The final deadline for this unabated plant's closure is 2015, however - so even if some plant hasn't used all of its hours by then, it must still close.

Ofgem recently reported that some coal plant may close earlier than expected because it is burning through coal faster than predicted. Ofgem says that 12 gigawatts (GW) of coal and oil-fired capacity will have to shut down by the end of 2013, with one third (4GW) of those closures taking place by 2014.

According to media reports, at least two coal power stations -  Kingsnorth and Didcot - are due to shut in 2013. We haven't been able to find any evidence that any of the others are.

So Farage seems to be rather overstating the numbers of coal power plant closing in 2013. Whether a regulation that seeks to limit emissions harmful to human health really counts as "loopy" we will leave for you to decide.

Lastly, Farage argues:

"...we as a country should exploit shale gas and all the opportunities that has given...that has given American consumers a massive decrease in their energy bills and guaranteed their future energy security, the lights are about to go out in this country because of a total failure of the UK government.

Shale gas has driven the price of gas down in the US - but as we've discussed before, experts doubt whether the same effect can be replicated in Europe. This is not least because it would take about 10 to 20 years for a market to get going in Europe, so it's unlikely that indigenous shale gas would have an impact on energy prices in this country in the short term. Ministers and business seem well aware of this.

Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised by Farage's comments. UKIP is not known for making sensible claims about climate change. UKIP's position statement on climate and energy issues for example ignores 150 years of scientific research, arguing: "the theory of man-made climate change is unproven and implausible". And UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom describes climate change as a "carbon scam" - or in one memorable interjection in the European Parliament as a "scam scam scam".

Although Farage's comments seem ill-conceived, UKIP is less marginal in the UK political scene than it once was. For example, the editor of ConservativeHome, Tim Montgomerie, argues that UKIP is a significant threat to the Conservative party because it because it could stop the Tories gaining a majority - and a few weeks ago, Farage proposed an electoral pact with the Tories. Whether or not this ever happens, we hope that the Tories will never share UKIP's approach to fact-checking. 

UPDATE 22nd Oct 9.30pm: The blog was updated in response to the second comment below

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