Cloud Cuckoo Land

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Cloud Cuckoo Land is a phrase that dates back to Aristophanes ‘play, “The Birds”. Various literary references to it have followed, and nowadays, as Wikipedia tells us with an explanation which is perfect for present purposes:

Cloud cuckoo land is a state of absurdly, over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state of mind where everything appears to be perfect. Someone who is said to „live in cloud cuckoo land “is a person who thinks that things that are completely impossible might happen, rather than understanding how things really are. It also hints that the person referred to is naive, unaware of realities or deranged in holding such an optimistic belief.

Which brings us to the news this morning of the Labour Party’s latest “green” policy initiative, reported on the BBC website as “Labour conference: Sir Keir Starmer backs net zero electricity to boost growth” and on the Observer website (which claims details of the plan were announced exclusively to it) as “Keir Starmer unveils green growth plan to counter Liz Truss’s tax cuts: Labour pledges a revolution in green energy to ‘boost jobs and slash emissions’”.

It would have been nice to go straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and find the detail behind this announcement at, oh I don’t know, how about the Labour Party website? Unfortunately, when I found my way to the Policy Development Section I was met with the following message:

The Labour Policy Forum website is currently undergoing essential maintenance and will have limited functionality for a while. You will still be able to read NPF documents and others’ submissions and see updates in our news feed. However, unfortunately while the maintenance is underway it will not be possible to log in, make submissions or comment on others’ submissions. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and will aim to have full functionality restored as soon as we can.

Those last few words („We apologise for any inconvenience caused and will aim to have full functionality restored as soon as we can„) are a rather nice description of how Labour’s plans will leave the UK’s national energy system by the time they’re finished with it.

Unable to read the detail of this bold new vote-losing policy-initiative on the Labour Party website, I’m left cobbling it together from the BBC and Observer reports.

The first and most obvious point is that Labour claims that these new policy initiatives will be in place by 2030. Given that the last general election took place on 12th December 2019, then there is the distinct possibility that the next one will occur only in December 2024. If so, that would leave a Labour Government with just the five years that it might expect to enjoy in Government (once the British electorate enjoys the fruits of its policy – blackouts and expensive energy among them) in which to implement these policies by the beginning of 2030. And I mean by the beginning of 2030, since this is how the Observer reports it:

Keir Starmer will pledge to deliver a new era of economic growth and permanently lower energy bills by turning the UK into an independent green “superpower” before 2030, through a massive expansion of wind and solar energy. [My emphasis].

This is to be done by:

Doubling the amount of onshore wind.

Tripling solar power; and

Quadrupling offshore wind power.

The BBC also tells us that Labour will push for more “nuclear, hydrogen, and tidal power”.

Apparently all this will “re-industrialise” “the country to create a zero carbon, self-sufficient electricity system, by the end of this decade.

There we go again – by the end of this decade. Five years from the next general election. Doubling the amount of onshore wind will certainly industrialise what is left of our wild places. Only this morning the Sunday Post reported that Nature Scot is ceasing to object to new wind turbine applications in some areas because they can no longer be described as “wild” due to the proliferation of wind farms that are already in existence.

According to Sir Keir, the plan is “far more ambitious than any green policy advanced by the Tories and the most far-reaching of his leadership so far”. And it would:

release the British people from the mercy of “dictators” such as Russian president Vladimir Putin over energy bills.

It would also, he says, cut hundreds of pounds off annual household energy bills “for good”, create up to half a million UK jobs, and make this country the first to have a zero-emission power system.

Well, if you’re an inhabitant of Cloud Cuckoo Land I dare say that it all sounds rather marvellous. There’s just one problem:

Cloud cuckoo land is a state of absurdly, over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state of mind…

The Observer goes on to tell us, as an illustration of this very point, that:

The idea at its core is to build a self-sufficient power system run entirely by cheap, homegrown renewables and nuclear, by the end of the decade. This, they argue, would also allow the country to become a major energy exporter.

Of course, even if several new nuclear power stations were commissioned on day one of a new Labour Government, they won’t be up and running “before the end of the decade”. And, if the National Grid is to operate without the input of fossil fuels, then we will need nuclear power to provide the despatchable power back-up necessary to ride to the rescue when the wind isn’t blowing, and the sun isn’t shining. We aren’t told what we will do in the dead of winter when the sun barely appears over the horizon (in which case tripling solar power is an exercise in futility) and an anticyclone is settled over western Europe and the UK. The only obvious answer (not that it’s even mentioned) would be giga-battery storage systems. There’s just one problem – the technology doesn’t exist at the necessary scale yet, and there is absolutely no guarantee that it will exist at a reasonable price or at all, and be capable of being installed, by 2030. Even then, batteries saving us from blackouts assume that all this new renewable energy will actually provide us with sufficient surplus energy when the sun is shining, and the wind is blowing to be stored and kept in reserve for those times when neither of those things are happening.

Cloud cuckoo land is a state of absurdly, over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state of mind…

There are so many problems with this fantasy, that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Suffice it to say that quadrupling offshore wind is an absurdly optimistic plan, albeit one that is almost shared by the other occupants of Cloud Cuckoo Land who are currently in power:

As of 2020:

Offshore wind is a success story for the UK. Long term government support has underpinned innovation and investment in the sector, helping to drive down costs while contributing to decarbonisation of the economy. We now have the largest installed offshore wind capacity in the world, with 9.8 gigawatts (GW) installed which will rise to 19.5 GW by mid 2020s.

And:

A pathway to up to 30GW by 2030 provides a level of certainty unmatched by any other European government and means the UK will remain the anchor market for offshore wind.

Given that Sir Keir has (not unreasonably, in my view) criticised the recent “mini-budget” for its own Cloud Cuckoo Land aspects (not that he used those words) it’s interesting that the Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves had already (before this latest policy announcement) committed to “spend an extra £28bn a year on making the UK economy more „green“if it wins power”. That’s £140 billion, before we even begin to look at the costs of the latest fantasy.

The fantasy continues:

„Our plan for clean power by 2030 will save the British people £93bn off their energy bills and break the UK’s vulnerability to Putin and his cronies, “said Sir Keir.

„It will also support our drive for higher growth and rising living standards.“

I would love to believe him, but I don’t. Assumptions about saving money for energy consumers must be based on the assumption that gas prices will never come down again, that coal isn’t cheap, and that renewables energy providers will rush in droves to sign up to real and meaningful CfD contracts (or some variant thereof), as opposed to the one-way options that they currently are, at prices around the recent round at £48 per MwH. Of course, they won’t, and if they do, they will presumably simply not trigger them, choosing (as they do now) to supply at market prices instead. Either Sir Keir doesn’t understand how CfDs work (and as a top lawyer, I would hope that he does) or he intends to ensure that in future they are drafted in a watertight manner, so that once signed up to them, renewable energy companies have no choice other than to deliver at agreed low prices.

Cloud cuckoo land is a state of absurdly, over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state of mind…

The problem is that all this simply represents a game of top trumps. The sad reality is that all parties who hope to be in power, or perhaps to hold the balance of power, after the next general election, are committed to this nonsense to a greater or lesser degree.

Finally (from the Observer report):

Commenting on Labour’s energy plan, Greenpeace UK’s head of politics Rebecca Newsom said: “The only way out of this mess is a moonshot mission to roll out a renewables-based energy system that can lower bills, cut emissions, create jobs and break our dependence on gas markets and fossil fuel autocrats.

Labour seems to have understood that the Conservatives don’t.”

As I said:

Cloud cuckoo land is a state of absurdly, over-optimistic fantasy or an unrealistically idealistic state of mind…

via Climate Scepticism

September 25, 2022

Cloud Cuckoo Land – Climate Scepticism (cliscep.com)