In the week that the UK's last deep coal mine, a few miles from my house, closes I've noticed the first local solar array springing up on agricultural land.
Also lately we've had the announcements that Eggborough Power is to close, and then that it might not. The closure of Ferrybridge is already slated and drax is to be converted to biomass.
What is biomass? As I understand it, it's mainly willow which is grown on agricultural land. After harvesting it has to be transported, pelletised and dried before being burned. This is called renewable because the CO2 produced by combustion is equivalent to the CO2 absorbed by the willow when it was grown. What about the emissions from drying it?
I may be a bit off the mark on the above but even if I am, look at it this way: The power station is still emitting the same CO2 as it would with coal per MW, let's ignore the extra from the processing of the biomass. If the agricultural land was growing food crops, the same amount of CO2 would be being taken up by those crops as would be taken up by the willow.
So roughly speaking, the same amount of CO2 is being emitted and the same amount is being absorbed whether we're burning coal or wood. The difference is that with renewables there is more pressure on land use so food (And land, and housing) becomes more expensive, and power generation is more expensive too. Where does this money go? The usual beneficieries of renewable energy subsidy: Land owners. Classic transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.
So what about these solar arrays? We're used to seeing these on the roofs of houses etc. These are another means of transferring wealth from electricity users to land owners. Government subsidies aren't claimable by the occupier of the house. Only the land owner. The land owner receives a premium for every KWh of power generated by the panels, that's the robbing from the poor to give to the rich part, and obviously there's some energy cost in manufacturing these things so there are some CO2 emissions but at least they aren't competing with food crops for agricultural land. Until now.
I first saw solar arrays on agricultural land from a train window in Cambrdgeshire. I was flabberghasted. Even by the common standards of renewable energy systems these are absurd. Not only are these competing with food crops (and affordable housing and industrial development) for land, they are preventing any kind of photosynthesis from happening on the land which they overshadow. Even weeds absorb CO2.
We are being charged a fortune to make things worse. Whenever I discuss this with people they say, "Yes, but we have to do something." I hope a passer by with that attitude doesn't pass by if I'm lying on the ground with a broken neck: Oh my God there's a serious situation! I don't know how to help but I have to do something. I'll shake the guy by the shoulders and scream, "Are you ok buddy?" That, at best, is the mentality of renewable energy subsidies. That's if you assume they are well meaning.