What does REF stand for? Not renewable energy...

Posted by Graham Thompson — 17 May 2013 at 5:08pm - Comments
Poll results on reasons for the rise in energy bills
All rights reserved. Credit: Carbon Brief
Question: What do you think is the main reason for the increases in consumer gas and electricity prices over the last 12 months?

Polling conducted for Carbon Brief shows that the public primarily blame profiteering by energy companies for recent increases in energy bills. Only 7% of those polled blamed ‘green’ taxes, despite a concerted campaign by certain newspapers to persuade them this was the culprit.

This may be connected to another result from the same poll, which found that while 69% of people trust climate scientists on climate change, only 10% trust the newspapers, and this figure only rises to 17% when they were specifically asked about the newspaper they chose to read.

Why is this? Having read today's Daily Mail and Telegraph coverage of a new report by the Renewable Energy Foundation on the government’s energy policies, I’m inclined to think it might be connected to the rather lax standards of journalism applied in this area.

The magical thinking of the anti-science crowd, where the laws of physics can be adapted to fit your political ideology, bears a strong resemblance to <cosmic ordering, which, to quote The Cosmic Ordering Site:

...harnesses the power of positive thinking and the creative energy of our thoughts to manifest whatever we desire. There are no limits, you can ask for anything, a new love or a new house, money or wealth, health or healing... whatever you desire can be yours.

It might seem like a bit of a cheap shot to liken a serious report on energy economics to a ridiculous manufactured superstition. And so I won’t. But I will liken this particular ‘report’ to a ridiculous manufactured superstition, for three reasons. One is that it is in no way serious (see here for details), and the second is that the founding chairman of the organisation which produced it is also the UK’s leading proponent of, you guessed it, cosmic ordering.

The third reason is that, while it’s vital in this sort of debate to play the ball not the man, the ball, such as it is, has been comprehensively played out of the park by Energy Desk, and Carbon Brief. That leaves me nothing to play but the man. I wish I were Pele, but I’m Vinnie Jones, and this is one long late sliding tackle.

John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, has produced these three pages of idle musings which he amusingly refers to as a ‘report’. The Renewable Energy Foundation is "a registered charity promoting sustainable development for the benefit of the public by means of energy conservation and the use of renewable energy", according to their website, which claims to support decarbonising the economy and meeting our renewables targets.

Here are some quotes from Margareta Stanley, REF's spokeswoman, setting the record straight:

We have never been anti wind.

It's unfair to say that we're anti-wind.

We don't lobby.

We have never criticised the renewables sector in the UK.

Confused yet? You will be.

Here are some quotes from the REF’s Director, and author of the new ‘report’, John Constable:

We have consistently argued for offshore wind, among other technologies, to be made more attractive, and for a secure role for the renewables sector. Renewables have much to offer in tackling our energy crisis.

No, sorry, not that one, these ones:

Offshore wind is still more expensive, perhaps four or five times as expensive as conventional energy.

The fact is that renewable energy is still far from competitive with fossil fuels, and nowhere near as economically productive.

Green energy, the current green economy overall, is a costly output of the fossil-fuelled economy.

We shouldn’t mistake the frenzy of deployment for healthy growth.

And finally:

Subsidies, those transfers of wealth from the fossil-fuelled economy, are providing remarkable rates of return for short-term investors, but when these transfers cease, as they will when consumers tell politicians that the prospective or actual reductions in standards of living are unacceptable, the current green growth will evaporate like dew before the rising sun. 

What reductions in standards of living, you might well ask?

Constable (whose ‘report’, incidentally, does not include the word ‘climate') is not merely arguing  ossil fuels are cheaper. He’s claiming a switch to green energy would propel us back into a pre-industrial age, and not in a good way.

The population would begin to step back towards the condition of ‘laborious poverty’ noted by Jevons as characteristic of the pre-coal era.

He demonstrates this by comparing the coal mining and agricultural sectors in Britain in 1851. Apparently, the coal sector produced a lot more energy per head than the agricultural sector. No, I’m not joking. Next time you hear someone accuse environmentalists of scaremongering, remember that. Renewable energy will take living standards back to the ‘pre-coal era’.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change, after dismissing REF’s figures as unrecognisable, described the ‘report’ as:

...a manifesto for locking the British economy into excessive reliance on imported gas from far-flung, unstable parts of the world.

Why would a charity dedicated to "promoting… the use of renewable energy" publish a manifesto for imported gas?

An uncharitable interpretation might be that they were turned from the path of righteousness by the funding they received from the gas industry.

But this would be wrong. The truth is that the REF are, and have always been, anti-wind lobbyists. Even at their launch back in 2004, it was abundantly clear the only issue they actually care about is blocking wind farms.

Everything else, up to and including their name, is just an attempt to construct a veneer of neutrality, in the hope that their fantastical statistics will be presented as impartial research rather than the wildly inaccurate propaganda it is. And some papers seem happy to play along.

Fortunately, their readers don’t trust them.

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