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Thursday, March 09, 2006


The BBC's "big debate" on future generation of electricity went out yesterday (Weds) at 9. I turned up to the audience call at 6.30 among a crowd of 180 people. Councillor Naill Walker was there (who will be the subject of tomorrow's sermon). We were ushered into the studio & were ushered into seats at the back of the furthest stand. Oh well. Filming was supposed to start at 7 but Nicol Stephen didn't turn up till 7.30, which will not have made him any friends. Apparently an accident on the M8 had held everybody up which produced some remarks about how a minister who claims Green credentials ought to take the train, underground to Hillhead & walk the last hundred yards & get there on time.

The guests were:

Professor Steven Salter (inventor of the Salter Duck device for harnessing wave power & a renewables supporter).

Brian Wilson (former Labour minister & a man who, for years, stood out strongly for the need to replace our aging reactors back when Tony Bliar was calling nuclear an "unattractive option" - however he is a consultant for both the nuclear & renewables industry & it is only renewables he actually wants to expand.

Nicol Stephen, Lib Dem leader & absolutely opposed to nuclear on essentially ideological grounds.

Mike Farley who works for Babcocks, an engineering firm who make & fix both nuclear & renewable generators & wants more of both.

In the warm up session Prof Salter bemoaned the fact that banks were unwilling to fund his Duck, & government unwilling to fund to the extent he desired which was a taste of things to come. Professor Salter, while an eminent engineer has, in my opinion, allowed his enthusiasm for the neat engineering of his device to miss the fact that it is not & never will be generally economically viable. Bankers who do not engage in subsidy have not missed this fact. The government, with unlimited access to our wallets has no such restraints.

Sally Magnuson, the compere led off with some film & a piece with Quentin Somerville talking from a street in China. She said that the rising price of oil was due to the "rapacious demand" of all these Chinese which he clearly thought a little unfair.

During the debate Brian Wilson's position was actually very pro-renewable criticising opponents for making a grandstand commitment to 40% renewables & then being willing to oppose each individual windfarm. He asked Nicol & the audience in general if they had been around in the 1940s would they not have been up in arms to prevent the hydro systems which now form 87% of our existent renewable capacity. And answer came there none. Professor Salter, who clearly understands the problem, called for the "erratic" nature of renewables to be straightened out to using it to produce methane - a process which would work considerably better & cheaper using the off peak capacity of nuclear. He also waxed warmly on the supposed popularity of Danish windmills without mentioning that they have the world's most expensive electricity. Nicol produced the rather silly point that coal & gas only work at 40% thermal efficiency - this is inherent in the laws of thermodynamics - if Hollyrood thinks they can repeal that they can repeal the law of gravity as well & go flying - the correct measure of efficiency is that wind uses money less efficiently (ie costs more). In reply to green enthusiasm for Portugal having more windmills than us Mr Farley said that this is because the Portuguese government gives windmills more support (i.e. money) & if only our government did the same his company would build more.

Nicol explained that the Lib Dems were opposed to nuclear (Sally mentioned John Thurso) except John who has one in his constituency. The rest are united, I then shouted out that 1/3rd of the Lib Dems supported it (not audible on TV) & he accepted that "there are several people in the party who are for nuclear on scientific & technical grounds". He then went on to admit that "nuclear is the easy solution" & that if we went for it we would never want to go for windmills - again I interjected (again inaudible but he visibly heard it) that easy solutions were generally preferable. It has often been said that Greenery is essentially a modern religion & I think Nicol's remark demonstrates it in his case, & that it is very much a hairshirt, self flagellation type of religion. This is the ultimate reason for opposing nuclear - if it is allowed to work the whole Luddite case will be popularly rejected.

The questions from the audience were varied & quite interesting, there was even one from somebody who only wanted to go nuclear. One person said that Hunterston had been contaminated & I got my 5 seconds on air saying that the radiation level in Aberdeen was about 1/3rd higher than Hunterston & had been since before humans reached Britain.

The last 10 minutes were given over to energy saving with such breakthrough suggestions as forcing shops to switch off their lights at night. In fact no nation has ever reduced energy usage except with economic collapse or worse.

The whole problem with the BBC's notion of debate is how very limited the debatable options are. In choosing guests they decided that the allowed options were to run the gamut from unequivocally pro-renewable (Steven & Nicol) to increased renewable but keeping significant nuclear (Wilson & Farley). This is complete nonsense. To quote Professor Bernardo de La Paz "the greatest thing about a managed democracy is a responsible press, when the managers get to define what is responsible".

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