Back in the day, when we all (?) dutifully believed that the full fury of ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ was upon us, a golden glow arose over the deeply furrowed brows of our Scarborough Borough Councillors and Officers, and, lo, it’s name was “The Dogger Bank Wind-farm”.
Even with the benefit of hindsight, it is difficult to decide whether SBC Leader Councillor Tom Fox and his (then) close ally Councillor Andy Backhouse genuinely embraced that supremely pithy sound-byte “the wind-farm will do for Whitby what oil and gas did for Aberdeen”, or whether they simply chose to ride on a wave of wishful thinking because that is the only sort of thinking they can manage.
As our colleague Richard Ineson has so ably pointed out, SBC’s influence is rapidly shrinking. Many of its former functions have been factored out, shuffled sideways, privatised or otherwise abandoned.
So the prospect of the Dogger Bank development (and that other ‘manna from heaven’ proposal, Sirius/YPL’s plans for mining potash from beneath the North Yorkshire Moors National Park – a subject I will be revisiting soon) offered an irresistible temptation to SBC to make like they had something genuinely worthwhile to offer.
Predictably, the hyperbole gushed like Texas tea.
Equally predictably, it has dried up.
But first let us remind ourselves, courtesy of the Whitby Gazette, of what a bonanza the Dogger Bank project, as presented by SBC, was going to bestow upon Whitby . . .
- “Harbour ‘ideal’ for windfarm support” [published 16th March 2010] – Cllr Peter Popple, the portfolio holder for harbours and land, said the council needed to be in at the start. He said: “It will require a supply chain to support the industry. Whitby is ideally placed and Scarborough Harbour can be utilised”.
In an email to myself and others, dated 18th March 2010, SBC’s (then) Head of Technical Services John Riby told us:
“You should be aware that the SEN focuses on Scarborough and it is they who have put the slant on Scarborough. Undoubtably[sic] Whitby has the greatest potential”.
Right, John. Of course.
- “Jobs hope in windfarm proposals” [published 16th June 2010] – AMBITIOUS plans are being drawn up by Scarborough Council to bring thousands of jobs to the area by playing a significant role in supporting the wind-farm industry. . . .The Dogger Bank and Hornsea schemes are part of a 100 billion strategy announced in January to harvest green energy and create up to 70,000 jobs.
- “Wind-farm project on target to bring jobs” [published 25th September 2010] – SCARBOROUGH could be set for a huge employment boost as plans to build a large off-shore wind-farm on the coast move closer . . . Anders Søe-Jensen, president of Vestas Offshore, which has built a number of wind-farms across Europe, said the proposals would be a real coup for Scarborough . . . He said: “This research underlines the benefits to coastal communities surrounding Scarborough that will come from hosting offshore wind-farms”
- “SCARBOROUGH WINDFARM BOOST” [published on 24 November 2010] . . . Richard Wright, of the Yorkshire and Humber Manufacturing Group, speaking at a business lunch in Scarborough yesterday . . . said Scarborough and Whitby were ideally placed to be part of the supply, repairs, support vessel and port network for the North Sea scheme because they are close to two of the proposed development sites – at Dogger Bank and another which has been named Hornsea . . . Nick Taylor, Scarborough’s inward investment manager, said . . . “Whitby in this particular area is going to be the main beneficiary but we hope Scarborough can be involved as well”.
I am labouring the point here, but you get it already; according to SBC, the Dogger Bank windfarm was going to be the very best thing since John Poulson. Or do I mean HighPoint Rendel?
Fortunately, this barrage of forced optimism did not go unchallenged. WTC Councillor Ian Havelock and WTC Councillor Ken Graham were amongst the first to voice skepticism – bordering on incredulity. They were by no means unsupported . . .
RenewableUK is the info-portal of the British Wind Energy Association. For over two years now, I have been pointing out to anyone who wanted to listen – plus Whitby Town (Parish) Council – that, in the hundreds of press-releases I have received from RenewableUK, the names ‘Whitby’ and ‘Scarborough’ have never once appeared. The name ‘Teesside’ has appeared frequently. It was very clear which way the wind was blowing; to the north.
But SBC was pushing ahead intrepidly:
- “A fantastic opportunity” [published on 3rd February 2011] SCARBOROUGH Borough Council is pushing ahead in its bid to attract millions of pounds of investment into Whitby through the windfarm industry . . .
. . . But Coun Bob Sigsworth said: “The only thing Whitby could be useful for is rapid deployment of staff but it’s not an all weather port. Whitby has no chance of any commerical shipping coming into the town. I’m sad to say it but that’s the situation. Whitby is the third most popular resort in Britain, that is where the money lies. I still say it isn’t going to happen”.
The astonishing thing is that everybody who knows Whitby Harbour is fully aware of its idiosyncracies – a very tough entry in rough weather, even with plenty of water under the keel at high tide – and prone to a strong cross-rip when the tide is in full flood. To make matters worse, the dredging licence has been exploited to the benefit of the yachting fraternity and marina-users, and to the detriment of commercial operators, leaving the Harbour mouth with the extra hazard of a sand-bar that has caught out even the odd unwary local.
The Swing-Bridge is a bottle-neck that sets a non-negotiable limit to the beam of any vessel bound for Endeavour Wharf. Those huge wind-farm service catamarans were never going to be able to come here.
Meanwhile, industry experts were questioning the basic viability of the Dogger Bank proposals; too costly to build and maintain, too uncertain a power source given the vagaries of the wind, too dependent on conventional back-up systems. Even in the aftermath of Fukushima, some pundits still favoured the nuclear option.
In June of last year (2011), I emailed SBC Portfolio Holder and Chair of the Whitby Harbour Board Councillor Mike Cockerill, to draw his attention to an article in WindPower Monthly in which Professor Dieter Helm (New College, Oxford), advisor to the European Energy Commission, was quoted thus:
- “There is a real doubt whether energy customers can afford the £100 billion UK offshore wind would add to their bills.
- “Switching from coal generation to gas generation would only cost £10 billion and still help Britain meet its 2020 carbon emission targets”
Readers will be unsurprised to learn that Mike Cockerill has not bothered to acknowledge my email – much less respond to it. Why was that, Mike? No leg to stand on?
On 2nd July 2011, the Telegraph published an article under the by-line of that fastidious researcher Christopher Booker, entitled “Proof that the Government is tilting at windmills”. It begins:
- “In the week when it was reported that 20 per cent of the EU’s fast-soaring, trillion-euro budget may soon be spent on “fighting climate change”, it was timely that Britain’s energy companies should have met with the Department of Energy and Climate Change to raise one of the best-hidden secrets of our Government’s obsession with wind power”.
- “I’m afraid we are in the hands of very dangerous children, upon whose deranged wishful thinking a large part of our country’s future depends”.
It is well worth a read.
For the past twelve months, SBC has been somewhat muted in its response to that information.
Meanwhile, on 8th May 2012, FOREWIND (a consortium of four leading energy companies) has announced public consultation of its proposals to base all of its Dogger Bank windfarm activities in – guess where – yes, Teesside.
SBC has not commented on how exactly this will “bring thousands of jobs” to our area.
Presumably it will entail the same ‘creative accountancy’ as will deliver the 5,000 SIRIUS potash mining jobs.
One might reasonably ask whether our Councillors and their Officers are quite simply far too gullible – or inconceivably incompetent – or both. Or do they just do as they are told by the Europhiles at Local Government Yorkshire & Humber, where the real decisions are made? (You do know about them, don’t you?).
What beats me is why we go on giving credence to these ‘dangerous children’ at all.
As we have seen, they are all wind. And pith.