x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Prince Philip puts negative spin on wind farms

The notoriously gaffe-prone Duke of Edinburgh takes aim at alternative energy, accusing wind-farm proponents of being suscptible to fairy tales.

Throughout the 64 years of his marriage to Britain's Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has been infamously outspoken, a trait saluted by The Daily Telegraph newspaper on the occasion of his 90th birthday in June with a compilation of his greatest gaffes.

"We don't come here for our health," the Queen's consort once remarked while enduring a royal tour of Canada. "We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves."

Beijing, he announced during a visit, was "ghastly", while he once told a meeting of the World Wildlife Fund that "if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it".

Visiting a factory in the UK, a shoddily installed fusebox "looked as though it had been put in by an Indian".

To be fair, the prince has always been a purveyor of equal-opportunity racist "humour" - few are the peoples he has failed to insult and status lends no immunity.

"Can you tell the difference between them?" he asked Barack Obama, after America's first black president met the leaders of the UK, China and Russia for the first time.

This week, Prince Philip was in action again, but this time the object of his scorn was not a person, or a people, but an industry - and one in which the UAE and the entire world has more than a passing interest.

Wind farms, the duke was reported to have told Esbjorn Wilmar, managing director of a leading turbine manufacturer, not only blighted the landscape but were also no solution to the global energy crisis (for an alternative point of view on this subject, turn to page 14 of The Review).

"He said they were absolutely useless, completely reliant on subsidies and an absolute disgrace," Mr Wilmar told the media. "He said, 'You don't believe in fairy tales do you?'."

Work is well under way in the Thames Estuary on the London Array, the world's largest wind farm, in which the UAE's Masdar has a 20 per cent interest. When completed in 2012, the 177 turbines of the first stage will prevent the generation of 925,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Is it really such a pointless exercise, an expensive fob to the green lobby and international carbon targets, paid for, as critics maintain, by unfair surcharges on consumers' electricity bills?

The answer is no. In fact it is the duke, like so many other alternative-energy doubters, who is susceptible to fairy tales.

All things being equal, most of us would like to save the planet. It is, after all, handy having somewhere in space to stand. But things aren't equal.

Solar, wind, tide and other forms of alternative energy are all viable and ready to go. But while gas and other fossil fuels remain available - and while so many companies and countries have a vested interest in exploiting them - it is easy to argue that alternative energy is not cost-effective because of the so-called "first-of-a-kind" costs of implementation.

Yet what critics of subsidies for alternative energy generally neglect to mention is that they are far outweighed by the cost of the artificial support lavished on fossil fuels.

In October, as the US energy department disclosed that a global record amount of carbon dioxide had been pumped into the atmosphere in 2010, the International Energy Agency reported that in the same year the world spent US$409bn subsidising fossil fuels, versus only $66bn spent supporting clean, renewable energy.

In January, Abu Dhabi again hosts the annual World Future Energy Summit, a well-intentioned attempt to confront some of the many issues log-jamming the flow of alternative energy onto the world's power grids.

But until the key to the future of the planet is prised from the hands of shareholders and handed to governments prepared to act in the interests of all life on Earth, the most that such well-meaning talking shops can hope to generate - rather like a conversation with the Duke of Edinburgh - is more hot air.