UKIP’s Roger Helmer ventures into supporting renewable energy, and gets it all wrong.





More UKIP bonkersness.

Roger Helmer has now decided he supports renewable energy, but only if it is bioethanol distilled from wheat.

This appears to be because he doesn’t want a bioethanol distillery built in Stocton (sic) on Tees to lie dormant.

Helmer displays his usual casual disregard for facts by claiming that bioethanol can be produced at the same cost as fossil-fuel derived petrol, because it has no subsidy. Wrong on both counts.

British Farmers grow winter wheat across 2 million hectares of farmland to feed to beef cattle. You may think cows eat grass – think again. They are fed wheat to make them grow quicker. Feeding wheat to cows is good for farmers profits but otherwise is not such a great idea. Intensive wheat production is also a high impact land management practice which affects the environment, landscape and society. To suggest it has no cost is beyond naive.

Anyway some of the energy in that wheat is converted into vehicle fuel: bioethanol is produced by distilling the alcohol from fermented wheat. That wheat is grown in Britain by British farmers, receiving £200 per hectare per annum (plus bonuses) just for the privilege of owning land. This is the madness of the Common Agricultural Policy. And the idea that this is a co-product which would have been thrown away had it not been made into ethanol is of course nonsense. As I said, the energy has been removed from the crop to make ethanol. That energy would have ended up in the cow or been returned to the soil.

So Helmer is of course wrong to suggest that the bioethanol has no subsidy. I’m surprised that his Climate Adviser Ben Pile hasn’t spotted this basic gaff. I have written about Pile before.

Secondly Helmer is wrong to suggest that the Fossil Fuel industry doesn’t get a subsidy. In fact the Fossil Fuel Industry is one of the most heavily subsidised industries on the planet. According to the International Energy Association, hardly a radical outfit, Fossil Fuel Subsidies globally were $544 billion in 2012. Renewable Energy subsidies were just $100 billion.

OK so those are both wrong, what about the plant – who paid for that? As always it’s not as easy as you might think to follow the money. Helmer quotes a £750M investment in the plant. But Ensus, who run the plant only mention £240M and say that the plant was funded by “both private investments and grants from the government.” Grants is another word for subsidies. If anyone can tell me how much Ensus (or indeed the other bioeth plants) received in government grants I would be grateful.

Finally scientists have looked at whether bioethanol plants in the UK are economic or not. They concluded that, at an oil price of $100 a barrel, they aren’t economic.

Based on this effort, I suggest UKIP sticks to its current position on renewables; that they are all bad. At least that keeps it simple (and also wrong.)


Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia CommonsCC-BY-SA-4.0


About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in biofuels, renewable energy, UKIP and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to UKIP’s Roger Helmer ventures into supporting renewable energy, and gets it all wrong.

  1. Roger Helmer MEP says:

    Your spectacular misinterpretation of what I wrote is an example of the absurdity of green apologists. Of course agricultural products are subsidised. Everyone knows that and no one (that I know of) disputes it. The point is that after agricultural subsidies (but not green subsidies) bio-ethanol appears to be competitive with regular petrol. Also, I never suggested that “the animal feed was a co-product that would otherwise be thrown away”. I said it was a co-product which had a value, and enabled us to discount a majority of the land given over to wheat for bio-ethanol — since it produced around three quarters of the animal feed that could have been grown on the land without bio-ethanol.

    Nor did I say that fossil fuels are not subsidised. However the figures quoted by green apologists are frankly daft. They include discounted petrol in local markets like Saudi and Nigeria. They’re not fossil fuel subsidies that have any relevance to the price of fossil fuels in Western countries. Then because domestic fuel oil attracts lower VAT in the UK than diesel at the pumps, the difference is counted as a “subsidy”. It is no such thing. A 5% tax is not a subsidy, except in Al Gore’s fevered imagination.

    UKIP’s position on renewables, energy and climate is fact-based and common sense. And you know what? The debate is moving our way. I’m grateful to Owen Paterson for helping to de-bunk the green folly.

    • Miles King says:

      Thanks for your reply Roger and welcome.

      Leaving aside the ad homs, a subsidy is a subsidy is a subsidy, you of all people ought to know that. Many subsidies, like for the fossil fuel industry, are indirect and hidden to the general public, which is why around 20% of them swallow your party’s untruths and half truths so willingly. Only 20% mind. And I think you’ve peaked there, just as the SDP did, in about – 1982?

      I’m amused you should call the International Energy Agency “green apologists”. That says more about your view of the world than anything else.

      I am interested in your claims about the efficacy of wheat co-product as an animal feed and will look into that more deeply.

      UKIP’s position on energy, agriculture and the environment is so bizarre that it is keeping me very busy writing on this blog. Please keep producing wacky policies! And please do bring Owen Paterson formally into UKIP. It will save a lot of confusion.

  2. Mud-Lark says:

    Cheers Roger

    A useful response, helps us apologists decide on the quality of party policies.

    Which also reminds me that I really must go and collect the ‘green blob’ t-shirt I have had printed.

    Ever an agnostic, apologist or otherwise!

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