Letters: Perspectives on renewable energy

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Independent Voices

PV home electricity plan is flawed

Tony and Lorna Varso rightly extolled the virtues of the feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme for photovoltaic (PV) solar electricity microgeneration (letters, 13 July). It seems to me that the scheme is inequitable and deeply flawed.

A 4kWp system might cost, say, £16,000 to install and, assuming that the situation (mounting angle, direction, lack of shading) allowed the maximum possible output to be achieved, it would produce a little over 3,000kWh per annum. The average cost of fossil-fuel generation is about 2.5p to 3.0p per kWh (figures, Royal Academy of Engineering). The average cost of large-scale renewable, non-PV generation is about twice this.

So let's be really generous and pay a FIT of about four times this, say 10p a unit, for microgeneration PV electricity. This would mean that the 4kW system would return about £300 per annum on the capital investment of £16,000, which is about 2 per cent.

Even given a FIT which was a generous multiple of the average cost of large-scale electricity generation, the system could never even pay the interest on the capital employed. The only way that these inefficient and fundamentally uneconomic domestic microgeneration systems have become financially viable for the homeowner is by offering the hugely inflated, index-linked, tax-free FITs at about 17 times the average cost of carbon-based generation, plus free use of the electricity, plus an additional payment (at about the average cost of carbon-generated electricity) for half the energy generated that is deemed to have been fed back into the grid.

It is an investment that pays for itself in seven to 10 years and keeps on providing a generous income for 25 years. But where does all this money come from? It's simple. Those who, for financial or practical reasons, can't or don't install these systems pay for those who can and do.

Ian Quayle, Fownhope, Herefordshire

Solar thermal can do the job, too

Your correspondent accurately identifies the problems with the implementation of renewable energy systems.

As an MCS-accredited installer of both PV and solar thermal (hot water) solar systems, we are inundated with requests to install PV because house-owners can see an opportunity to make money through the feed-in tariff.

But when it comes to solar thermal, the Government has backtracked on the renewable heat incentive at least three times, and has moved the implementation back at least 18 months. The scheme will be implemented in 2012.

House-owners need to have confidence in the cost savings attainable before they make an investment. I have installed solar thermal on my roof, and a household of five adults has plenty of hot water, with our gas boiler only being required for less than half of the year.

The combined effect of all of the solar thermal panels installed across the UK has to have a considerable effect on the volume of gas that has to be imported. There is a need to incentivise all renewable energy sources, not just PV.

Howard Robbins, Diss, Norfolk

MPs praised for press clean-up

MPs of all parties and their leaders can be proud of what they achieved in the Commons this week. It was an illustration of democracy at its best. No one would want to restrict the media's ability to do genuine investigative journalism such as that which exposed the thalidomide scandal, not the hacking into personal data of individuals as done by the News of the World.

But now no party or its leader should kow-tow again to any media owner, British-born or not, so that we do not in future see a party leader flying halfway around the world to meet a newspaper tycoon or appointing a former employee of that organisation as his/her communications director thinking this will increase their chances of winning the next election.

The poisoned press boil which was distorting our democracy has been lanced. We and our democratic representatives must ensure there are no more.

V Crews, Beckenham, Kent

Interesting to see how David Cameron has turned on his former "friend" Andy Coulson. Before being appointed as Conservative communications chief Coulson did have a bit of previous, including widespread allegations of a "bullying culture" at the News of the World.

Sports reporter Matt Driscoll won £800,000 from an employment tribunal. The judgment concluded that, "We find the behaviour to have been a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour ... with the intention to remove him from their employment, whether through negotiating a settlement package or through a staged process of warnings leading to dismissal.

"The original source of the hostility towards the claimant [Driscoll] was Mr Coulson, the then editor of the News of the World; although other senior managers either took their lead from Mr Coulson and continued with his motivation after Mr Coulson's departure; or shared his views themselves."

First signs of the ship deserting the sinking rat?

Also in the spirit of the new "transparency", could David Cameron inform us who conducted the background checks into Andy Coulson before he was appointed. Couldn't have been Yates of the Yard?

Richard Knights, Liverpool

The repugnance at the actions of some journalists has led to a welcome increase in the use of the terms ethics and ethical but I am not sanguine that it will lead to any lasting changes.

I take a slightly different view from Steve Richards (Comment, 14 July). Rupert Murdoch is likely to have felt the same repugnance and is not necessarily an unethical person, strong on loyalty though not unduly burdened with empathy.

He uses power ruthlessly but intelligently to support his own vision of free enterprise based on the survival of the fittest.

It is the British Government, police and regulatory bodies that have failed abysmally and cravenly. Murdoch will bury the police in evidence on wrongdoing while he finds out how extensive it was. If he finds it was extensive in his UK papers he will install new management and sell them. If Ms Brooks has lied to him, she will go, otherwise she and possibly James Murdoch will be employed somewhere else.

Editors in the UK will keep their distance from dirty dealings and for a while they will scrutinise reporting to see that it cannot backfire, but rogue reporters will still find employment, and tacit approval, if they deliver the stories.

Privacy will be protected only if strong, independent, audit trails are built in to all databases to show when they are accessed. Ethics will prevail only if a majority see the pleasure of doing the right thing by other people as outweighing making money. The obstacle is that, since Thatcher, we have a whole generation steeped in the moral code that it is all right if you can get away with it.

Jon Hawksley, London EC1

Has Sean Cordell (letters, 13 July) forgotten that Vince Cable was sacked for expressing his views on Murdoch in private when deceived by two undercover reporters on the Torygraph?

The LibDems are the only one of the three major political parties untainted by contacts with Murdoch. Stop bashing Nick Clegg and do him the credit of recognising his disgust at the latest News International shenanigans as genuine.

Penelope Murray, Banbury, Oxfordshire

Why is Rupert Murdoch apparently not required to wear a seatbelt, at least when he is in a Range Rover on the television news (letters, 13 July)? Perhaps someone should blag his medical records to see if he has an exemption.

Colin Standfield, London W7

If any senior executives of News International end up in jail, they might amuse themselves by publishing an in-house prison newspaper. They could call it the News of the Screws.

Laurie Wedd, Tonbridge, Kent

I lend my pension free to Osborne

As a civil servant, I am rather taken by Charles Noon's idea of solving the public-sector pensions issue by freezing current rights and thereafter paying me the employer's contribution every month (letters, 4 July). I'm not sure that George Osborne would be quite so keen, because what Mr Noon has overlooked is that the Government would actually have to pay me real money if they followed his advice, so increasing immediate public expenditure.

This compares with the present situation where they pay out not one penny for years to come. In fact, my pension has so far cost the Government and taxpayer absolutely nothing since I joined the Civil Service back in 1977, and it won't cost either the Government or the taxpayer anything until I eventually retire, whenever that might be.

By contrast, in a private-sector arrangement, the government and taxpayer would have been putting money into a real pension pot ever since I started work. Not only that, but even the contributions I do make are not actually put into a real pot of money, but are effectively borrowed by the government to meet all its current costs.

This represents an enormous interest-free loan and cash-flow advantage to the Government that no one in their right mind would normally agree to unless it was backed by a cast-iron guarantee. This cast-iron guarantee is the contract that civil servants thought they were entering into, so it's not surprising that civil servants are concerned that the Government might be about to dishonour the contract.

Sarah Wood, Heathfield, East Sussex

To charge National Insurance on pensioners need not mean poorer people suffering, as Eric Evans fears (letters, 11 July). Rather than an income-tax surcharge, which I agree could serve as a short-term fix, why not integrate NI with income tax, abolish the fatuous administratively expensive tax-free allowances (winter fuel, £10 "bonus") and age-related payments, equalise the tax-free allowance and basic state pension at the minimum wage level for those aged 18 to 20 (about £10,000 at present), and have a more progressive combined income tax/NI scale of 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 per cent.

John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife

Only solidarity can save the euro

There is undoubted logic to Sean O'Grady's proposed solution to the eurozone crisis ("Best way out is for the eurozone nations is to pay up", 13 July). Such generosity on the part of the better-managed economies would require a quid pro quo: the profligate nations would have to hand fiscal control to Frankfurt.

All round, this solution pushes the European Union towards the decisive question: is the EU a federal enterprise or is it a loose union of sovereign states free to mismanage their affairs, as they have done so for decades? Germany in particular seems to have been counting on Chinese and Indian support for the euro, since the major developing countries like an alternative reserve currency to the US dollar, but this is surely a false hope. Only genuine European solidarity can save the euro, and the European Union, from disintegration. Any dissenting member state should leave the Union and live with the consequences.

Simon Sweeney, York Management School, University of York

Olympic spirit in Rugby school

A renewed focus on the part Sir William Penny Brooke played in founding the modern Olympics should not obscure the influence Rugby School and its visionary head master, Thomas Arnold, had on the creation of the games ("True Olympic spirit alive in town that created the games", 11 July).

The genius behind today's Olympics, French educator Pierre de Coubertin, first encountered Arnold through the novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays, and was deeply impressed by the sportsmanship he witnessed on subsequent visits to Rugby. His conclusion – that school sport improves education by building social and moral strength – inspired his Olympic dream, and ultimately led him to award the school the Olympic Cup in 1919 in recognition of its contribution.

As the UK prepares to host the 2012 Games, we should celebrate all aspects of this country's role in inspiring de Coubertin's vision.

Patrick Derham, Head Master, Rugby School

Pupils must feel free to complain

As a former local authority child protection manager, I am concerned to read that pupils who make malicious allegations against teachers could face prosecution (report, 11 July).

My experience of more than 35 years as a children's social worker, which includes the investigation of allegations against teachers, convinces me that the concerns of the teachers' unions in this area are grossly exaggerated. It is in many ways very difficult for pupils to come forward and substantiate allegations against staff, and false allegations are both rare and usually easily discounted.

My main concern is that the unintended consequence of this move will be to further discourage children from coming forward with genuine concerns. Abuse by teaching and non-teaching staff in schools does (rarely) occur, and I fear that this change will place more power in the hands of the small number of abusive adults and further disempower the children in their care.

Tim Barker, Louth, Lincolnshire

We still make locomotives

The news concerning the scaling back of operations at Bombardier is indeed depressing, but the small provider Brush Engineering of Loughborough is still able to construct railway locomotives.

The re-engineered Class 57s have an American power unit but seem to me to be an excellent example of quality British engineering. I know the engineer who conceived the rebuild and he insisted on best specifications; a works fitter reckoned the working life of the machines would be extended by some 50 years, so it may well be that 90-year-old locomotives will one day be seen still performing useful work.

Today I saw news that Morgan Cars are launching a revamped iconic three-wheeled vehicle and that order books are overflowing.

I was a little concerned about mentioning these success stories in case our combined political class move in to crush these renegade engineering businesses.

I have no connection to either firm.

Robert McMillan, Stoke on Trent

Mystery signs of modern times

I wonder whether any of your readers could help me? It was a couple of years ago when I first noticed road signs on a nearby motorway that displayed a triangle, a square or a circle, sometimes separately and other times all together.

I asked around whether anybody knew what they meant but nobody did. I looked up the Highway Code on the internet but couldn't find anything there either. So I just ignored them. But since then, horizontal rectangles and diamonds have appeared, and curiously, the rectangles are sometimes all black, or white with a black border or black with a yellow border. Some squares are white with a black border and others are all black, as are the circles and diamonds.

And just today I saw two triangles side by side with a vertical line inside them. It's all most confusing.

Peter Tallentire, Crosby, Merseyside

Old cliches never die

At the end of the day, the cliché that makes me see red above and beyond all others is, at the end of the day.

Alex Noble, Belfast

Newspapers may go but the cliché will go on forever. Could this be just the tip of the iceberg?

Fred Harket, Sidcup, Kent

Can I get in on the act and take this window of opportunity to say that as far as clichés are concerned, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Shirley Browning, Sturminster Newton, Dorset

Cheque it out

As a trustee of two small local charities which receive most of their income and make most of their payments by cheque, I welcome the announcement by the Payments Council that cheques will continue in use as long as customers need them and that the proposed closure in 2018 has been cancelled. Why then did the UK Payments Administration terminate debit cards as cheque-guarantee cards?

Paul Hill, Harmston, Lincoln