The history of British energy is "littered with ideas from the bright ideas box that come out prematurely and raise expectations and cost money and very often never actually produce the goods at the end of the day." This was the acid comment directed at energy minister Brian Wilson by Martin O'Neill, chairman of the parliamentary Trade and Industry Select Committee last month. O'Neill was cross examining Wilson on his plans for a sub-sea electricity cable to connect power from renewable projects into the national grid (Windpower Monthly, December 2001). The government has ordered a study of the proposal's feasibility. The committee was sceptical that an underwater cable could be cost effectively installed through the inhospitable rocks and waters of the west coast. Wilson defended the proposal as an important and visionary concept. "Better to light one candle than to forever curse the darkness. If you do not ask the questions you do not get the answers," he said. O'Neill replied: "This is a question which maybe should have been asked before the match was even taken out of the box to light the candle, with respect." The minister expressed his surprise at the committee's "negativity" towards the plans. Later, energy regulator Callum McCarthy apparently warned against the government's plans for encouraging renewables in windier but more remote areas of the UK. He reportedly told the committee that building new generation plants in the north would be "less effective than adding to generation elsewhere in Britain" because of the cost of transmitting power over long distances.
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