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'Sir' Tim Smit's fury at funding cuts to 'hot rocks' green energy plan

By This is Cornwall  |  Posted: January 21, 2011

Tim Smit

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​One of the founders of the Eden Project has launched a withering attack on energy ministers for halving the funding that could have kick-started the Westcountry’s “hot rocks” industry.

Tim Smit, the Cornish landmark’s chief executive, criticised the Government for injecting many millions into “unproven” power generation instead of deep geothermal power, which is well-established across Europe.

Dutch-born Mr Smit, who was yesterday awarded an honorary knighthood, said it was a “joke” that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) scaled back grant support for deep geothermal power to £1 million.

The Westcountry, and Cornwall in particular, is pioneering geothermal energy generation, boasting proposals for the country’s two power plants, including one at Eden.

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“I’m really happy that there are signs of support for it, but actually the support is pretty crap if we weren’t being polite about it,” he told an audience of green energy industrialists in London.

“What a joke to cut your grant in half and then say ‘oh money’s tight’ and then give a whole shed-load of money to carbon sequestration, a technology which is not yet proven.”

Mr Smit quipped he was not supposed to speak so frankly, before adding: “But seriously, a couple of million quid to actually give you 10 per cent of your own energy security. That is s*** isn’t it? Let’s be honest.”

In the spending review, the Government said it would honour previous commitments to provide up to of £1 billion of funding to help create one of the world’s first commercial-scale carbon capture and storage demonstration plants.

Mr Smit’s comments, which he described to the Western Morning News as “angry concern”, are significant given his status as one the country’s most respected figures on environmental issues.

Deep geothermal plants work by pumping water down to rocks about 5km below the surface, which are heated by the Earth’s core to temperatures of around 200C (392F). It rises back to the surface as steam and powers turbines.

The South West, which thanks to its mining heritage was at the vanguard of “hot rocks” research in the 1980s, could provide as much as 10 per cent of the UK’s on-demand power via deep boreholes, ministers have admitted. The other geothermal power station proposed in Cornwall is in Redruth.

Speaking to the WMN, Mr Smit said: “Here we have a technology that is available 365 days a year – it doesn’t cut out unlike wave, solar or wind. The sort of sums needed to really send it on a trajectory – that could make us energy independent – is not very much.”

Mr Smit said his “fury” stemmed from senior politicians pinning their hopes on carbon capture having “bought in far too easily to some industry schmuck stuff” from businesses dependent on fossil fuels.

He said: “They are offering hundreds of millions of pounds to a technology the President of the United States and our own David Cameron say is one of the technological fixes. How is it possible for technology so untested to come out of the mouth of politicians of such seniority, as if it was received wisdom?”

Mr Smit – who praised organisations including the soon-to-be-abolished South West Regional Development Agency for transforming Cornwall’s image into one of the greenest in Europe – said the “court is still out” as to whether the coalition could rightly claim to be the “greenest government ever”.

He said he “does not understand” the reasoning behind the sell-off of nature reserves and woodlands and raised concern over scrapping the Sustainable Development Commission.

He said: “To claim to be the greenest government ever is an aspiration. It’s a rather bizarre thing: to claim you are the greenest government and in a frenzy of getting rid of quangos you get rid of the quango that was checking and balancing the Government.”

A DECC spokesman insisted the Government remains keen to support the deep geothermal sector. He said: “To date the Government has provided more than £5 million to help innovative geothermal energy projects across the country to get off the ground. Just last month we announced £1.1 million funding for three projects, underlining our enthusiasm to see this technology develop.”

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    Sarah, Cornwall  |  January 24 2011, 11:39AM

    LOL @Steve Only if it was run on handouts

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    Sarah, Cornwall  |  January 24 2011, 11:37AM

    LOL @ Steve Only if it was run on handouts

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    David, St Austell  |  January 24 2011, 10:55AM

    If he is so keen on the hot rocks project why, instead of whinging for public money (our money) doesn't he dip into his own deep purse? I would be interested to know just how much public money has gone into that oversize greenhouse Eden.

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    Andrew, Praze  |  January 23 2011, 8:55PM

    This situation arose some twenty years ago.The original hot rocks experiment project at longdowns in cornwall was cut short of money by central government because of the control over the government by other energy companys etc.Ladys and gentllemen look forward to the revolution or die in your beds...

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    max power, st austell  |  January 23 2011, 6:41PM

    David Smith Agreed, and the money is the least of our worries. I think it's a misconception that it's only a problem for conservatism, it's a problem for us all. It would be silly to dismiss the influence of monopoly capitalism on the inception and shaping of the EU.

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    max power, st austell  |  January 23 2011, 6:09PM

    ''What a joke to cut your grant in half and then say ¿oh money¿s tight¿ and then give a whole shed-load of money to carbon sequestration, a technology which is not yet proven.¿ Good call Mr Smit, and it's also not proven that CO2 is an urgent problem if it is at all. Ironic that we're to sell off forests and spend on C sequestration, I thought C sequestration was exactly what plants did well and flourished because of. But whatever our thoughts on 'climate change' p.c. we have to invest in renewables that are affordable to all and not throw our money (£1 billion) at sequestration and more on inefficient solar. Tim Smit's shown his ability with Heligan and Eden and should be given a chance at another sucess.

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    David Smith, EXETER  |  January 23 2011, 4:21PM

    AUDITORS have revealed that British taxpayers face paying up to £1 billion in fines imposed by the European Union. ''Most of the fine payments relate to the management of EU farm subsidy payments, but regional development funds overseen by the Department of Communities and Local Government also attracted ''correction''. Douglas Carswell, a leading Conservative critic of European integration, said the fines strengthened the case for a debate on Britain's membership of the EU''. European integration is also affecting employment in Britain and pushing down the income of workers across the EU! Cornwall has gained after help from the EU but the overall cost outweighs the benefits. While services are being cut - more and more is being siphoned off by the EU! Whatever your political beliefs surely it's time to say.... NO2EU

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    Mike Hunt, St Awfull  |  January 23 2011, 3:34PM

    As much as you want to bring him down a peg or two. Or as my Trinidadian friends used to say "like crabs in a barrel" which is as soon as anyone makes anything of themselves they get dragged back down by everyone else". You have to admit he has been wildly sucessful. Heligan sat for years crumbling to bits and is now a thriving tourist spot all for a lick of paint and a good story. If it wasn't for him it would be a complete wreck now. Also an unused derilict clay pit is now the top tourist destination in the South West. Love him or hate him you have to admire his success.

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    Brain, St Just  |  January 23 2011, 11:55AM

    Hasnt this smug person taken enough from Cornwall already

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    max power, Eton  |  January 22 2011, 9:11PM

    Charles Nice little piece from Andrew Neil today on meritocracy, the problem is that this concerns all 3 main parties, ''In the period from 1964 to 1997, every single Prime Minister - from Harold Wilson to John Major - was the product of a state school'' ...and that will never happen again Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1349199/Whys-Britain-run-posh-lot-Thanks-rotten-education-Andrew-Neil-believes-working-class-Prime-Minister-again.html#ixzz1BnhXn300