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.
“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.”