Scottish Tories find some energy

Scottish Tories find some energy

by Murdo Fraser
article from Saturday 2, February, 2013

IT IS NOT OFTEN that any Scottish Conservative policy announcement attracts even qualified support from trade unionists. It was therefore refreshing this week to see Dave Watson of UNISON say that our new Energy Policy document, which I helped launch on Monday, was ‘a useful contribution’ to the energy debate in Scotland. It is certainly interesting to see that across the political spectrum there is growing concern about where the SNP’s approach on energy is taking our country.

There are fewer issues more controversial in the areas of rural Scotland that I represent than wind farms. Virtually every week we hear of a new planning application for large turbines up to 150 meters tall. Given the level of public subsidy available, paid for through our electricity bills, it is not surprising that many farmers and landowners are looking to cash in on the opportunity to make money out of land that might otherwise be unproductive.

Many of these developments face substantial local opposition, with people concerned about visual impact, noise, impact on tourism and possible health issues. Communications from people opposing wind farms make up a very large proportion of my mailbag as a local representative.

Concern over the expansion of onshore wind development is not simply restricted to local visual and environmental concerns. Wind power is an expensive form of energy. Studies conducted by the economist Professor Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh University concluded that wind power is “an extraordinarily expensive and inefficient way of reducing CO2 emissions when compared with the option of investing in efficient and flexible gas combined cycle plants”.

The cost of this is borne by electricity consumers through rising costs. We have nearly 40% of the Scottish population currently living in fuel poverty, with numbers rapidly increasing. Moreover, business also has to pay a cost, and Scottish manufacturing is already suffering as a result. One simple example of this is the papermaking industry in Fife, a very heavy user of energy, which due to rising costs has now all but disappeared, with the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Despite these concerns SNP Government policy is to continue to build onshore wind farms at an alarming rate. Where authorities turn down applications all too often these are waved through by Scottish ministers on appeal, in an attempt to meet the target of 100% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Given the current rate of build, based as it is on generous subsidies, that target is likely to be exceeded.

To try and address the concerns of both affected communities and electricity consumers, the Scottish Conservatives this week launched a new energy policy. This calls for a balanced approach to energy generation, instead of the present single-minded fixation that the SNP Government has with building more wind turbines. There are three principles which underline our policy: firstly, the need for security of supply, secondly, affordability, and thirdly, the need for increased decarbonisation of energy production.

Our policy would seek to achieve these objectives with a number of detailed proposals. Firstly, the over generous subsidy to onshore wind farms, which is driving the current “gold rush” approach to development, should be cut by 50%. Secondly, local authorities should be allowed moratoriums of up to one year on planning applications for wind developments to allow time to take stock and for these to be properly handled. Thirdly, there needs to be new planning guidance covering all of Scotland to provide greater clarity both to developers and to potential objectors as to which areas of the country are deemed to be suitable to accommodate wind developments.

But the policy is not just about restricting onshore wind. We wish to see greater support for offshore renewables such as wave and tidal power, where there is a potential. We support the exploitation of Scotland’s shale gas and coal bed methane reserves. In the US the shale gas revolution has reduced the wholesale gas costs by some 50% and both consumers and business have benefitted as a result. And we, unlike the SNP, would support the construction of new nuclear power stations in Scotland to replace Hunterston and Torness when they reach the end of their lives.

The energy policy needs to be about more than just energy production. Equally important is the question of energy demand, and we feel simply not enough is being done at present to promote demand reduction. That is why we are proposing measures such as greater use of the Green Council Tax Discount which has already been legislated for, to encourage home owners to make their properties more energy efficient. We also need to look at restrictive planning laws which mean that many older properties in Scotland can only have single glazed windows.

This is a balanced set of proposals intended both to reduce rising energy costs, and thus benefit consumers and business, and also tackle the rising public concern about the overdevelopment of onshore wind. Undoubtedly there are some who would prefer us to go further in restricting wind developments, with ongoing concerns about the cost and reliability of the technology. But most will agree that this is an important set of steps forward.

Whilst aspects of energy policy are devolved, much of it is reserved to the UK Government. With the appointment of John Hayes as Energy Minister, David Cameron has already signalled that he is listening to those who are concerned about the growth of wind farms. The Scottish Conservatives hope that our colleagues in Westminster will pay heed to the policy work that we have done, and start following suit. With even some trade unionists on board, surely this will prove a popular move.

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User Comments

When Hydro power was introduced in Scotland 50 years ago, people were told it would be so cheap that electricity could be free. Neuclear similar. Now enough neuclear waste to fill 10 Albert Halls. Tories privatised (for competion, ha ha)gas and electricity and has passed control to shareholders. Government in the back seat talking while today many people fear switching on heating, in a country surrounded by gas, oil, wind and coal and we are told to prepare for £2000 per annum average fuel bills. Nothing seems joined up since privatisation or the visionaries of the great public utility themselves. Experts predict increase probibility of power cuts as capacity is falls and ££££ creeps up and up.

Posted on Saturday 2, February, 2013 by Steve Webster
‘People come to Scotland for the wild land’. What wild land Sally? Farmers are not the custodians of the countryside, they have destroyed it. As to our ‘wild lands’ we haven’t had that for several hundred years. It was made worse by the introduction of sheep (which replaced human occupation in the ‘highland clearances’) and then there is the huge amount of human controlled hills and glens manipulated to so that rich people can come up and shoot our wildlife, or is this the ‘people’ you mean? Of course there is ‘NO evidence’ of climate change benefits for turbines; we’ve just put them up! Tell me something, we’ve had nuclear power since the 50s yet, according to climate change supporters, climate change is still going on, so how do you marry up these two opposing thoughts? You also mention Halls of Broxburn citing energy costs. Did Halls of Broxburn blame wind turbines? I would appreciate a link to that one. That said, I notice you haven’t said anything about the increase in tax or the unfair grid charges that the Scots have to pay. You also state that wind turbines are ‘environmentally unfriendly’, if you mean that you do not like the look of them then that is a fair point but if you mean that they are not beneficial to the wider environment in a ‘green’ way then I would humbly suggest that you make a comparison with nuclear, coal fired and or gas generation where all of them are far, far more dangerous to a ‘green’ environment than wind farms.

Posted on Saturday 2, February, 2013 by Ged Mitchell
Full support to Murdo, comparative costs and comments on generation to be found - tourism is an important issue that is largely being ignored by current energy policy, people come to Scotland for the wild land which is being eroded at an alarming rate because of turbines, new figures for loss of wild land are due out now but, SNH are being remarkably slow in this the year of Natural Scotland.(2001 41% wild land , 2009 28% wild land , loss due to turbines). Visit Scotland's survey says 20% of tourist will not visit areas with turbines-that was 2011. They are environmentally unfriendly and there is NO evidence of climate change benefits from turbines. Short term gain for a few developers, land owners and investors; paid for by the rest of us through our electricity bills. As for industry; Halls of Broxburn cited energy costs as a factor in their closure, and in Germany due to the increase of renewables and closure of many nuclear stations , they are now building coal power stations to keep the lights on.

Posted on Saturday 2, February, 2013 by Sally Page
Murdo, even though I am a fan of your reorganisation of the Scottish Conservatives, I am not a fan of your professed energy policy. I feel that, in this article, you have highlighted the cons of 'green' energy but ignored the pros which make me think that this is just another political statement devoid of impartiality. You mention: 'across the political spectrum there is growing concern', really? I think what you mean to say is: 'Across the anti-independence movement'. Do you not think that this would have been a more honest answer? The reality is you are attacking a Greens & SNP policy (you even neglect to mention the Greens and only mention the SNP leaving one to conclude that you are making a political statement, as opposed to either an environmental or economic case), not because of cost (I will come to this later), not because of its obvious green potential but because ‘Many of these developments face substantial local opposition’. And your links to these accusations are where? Talking about links you say: ‘Wind power is an expensive form of energy’ and quote the economist Professor Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh University and use his quote to back up this statement where he says: ‘an extraordinarily expensive and inefficient way of reducing CO2 emissions when compared with the option of investing in efficient and flexible gas combined cycle plants’. No link to that either. However, if you do a little digging you find that when the professor was comparing wind energy to gas powered stations he only included the cost of building the gas powered stations; not the actual cost of gas. The wind is free but gas has to be paid for. Rather remiss of him to do so and rather remiss of you to leave this out this rather crucial fact. Then you make a point about papermaking in Fife. You say, trying to link expensive energy to the loss of jobs in the papermaking industry in Fife, ‘One simple example of this is the papermaking industry in Fife, a very heavy user of energy, which due to rising costs has now all but disappeared, with the loss of hundreds of jobs’. Yet, when you look at ( where it states: ‘The use of locally sourced waste paper and the use of electricity generated from on-site water turbines will give the operation very strong green credentials’. This was in 2010. Then there is the case of Tullis Russell [] who is the largest paper manufacturer in the area and has operated from its current site for over 200 years, pre-dating the development of Glenrothes. The current facility is made up by an agglomeration of two former mills; the Auchmuty Mill and the Rothes Mill. The plant is in the process of developing a 50 megawatt biomass power station which will generate enough electricity to power the plant and the surrounding town. So when did the papermaking industry in Fife disappear? As to rising costs does this have anything to do with the increase in VAT? You also claim that 40% of the Scottish population are currently living in fuel poverty. Surely the UK government must take a large portion of the blame for this by forcing Scottish energy producers to pay a higher grid charge, never mind the slashing of benefits to those same people? You also make a claim to replace the nuclear power stations at Hunterston & Torness when they reach the end of their lives. Yet, even Professor Gordon Hughes states, in the same article that you quote from,: ‘It is expensive and inefficient to run large nuclear or coal plants so that their output matches fluctuations in demand, so large investments in wind power are likely to undermine the economics of investing in nuclear or coal-fired capacity.’ Hmm. Not quite what you want him to say. Then, when you add the cost of decommissioning the older nuclear power stations the cost of nuclear is phenomenally high in comparison to wind energy. At least, with wind energy, when they reach the end of their lives it won’t take nearly one million years before they are safe for humans. So, I think you are slightly misleading the public when you write about your policies being beneficial to consumers and businesses.

Posted on Saturday 2, February, 2013 by Ged Mitchell