Missing – an energy strategy for Scotland

Missing – an energy strategy for Scotland

by Murdo Fraser
article from Friday 27, February, 2015

LAST WEEK we had yet more unwelcome news about the future of the Longannet power station in Fife. As somebody who represents the area, I am well aware of the significance of the plant to the local economy, and of the concerns of the workforce who are undoubtedly facing a worrying time.

The issue which was highlighted last week in relation to the future of Longannet is that of transmission charging, although there is nothing new about this. Last week I spoke to both Scottish Power and National Grid on this issue, and sincerely hope that we can find a resolution to it. Ofgem have recently approved a significant change to substantially reduce future generation charges in Scotland, particularly for a plant like Longannet which generally tends only to run when the wind is not blowing, and these are planned to be introduced from April next year.

While the transmission charging issue is a serious one, we should not pretend that it is by any means the only threat to Longannet’s future. New EU emission rules, and the introduction of carbon pricing, mean that the future of Longannet after 2020 is, at best, very uncertain. Resolving the transmission charging issue is likely to buy, at best, a stay of execution.

This is a serious matter, and not just for those whose jobs are dependent upon the power station. For Longannet provides some 20% of Scotland’s electricity output – it has been as high as 25% recently. It is also, of course, a major buyer of coal from Scottish open cast producers and therefore its possible closure has a wider impact in terms of the Scottish economy.

What makes the current situation even more worrying is that Longannet is not the only power station facing closure. Scotland’s three biggest generating stations are Longannet, Torness and Hunterston, the last two being of course nuclear powered, and both of them scheduled to close by 2025. Between them they produce 55% of Scotland’s electricity.

We know that the Scottish Government has something of an obsession with renewable energy. Scottish Conservatives believe that renewable power certainly has a part to play as a component in the energy mix, but we do not share the Scottish Government’s single-minded obsession with renewable energy – particularly wind power – to the exclusion of all other technologies. And the simple fact is that intermittent energy sources cannot provide the base load that is necessary to provide electricity to Scotland’s homes and businesses at all times, to meet every demand, whether or not the wind is blowing.

So here we have a Scottish Government putting all its eggs in the basket of intermittent wind power, it has slammed the door shut on fracking and the potential for unconventional gas, and it refuses to consent to any new nuclear plants. Within a decade, we are going to lose 55% of our electricity generating capacity, and there is simply no strategy from the SNP government as to how we are going to keep the lights on after 2025.

The prospect is of us having to import power from England. Last week Professor Paul Younger, Professor of Energy Engineering at Glasgow University, said: “We are already getting to where it is getting too late to design, build and commission new power stations, especially when you have got the Scottish Government making common cause with the anti-everything brigade”.

And we need some consistency from the Scottish Government, again Professor Younger had it right when he said: “It doesn’t help when last week we have got the Scottish Government cheerleading against fossil fuels and then this week saying “Oh, hang on a minute, we desperately need them”. Well, you know, let’s get consistent guys”. We need to have a clear statement from the Scottish Government of their energy strategy for the next decade. This is what I called for in a Holyrood debate on Wednesday.

The Scottish Government, in response, resorted to its tired old tactic of blaming this all on Westminster, referencing the transmission issues, but not mentioning EU emissions targets or carbon pricing, both of which the SNP are fully signed up to. 

Even in relation to the transmission charging issue, it missed the point. For the transmission charging regime affects all generating plant in Scotland, and has for many years. Exactly the same transmission regime applies to Scottish Power’s other generating asset, the Whitelees wind farm, sitting on more or less precisely the same latitude as Longannet, but does not threaten that project’s viability. Indeed, on a daily basis we see applications flooding in for wind farms all over Scotland, subject to exactly the same transmission charges.  Clearly transmission charges are a barrier, but not an unsurmountable one. 

What exactly is the SNP policy for electricity generation? Is it to rely wholly on renewables? The Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing, is fond of saying that, in energy, variety is everything. But there are no concrete proposals to replace either our existing nuclear capacity, or conventional generation. And while the SNP may not like nuclear, the fact is that this is low carbon green energy which we are going to need if want to meet our climate change targets.

Over the past decade we have heard a lot from the SNP, and from the former First Minister, about how Scotland is to be the Saudi Arabia of renewables. How we are an oil-rich, energy-rich nation. What an irony it would be, therefore, if the only way we could keep the lights on in Scotland would be to import electricity from England. And yet that is where we are heading. That is exactly the point that Professor Younger made last week when he said: “We will be reliant on importing power from England for about 25% of Scottish demand”. 

We need at least one new gas-powered generating station for Scotland, and if we are not going to replace Torness and Hunterston with new nuclear capacity, probably more than that. Along with our Conservative Westminster candidate for Dunfermline, James Reekie, I would like that new gas station to be located at Longannet in Fife. The infrastructure is there, the skills are there, the workforce is there. If Longannet is having to close, and sadly it looks like that is inevitable whatever happens to transmission charging, then we hope that we will see a replacement in that corner of Fife.

But that needs to part of a broader energy strategy, and that is what is currently lacking. To quote again from Professor Younger, talking of the Scottish Government’s approach he said: “We need to be consistent here and have a bit of leadership”. He is right. We need an updated energy strategy for Scotland, and we need that urgently before the lights go out.



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