Professor Paul Younger, an energy engineering academic at Glasgow University, has said on BBC Newsnight Scotland that the Scottish Government’s focus on wind energy as the major component of its provision for Scotland’s power into the mid term will cost Scots dearly in their electricity bills.
His argument is that the lopsided energy policy leaves Scotland unable to meet the power demand at peak periods and compelled therefore to buy in power at those times – at peak prices.
This position is based on the fact Professor Younger advances that wind blows more reliably in the middle of the night when demand is very low. Energy generated from wind at that time is therefore sold to the grid at a heavy discount.
Then, during peak daytime periods when demand is high, wind will be unable to meet that demand, leaving Scotland compelled to buy in nuclear-generated power from England – at peak prices.
This negative gap between revenue generation and cost will see Scottish customers paying higher rates for their power than will be the case for consumers in England.
Professor Younger pointed to the parallel between Denmark and Scotland in this respect – with wind-reliant Denmark condemned to live with a very poor balance of payments through having to buy nuclear generated power from Germany at the highest prices at the daily times of greatest need it cannot itself support from wind.
In response to the Professor’s evidenced analysis, a Scottish Government spokesperson would only repeat the mantra that wind renewables were a secure and reliable source of power the energy industry regulator, Ofgen, recognises will be required to keep the lights on.
This is evasive. Of course wind renewables are required to keep the lights on – but to help to do so, not to deliver baseload. The problem has been and remains the government’s lack of a balanced and strategic plan for energy provision, as opposed to a policy, which is being shown not to be the same thing.
The Hunterston B evidence
Evidence to support Professor Younger’s qualified assessment is in the speed and ease with which the Scottish Government this week accepted without demur EDF Energy’s announcement that they plan to extend the life of the Clydeside nuclear power station, Hunterston B, by seven years to 2023. This will take it to the time of the planned decommissioning of Scotland’s other working nuclear power plant at the east coast’s Torness.
The government’s target has been to be able to meet 100% of Scotland’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. It insists that this target will be met and has instructed local authority planning departments to relax the normal scrutiny to which they subject planning applications for wind farms.
While the Scottish government has always factored in a nuclear power component as cover in the early years towards meeting this 2020 target – being so sanguine about the extension of the operational life of Hunterston B to 2023 – three years beyond that target, is itself an indication of a shift in perspective.
Over the past few years, with a larger database and greater knowledge available, it has become increasingly obvious that the virtually uncontrolled wind-centred power provision planned by the Scottish Government was not going to be able to guarantee baseload; was going to be very expensive for consumers; was much less than the ‘green’ it continues to be declared to be; and is damaging to the wilderness landscapes that support Scotland’s major tourism USP.
It has been clear for some time that new nuclear power has to be considered quickly as a baseload delivery mechanism, arguably the only one currently achievable. This has become more acceptable to the public as awareness has grown of the lack of true green credentials of on and offshore wind; and of the degree and variety of the environmental costs these wind systems bring.
The First Minister’s acceptance of the EDF decision on Hunterston B was markedly prompt and unqualified. There was a time when this would not have been the case. This indicates an awareness of need that will not be delivered by the current policy.
Hunterston B generates enough energy to power one million homes [half of Scotland's stock] and delivers around £40m into the local economy.
EDF say that the station ‘avoided at least 160 million tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere’.
The ageing plant was scheduled for shut-down in 2011, but this had already been extended to 2016 before the latest announcement. The power station supports around 700 staff and contractors.
EDF also announced that its Hinkley Point B plant was also having its operating life extended by seven years.