Scotland's Energy Policy is Just Hot Air Struan Stevenson, MEP
This speech was delivered at a Spectator Scotland debate on the future of Scotland's energy policy on Wednesday 19 September at the National Musuem in Scotland at which speakers debated the motion: 'Scotland's energy policy is just hot air'. Following a vote of the audience, the motion was carried, 126 for and 50 against.
Is Scotland's Nationalist government doomed to failure in energy policy? Or leading the world in a ‘renewable revolution’?
During the summer recess I visited Whitelee wind farm on the Eaglesham Moor. It is Europe's largest onshore wind farm. In the shop at the visitors' centre I purchased a small turbine for twelve quid. It said on the box that it was the world's smallest solar-powered renewable energy turbine, with a solar panel guaranteed for three years. I took it to my office in Brussels and set it up. It didn't work! It is a metaphor for everything I am about to say this evening.
In 2004, there were 12 operational wind farms in the UK and average annual energy bills stood at £522. Today, 355 operational wind farms dot our countryside and we pay around £1,252 for energy each year. As wind farms have multiplied, energy bills have doubled. Over 5.5 million UK households spend more than 10% of their income on fuel. In Scotland, over 900,000 households – more than 33% – have been driven into fuel poverty. This winter, they will be forced to make the choice between food and fuel.
Of course wind power is not the sole reason for increased energy prices, but the realisation is spreading that wind power is not clean, it's not green, and it's certainly not 'free'. Nor is it a panacea for climate change. Alex Salmond claims that his Government is leading a "renewable revolution" but his plan to "re-industrialise" Scotland through the widespread construction of giant wind turbines will have disastrous consequences for business, industry and individual Scots. If this policy is continued, wind farms will be an inescapable feature of our countryside, and our coastlines will be encased with turbines. The SNP's plans for renewable energy are ill-conceived and financially unsustainable as a coherent energy policy.
141 of the 355 operational wind farms in the UK are in Scotland. Hundreds more are in the pipeline. Our nation will soon be bristling with giant industrial turbines and the cost of installing, running and maintaining them will be overwhelming. Earlier this month, plans were announced to develop a huge offshore wind array in the Moray Firth. It will be the biggest in the world with 339 giant turbines and will cost £4.5 billion. Yet the 1.5 gigawatts of electricity that it will be capable of producing are no more than any average conventional power plant.
Now I am not a proponent of nuclear power. I think nuclear is a sunset technology and we should be focusing more on sunrise technologies like hydrogen which I believe will create the next industrial revolution. But right now, it is possible to build a new, state-of-the-art, third generation nuclear plant for around the same cost as the proposed Moray Firth offshore wind farm, or even less, including full decommissioning costs and safe disposal of waste.
The only difference is the nuclear plant will operate for 60 years, extendable to 120 years. It will work at 80% efficiency, producing virtually CO2 free electricity. Compare that to the wind turbines, which work at around 30% efficiency, or in other words they produce electricity for less than a third of their working life and they are constructed to last for only 20 years, with huge maintenance and upkeep costs in the meantime, due to the harsh conditions in which they have to operate. I'm afraid it is a no-brainer! Wind is simply not financially sustainable and would not exist but for the massive subsidies pumped in to the industry by the poor, beleaguered consumers.
And just as quickly as our energy bills rise, so business and industry will falter. Alex Salmond promised 130,000 green jobs and there is no doubt that they are being created. The trouble is most of them are being created in Germany, Denmark and China. Siemens and Dong Energy are doing particularly well out of our wind farm gold rush. In fact only last month Angela Merkel announced that Germany will build another 23 coal-fired power stations to make the steel that we need for the turbine towers.
China opens a new coal-fired plant every day of the week. The manufacture of each 1,000 tonne concrete plinth beneath every giant turbine is responsible for 900 kg of CO2 emissions. The carbon footprint of every turbine is colossal. Global CO2 emissions are rising, not falling and Scotland's green revolution will make not one single gram of a difference!
And meanwhile the latest unemployment figures in Scotland have shown an increase. At 8.2%, unemployment in Scotland is higher than in England. So much for the Green jobs revolution. The leading consultancy -Verso Economics, found that for every green job created in the UK, 3.7 jobs are lost. Indeed a recent study by the Whitehall-based Department for Business, Innovation and Skills shows that soaring green energy charges “will make British industry uncompetitive compared with other leading countries by the end of the decade.” The report states that a combination of renewable energy subsidies and new emissions charges, will double the costs for energy-intensive industries, such as steel, by 2020, forcing many firms either to relocate abroad or close down altogether.
Worse still, peat bogs across Scotland have been dug up to construct industrial wind developments. Peatland is Europe's equivalent of rainforest and it constitutes a vital component of the world’s natural air conditioning system, storing on average 10 times more carbon per hectare than other ecosystems. But vast areas of carbon-capturing peat bogs in Scotland are being torn up to make way for wind farms, releasing millions of tonnes of naturally sequestered carbon into the atmosphere.
Not content with this eco-vandalism, the government has now turned its attention offshore, where our blue carbon ecosystems, like seagrass meadows and kelp forests will be torn up and destroyed by the race for renewables. Around 20% of Europe's seagrass meadows and kelp forests are located in Scottish waters. They play a vital role in the global carbon cycle. Some 93% of the earth’s CO2 is stored and cycled through the oceans and seagrass meadows, kelp forests, salt marshes and maerl beds rank among the most intense carbon sinks on the planet. We disturb them at our peril....but that is exactly what is happening today.
So now we know that Scotland's energy policy is financially unsustainable. We know it won't reduce carbon emissions. We know that it will destroy rather than create jobs. We know it is destructive to the landscape. But at least it will enable us to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and meet the 2020 targets? Wrong again. Because of its inefficiency, wind energy actually commits us to relying on fossil fuel generation as baseload backup. In other words, for the 70 to 75% of the time our windfarms are standing idle, we need to rely on coal or gas-fired generation to stop our lights going out. Our dependency on fossil fuels therefore increases rather than decreases. It's like giving methadone to a heroin addict! It creates the illusion of breaking the addiction when in fact it doesn't.
The SNP government's obsession with wind has gone too far. Wind turbines violate the principle of fairness by transferring vast amounts of money from the poor to the rich. They despoil our unique landscape and environment; they risk plunging the nation into a devastating energy crisis and through noise, the flicker-effect and vibration, they abuse the health and welfare of people and animals which have to live near them.
Councils in Scotland have been swamped with planning applications as energy companies, landowners and farmers jump on the bandwagon to get their snouts firmly into the rich subsidy trough. Now our unique and world renowned landscape which draws visitors from around the globe is being trashed. There are applications for giant industrial wind farms surrounding Loch Ness. Two huge wind farms will tower above each side of Loch Lomond. Hundreds of turbines are planned on the edge of the Cairngorm National Park. Giant turbines will be built overlooking the iconic Old Course at St Andrews and behind the Championship Golf Course at Turnberry in Ayrshire. Already a massive turbine towers above the 14th hole at Royal Aberdeen and another one is planned.
Egregious applications have even been lodged for a windfarm to dominate the skyline above the Robert Adams global architectural masterpiece of Culzean Castle. This is vandalism on an unprecedented scale. Alex Salmond says he wants to re-industrialise Scotland, by allowing giant concrete and steel structures to be built in places that were never industrialised in the first place. This will drive away tourists and visitors to Scotland and have a devastating impact on our economy. It is also unbelievable that supporters of renewables seek to justify this environmental catastrophe with weasel words about Scotland becoming a European leader in clean, green energy. There is nothing clean or green about marching huge steel pylons across mountain landscapes and past some of Scotland's most historic castles and battlefields.
Let me end by telling you about the case of Kay Siddell. Kay Siddell retired from a career as a civil servant to the rural tranquillity of South Ayrshire, where she and her husband John bought a smallholding near Dailly, a few miles East of Girvan, in what has been described locally as ‘the secret valley’. Kay and John had hoped to settle down to the rural ‘good life’, away from the hustle and bustle of the UK’s cities.
They bought a beautiful property called High Tralorg Farm in 1988. Their view of the rolling Ayrshire hills was interrupted only by a single farmstead on the opposite side of the valley and a tiny, red-roofed cottage. Sadly, their dreams were shattered in 2006 when Scottish and Southern Energy plc (now SSE) were given planning approval to erect 52 giant, three-bladed, Danish industrial turbines immediately facing their home.
When I visited their home, I stopped at the top of an 800 metre rough farm track to open a gate that led to their farm. The huge turbines towered above me. I paused to wait for the noise of a high-flying jet to pass overhead so that I could listen for the sound of the turbines. Suddenly I realised that this was no high flying jet. The noise was constant and was coming from the turbines themselves! Kay explained that the noise is relentless and maddening. She said the day I visited it was in fact relatively quiet. Her husband produced a decibel meter which registered 60 decibels, a level at which industrial workers would be offered ear-protection!
Kay and her husband John say that their peaceful valley has been wrecked, along with their health. Stress and depression have taken their toll. Kay, who is recovering from breast cancer and suffers from breathlessness and acute anxiety, told me that "The world constantly churns with the movement of the blades”.
And yet Kay and John were never offered any kind of compensation and the value of their property is now, in their own words "negligble." They feel powerless against the onslaught on their home and health by big business and avaricious landowners, desperate to cash in on the wind farm windfall. They cannot sell their property and they are so ill that they have stopped doing any maintenance or improvements to it. They are forced to live in one room of their house and they keep all the curtains constantly shut day and night to blank out the view. The ever present noise of the turbines even keeps them awake at night.
Kay says she often has to sit in the toilet at the rear of the cottage for hours, as it is the only part of the house where you can’t see or hear the turbines. Now planning applications have been lodged to construct another 19 giant turbines on the other side of their home, so that they will be completely encased and surrounded. Theirs is a real human tragedy and yet their rights have been simply ignored by the legislators, planners, landowners and energy companies!
At the time it was commissioned, Hadyard Hill was the UK’s most powerful wind farm. It was visited by Alex Salmond himself, when he became Scotland’s First Minister and was invited to open an extension to the wind farm. It was here, in this once blissfully peaceful ‘secret’ valley in South Carrick that he famously proclaimed that “wind is free”. The impact of this industrial invasion on their rural retreat has been far from free for Kay Siddell and her husband.
However, it's no use highlighting the shortfalls of the current energy policy without suggesting any alternatives. Instead of ploughing ahead with ill-conceived plans to meet ill-conceived targets, we must improve energy conservation and energy efficiency. We can save up to 75% of the energy we currently use simply by being more efficient. Triple glazing and proper insulation would cut our energy bills dramatically.
STRUAN STEVENSON, MEP
Struan Stevenson is a Conservative Euro MP for Scotland. He is Chairman of the Climate Change, Biodiversity & Sustainable Development Intergroup in the European Parliament.
Published by kind permission of Struan Stevenson - many thanks.