A former North Sea oil company boss and now independent energy advisor has called on the Government to curtail its ‘fixation’ with wind power and to drop its moratorium on building new Scottish nuclear power stations to provide carbon-free baseload electricity generation.
Stuart Paton, former chief executive of Dana Petroleum, publishes his ‘new Scottish energy policy’ in a pamphlet due to be issued in January 2016 by the pro-market Edinburgh-based think-tank, Reform Scotland, where board members include a former Tory MSP.
In his chapter for “Reforming Scotland”, Paton says: “Scotland has to develop its energy policy beyond a fixation on wind power and point scoring with Westminster.
“The challenge of climate change does require a de-carbonisation of energy, but support for nuclear power, unconventional gas, and increased emphasis on reducing energy usage, are all required to meet the challenges of the coming decades”.
Paton is explicitly critical of the Scottish Government’s ‘un-democratic’ policy of continued expansion of wind power, stating that:
“The increase in wind generation is essentially increasing the amount of electricity that will be exported from Scotland.
“Although local campaigners against wind farms often use the ‘we are already generating more than we use locally’ argument, the national question of should we be building more windfarms in Scotland, with the impact on the natural environment, to export power to England has not been asked.
“This is a major energy policy that has been progressed without an explicitly democratic mandate.”
Geoff Mawdsley, Director of Reform Scotland, welcomed Paton’s contribution. He said: “With the challenges we face to our North Sea oil industry, as well as recent substantial changes to UK government support to the renewable sector, this is an ideal time to stand back and consider new approaches to our energy policy.
“Stuart Paton is a recognised expert in his field who makes a powerful argument for a new approach. His contribution to “Reforming Scotland” is a real challenge to this generation of energy policy-makers.
Paton recommends a four-pronged approach to strengthening Scotland’s energy policy, with a focus on alleviating climate change, reducing fuel poverty, establishing security of supply and continuing technological development. The following policies are extracts from the forthcoming Reforming Scotland pamphlet
First and foremost there should be a focus on achieving the target on carbon free electricity production.
However the Scottish government’s current approach which relies on onshore and, to a lesser extent, offshore wind farms is far too narrow. This does not provide base load capacity, is expensive and is re-distributive to wealthy land-owners.
Further, the huge pressure there is now on any new onshore wind farm development, both from an economic point of view given the removal of Renewable Obligations and local pressure, means this cannot be a significant further contributor to electricity generation.
The government should change its stance and support the construction of new nuclear power stations, most likely at the existing sites at Torness and Hunterston.
This will likely have to follow the British government’s approach and largely be dependent on foreign investment. However, the necessity of providing base load capacity makes support for nuclear electricity generation essential.
Continued use of gas for electricity generation and domestic heating is likely to be inevitable as a ‘bridging’ technology until alternative sources are found. However, support for carbon capture and storage (CCS) development in Scotland for the country’s own use and also as a basis for international leadership is important.
Given the removal of the UK government’s support for the CCS project at Peterhead, the Scottish government should step in with its support.
As discussed above, the challenge of climate change requires changes in domestic heating, domestic insulation and transportation as well as electricity generation. The Scottish government is already playing an active role in this area, through support for local generation, domestic heat generation and improved insulation.
This should be extended. These initiatives will also play a significant role in dealing with fuel poverty both through providing cheaper sources of power and allowing households to use less energy.
Fuel Poverty is a key issue for Scotland, particularly in rural areas where households often rely on oil for heating. Fuel poverty can be alleviated through some of the same approaches as for reducing carbon emissions.
Security of supply.
Many of the issues and proposals identified above not only target the challenges of climate change and address fuel poverty, but also address issues of security of supply. Building two new nuclear power stations and the development of shale gas improve security of supply both in terms if reducing requirement for importing power but also in terms of base load supply.
Within the framework outlined above, there should be three focus areas for technological focus. Onshore unconventional development and CCS development can benefit from existing expertise in the offshore oil and gas industry and the existing supply chain. In addition to the local impact, both technologies could generate significant export earnings. Thirdly, the construction of nuclear power stations in Scotland could invigorate the expertise already existing at Dounreay”.