Friends of Earth Scotland welcome Scottish Power’s new hydro power station plan

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The potential doubling of Cruachan hydro electric power station output has been welcomed by Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation.

Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “It is very good news that the size of Ben Cruachan is likely to be doubled. Pumped storage power stations are a vital complement to Scotland’s rapidly growing renewable electricity sector.

This proposal is about Scotland making the best of its natural assets to make our  power system as flexible as possible and to create new jobs.”

The Argyll-based hydro power station is undergoing a two-year feasibility study by Scottish Power before a decision on doubling output is decided.

Scotland could be on the verge of a new generation of hydro power to rival the revolution in the glens which saw electricity taken to the Highlands in the 1950s after Scottish Power announced its intention to examine more than doubling the capacity of the iconic Ben Cruachan pump storage station – the world’s first high head reversible pump storage hydro scheme

Alex Salmond, First Minister
Alex Salmond, First Minister

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, welcomed the hydro announcement while on a site visit to Iberdrola’s Cortes La Muela scheme, Europe’s largest pump storage facility, completed in 2013, to see the scale of the technology involved. Iberdrola is the Spanish utility giant which owns Scottish Power.

Large-scale investment in new hydro-power generation has long been a cherished SNP energy policy goal since Alex Neil, MSP, was the then shadow energy spokesman in Holyrood in the early days of devolution last century.

Salmond said: “Combined with other planned developments around Scotland, this major announcement today heralds a renaissance in hydro and pump storage energy, and opens another chapter in our outstanding history of harnessing renewables.”

Scotland was the one of the first countries in the world to harness electricity from its waters. That legacy is still visible. This ambitious post war hydro building programme resulted in infrastructure which still produces electricity today.

Salmond added: “In 1945, fewer than half of the homes in the highlands had access to electricity. By 1959, that proportion had increased to over 90% through the forethought and leadership of Tom Johnston, who led the hydro-electric revolution.

“Today, the Scottish Government recognises the potential for future development at Cruachan and other similar proposals for hydroelectric storage, to contribute to a balanced mix of energy generation across Scotland. This could see hydro power generate up to one third of Scotland’s entire generating capacity in the next decade.

“Together with other developments, this major extension of pump storage technology will allow us to build on Scotland’s powerful position as a world leader in harnessing natural resources. The plans for future pump storage development demonstrate that our significant and diverse range of natural assets continue to attract the huge investment in infrastructure that will enable the Scottish economy to flourish.

“This is why such proposals have been included in the draft National Planning Framework – as potential national developments.

“National development status establishes the need for a project. It does not grant development consent. Planning permission and any other necessary assessments and consents will still be required at the consenting stage. Any application for development at Cruachan will be considered on its own merits and a decision made only after all environmental impacts have been assessed.

“Increasing pump storage capacity will strengthen Scotland’s balanced energy mix and in doing so it can also enhance security of supply right across GB. With electricity regulator Ofgem forecasting a narrowing gap between English electricity generation capacity and peak demand, Scotland’s position as a net exporter to the rest of the UK is increasingly important to ensure security of supply across the network.

“It is clean, green, renewable Scottish electricity that will keep UK the lights on.”

The renewable energy ‘w-industry’ currently supports more than 11,000 jobs in Scotland and last year, it generated 40.3% of gross electricity consumption in Scotland, up from 36% in 2011 and well on the way to meeting the Scots government target of 50% by 2015.

Renewable generation is already enough to power the equivalent of every household in Scotland while the Scottish Government has consented 20 hydro applications, with a total installed capacity of just over 720MW since 2007.

Cruachan has installed capacity of 440MW and has been fully operational since 1967. It is the world’s first high-head reversible pumped storage power station. It attracts 60,000 visitors a year to “Hollow Mountain” visitor centre. In 2012 Cruachan received the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Heritage Award.

Early studies carried out by Scottish Power and Iberdrola engineers have identified that it may be possible to construct a new cavern within Ben Cruachan, and expand the reservoir above, with the potential to more than double the capacity of the station from the current 440 Megawatts (MW) to 1040 MW.

The development of Ben Cruachan pumping station would be expected to take between 8-10 years and up to 1,000 workers could be employed during the main civil construction works at peak.

Scotland boasts 25% of Europe’s offshore wind resource, an estimated 25% of Europe’s tidal potential and 10% of its wave potential.

The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) celebrated 10 years of real-sea experience in 2013. There have been more grid-connected marine energy converters deployed at EMEC than at any other single site in the world and the centre remains the world’s only accredited marine energy laboratory.

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