Power Conference Scotland debate on energy security and supply: ‘Don’t panic – yet! ‘


Tom Greatrex, MP, Shadow Energy Minister, addresses delegates at the Power Scotland Conference in Glasgow
Tom Greatrex, MP, Shadow Energy Minister, addresses delegates at the Power Scotland Conference in Glasgow

Don’t panic… but be concerned’. That was the overall message from yesterday’s keynote Power Scotland Conference debate on the balance and security of Scotland’s energy supplies.

With a major politico-economic debate erupting south of the border over a think-tank report that claims subsidised renewable energy may become the biggest policy disaster’ in modern British history’ – and with the shadow of closure looming over Longannet (Scotland’s biggest single power plant) the 2015 Industrial and Power Association debate was highly topical.

Two key themes emerged; first – that Scotland will meet its government’s target of achieving 100% of electrical generation from renewable sources by 2020:

But alongside this there are growing fears over continued security of power supply because renewable power is intermittent and cannot provide the same certainty of baseload generation provided by coal, gas, and nuclear-generated electricity.

Within 10 years, the two Scottish nuclear power stations – Torness and Hunterton – will close and – possibly by the end of next week, Scottish Power will throw in the economic towel and announce the closure of its coal-fired Longannet power station.

Combined, these three power plants generate more than half of Scotland’s electricity needs. This uncertainty was reflected in the comments by Hamilton MP Tom Greatrex, the shadow Energy Minister, who said:

“On Boxing Day last year (26 December 2014) wind power generated less than 1% of UK electricity demand – which triggered a near-doubling of responsive demand-led coal-fired power and a massive transfer of power from southern to northern Britain.

“As an MP for a Scottish seat, I am very aware of the discussions about the future of Longannet power station – the outcome of which we will likely know by the end of next week (30 Mar 2015).

While there is more to Longannet than simply the issue of transmission charges, there is a possible issue of imbalance in our energy supply.

“There will always be differences of political opinion regarding the best way to ensure a balanced energy supply, which is why we, in the Labour party, will be campaigning in the UK general election just a few weeks away for an UK Energy Security Board.

“We need a framework to remove MPs from ‘everyday’ political decisions to provide a long-term view – in the same way that the Chancellor now no longer makes political decisions on UK domestic interest rates – we need a framework which provides stability and encourages innovation in energy supply.

“We need to not do things in a short-term way. MPs need to maximise the value of the expertise in industry and in our universities to properly respond to the challenges facing us in ensuring a balanced and stable energy supply and to ensure we are not solely-wedded to one technology or another.”

Greatrex also said he realised that the political/ electoral cycles for MPs – despite now being fixed in five year cycles – were still too short to resolve long-term issues of security and balance of energy supply.

This, he said, was the reason that Labour supported the Tory Electricity Act and why Labour will either implement an Energy Security Board if the party wins the UK general election – or will continue to press for such a move if in opposition in the next Westminster parliament.

Murdo Fraser, MSP
Murdo Fraser, MSP

Earlier, Murdo Fraser, a Conservative MSP who is also Chairman on the Scottish Parliament Committee on Energy and Enterprise, opened the IPA’s Power Scotland debate on the security and balance of Scotland’s energy supply by flagging up concerns over both the imminent death-sentence for Longannet – possibly as early as next week – and the near-term end-of-life close of the two Scottish nuclear plants.

He said: “The close of Longannet – whether it happens next week or in the next five years – is not in itself fatal to Scotland’s security of energy supply.

“Scotland has over 11 gigawatts of generating capacity, in contrast to a peak record-demand of 5.4 gigawatts. Even though a substantial proportion of that generating capacity is in intermittent wind power, we nevertheless have a cushion for the short-term.

“There is a much more serious issue in what happens over the decade to 2025. It is not just Longannet that is due to close. Both Torness and Hunterston, the two Scottish nuclear power plants which produce 35% of our electricity between them, are due to shut by 2023.

“If the nuclear plants cannot extend their working lives, that means Scotland will lose more than half – 55% – of its generating capacity within eight years.”

That would mean Scotland would have just one conventional generator – the Peterhead gas-fired power station – with the rest of power generation coming from Scottish renewables, predominantly wind turbines.

Fraser added; “I have always believed that renewable power has a part to play as a component in the energy links, but I 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 resources cannot provide the base load power which is necessary to provide electricity to Scotland’s homes and business at all times – whether the wind is blowing, or not.

“My concern is that the Scottish Government is putting all its eggs in the basket of intermittent wind power, while at the same time slamming the policy door shut on fracking and the potential for unconventional gas and whilst refusing consents for any new nuclear plants.

“Within a decade, we can easily lose 55% of Scotland’s electricity generating capacity, and there seems to be no strategy from the SNP Government as to how we keep the lights on after 2023. “

“The reality is that unless we can find a way of creating new generating capacity in Scotland that is not intermittent, the only way we can keep the lights on will be to import electricity from England.”

Later, Alan Mortimer, Director, SgurrEnergy, told the conference: “Scotland will meet the government target for 100% electricity generation from renewables by 2020 – and wind will be the dominant category.”

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