No Tiree Array on basking sharks, night time visuals and divergent wind subsidy regimes between Scotland and Westminster
The knowledgeable, effective and determined No Tiree Array campaign – resisting the proposed and massive ‘offshore’ wind farm (starts only 3 miles out) wrapping around the island’s south and west coasts – has issued an information update.
They find impressive the tracking maps on the Scottish Natural Heritage website for its ongoing initiative in mapping and interpreting the movements of backing sharks in the area.
The develop in question, Scottish Power Renewables (which is not a Scottish company) carried out a survey of its own on basking sharks – a simple head count – and is reported to have sighted no fewer than 914 basking sharks in a single day within the proposed area of the Argyll Array, now better known as the Tiree Array.
Scottish Power Renewables are said still to be persisting in refusing to present night time visualisations of the proposed array.They have a public information obligation here and the campaigners have now asked the Scottish Government and Marine Scotland to remind SPR of this and to see the necessary visualisations provided.
It took a long time to get the daylight to-scale visualisation made public and when they were, it was not hard to see the reason for the reluctance.
The No Tiree Array website is currently carrying photographs taken from a cargo ship passing 8 kilometres away from the Walney offshore array at Barrow in NW England. This Array has only 30 turbines where the proposed Argyll Array around so much of Tiree is intended to have 300-500.
Light pollution is a serious issue here, amongst so many others resulting from the uninhibited scale of the proposal.
The No Tiree Array campaign is now working on producing its own night time visualisations, based on light data it had got from SPR. These should be in the campaign’s next information update.
An immediate issue here may be the recently announced plans of Tiree’s sister Atlantic island, Coll, just across Gunna Sound, the half mile wide stretch of water that separates them.
Coll has applied to become Scotland’s first Dark Sky island – with dark sky status hard to get and, as The Galloway Forest Park has demonstrated, very valuable in the tourism revenue it generates from astronomers anxious to get skyscapes free from light pollution.
Serious studies would be required to back up Coll’s application, given that, under SPR’s proposal, much of Tiree would be surrounded by wind turbines with a definite light impact at night.
The subsidy debate
With some justification, NTA identify a divergence in renewable energy and subsidy policy for wind farms between the UK and Scottish governments.
The issue here is, in the case of both governments, the need to rebalance subsidy against the decreasing costs to developers of wind farm installation.
With the Westminster Government’s decision to target a major focus on gas generated energy, it has less of a need to subsidise wind.
For the Scottish Government, set against non-renewable energy sources and with a major dated public commitment to 100% installed clean energy needs – there is a greater need to keep the developers onboard with less room to contemplate cutting wind subsidies – quite apart from the impact of the independence agenda.
NTA point to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change [DECC] Announcement of 25th July, that it was resetting its wind subsidy strategy.
This had been trailed as a major cut in subsidies to developers, with the Treasury, supported by a body of Conservative backbenchers, demanding a 25% reduction.
It was also known that there was an internal turf war going on between the Treasury and the LibDem partners in the coalition, with their commitment to maintaining the extremely generous subsidy levels.
The leaking of the Treasury demands produced a determined and angry lobby from the industry, naturally anxious to see this golden goose fly for longer.
DECC postponed its statement of intent in the midst of some turmoil.
In the event, DECC announced a subsidy reduction, much less than had been touted, comfortably post-dated and offering the assurance of possible revision following a call for evidence – and protection of existing negotiations under what the DECC statement called ‘grandfathering and grace periods’.
‘Grandfathering’ is an inhouse business and financial industries term for securing the future of projects at a certain period of negotiation to proceed under the terms originally discussed.
That is perfectly fair and is what ‘good faith’ is all about. However, the specific nature of the term – grandfathering – in its multigenerational implication, suggests a detail in such arrangements that may be unduly protective and is not immediately transparent.
The reduction in subsidy given in the DECC statement is not referred to in directly financial terms but in opaque calculation in ROCs.
These are Renewables Obligation Certificates – effectively a form of currency – as are Carbon Credits – both established by government, operating within the industry, tradeable between one company and another.
These arcane systems are usefully unintelligible outside the industries concerned. Both result from muscular lobbying of governments and both are favourable to industry in allowing a wide spectrum of opportunity to draw revenue from the public purse and to deliver obligations in ways the public might not approve, given the chance to engage in the issues.
The key part of the DECC statement on 25th July, couches the lower than expected reduction in wind subsidies (the outcome of a vigorous internal fightback by the LibDems) does set the strategic context unquivocally:
‘Future support levels
‘It is not the Government’s policy to support renewables at any price. Our ultimate aim is for renewables to become competitive without the need for subsidy. Today’s package sends a strong signal to industry that we expect this to happen over time. (Ed Our emphasis.)To get this moving in the right direction, we are reducing support where it can be done while bringing on the deployment that we need from key technologies, such as offshore and onshore wind, to achieve our aims.
‘The level of support for offshore wind will be set at 2 ROCs/MWh in 2014-15, reducing to 1.9 ROCs in 2015-16 and to 1.8 ROCs 2016-17. This is consistent with our consultation proposals, and reflects our expectation that the costs of offshore wind will fall as mass deployment takes place and industry innovates. We are already working closely with key representatives from industry to reduce costs. The UK has some of the best offshore wind resources in the world and these will be key to the UK meeting its low carbon objectives. The new support levels will ensure that the UK remains its position as the leading location in the world for offshore wind deployment.
‘We can confirm that the level of support for onshore wind for the Banding Review period will be reduced to 0.9 ROCs, guaranteed until at least March 2014. However, we will undertake a call for evidence, starting in September and reporting in early 2013, which will re-assess onshore wind industry costs. If findings of the call for evidence identify a significant change in generation costs, the Government will initiate an immediate review of onshore wind ROC levels, with any new support arrangements for onshore wind taking effect from April 2014. Given the importance of maintaining investor confidence there will be full grandfathering and grace periods for projects already committed. As part of the call for evidence, we will examine how communities can have more of a say over and receive greater economic benefit from hosting onshore wind farms.’
The Scottish position and moves in the game
As with too much these days, wind renewables have become almost inextricably tied to the independence agenda. Amongst other matters of concern, this has distorted governmental public information to the point of apparently conscious deception – as in the suppression of Korean company, Doosan’s decision not to proceed with plans to open a research facility and a factory in Renfrew.
The proposition that Scotland can survive and thrive as a small independent country – which of course it can, although at a price more demanding than is popularly imagined or formally laid out – is tightly knitted in to the renewable energy agenda.
The reasons are obvious.
Were Scotland to have a strong renewable energy provision, it would seriously lessen dependence on fossil fuels, reduce carbon emissions, lower energy costs and be an earner through the sale of energy surplus to requirements. These elements contribute collectively to the image of the sustainability of an independent Scotland.
Each one of the elements in this scenario is problematic, from the cart-before-horseness of peppering Scotland with wind farms when the Scottish national grid cannot deal with the energy produced by what is already installed, to the fact that the cost of energy from renewable sources is unlikely to be lower than the present tariffs.
But the political need to be able to support the independence proposition by demonstrating that Scotland will produce substantial wind energy leaves the Scottish Government unable to do other than continue to throw public money at often carpet-bagging industrial ‘investors’.
So, as No Tiree Array [NTA] identify, there is indeed tension between the strategic policies on such subsidies between the Westminster and the Holyrood governments.
The banding regime allows Scotland to set its own rates for such subsidies. The costs, however, are ultimately borne by consumers across the entire United Kingdom in energy bills which have to absorb the cost of subsidies paid and of ‘community benefits’ offered by developers to stall local objection.
The extent to which this is the case can be seen from DECC Minister Ed Davey’s own estimate – which will of course be optimistic – that the the impact of this reduction in subsidy on household energy bills may amount to an average of £5-£6 a year.
This does not mean £5-£6 per annum less than the average annual bill today – even if that were a material concern. It means £5-£6 per annum less that it would have been without the subsidy reduction.
Recent chronology demonstrates the existence of the tension between the two governments’ positions on renewable energy and subsidy.
- 23 July 2012: the Scottish Government announced that, from April 2013, it will cut the number of ROCs (renewable obligation certificates) awarded for each megawatt-hour of power from land-based wind turbines from 1.0 to 0.9 – a 10% reduction in subsidy for onshore wind farms. The rates for other technologies were to be published ‘shortly’. The Scottish Government gave the reason for its announcement as an attempt to provide certainty for the industry after the U.K. government had, a week earlier, delayed a decision on support for low-carbon energy under the Renewables Obligation programme. This delay followed a dispute with the Treasury, which was looking for bigger cuts to land-based wind power. In a letter to Ed Davey, UK Minister at DECC, First Minister Alex Salmond said that Scotland’s subsidy for onshore wind farms would only be cut by 10%%, regardless of whatever decision Westminster were to make. The background to this was that DECC had been known to be about to announce a 10% cut of its own but had been stalled by the Treasury which wanted more – thought to be 25%.
- 24th Jul 2012: Scotland’s position welcomed. Maf Smith, deputy CEO at trade body Renewable UK, welcomed the Scottish Government decision and urged DECC to announce its own decision, saying: ‘These delays are sending waves of uncertainty across the whole of the renewables industry and blocking much-needed investment’.
- 25th July: the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change made the announcement, part of which is quoted above, making its own 10% reduction in subsidy for onshore wind; and a 0.5% reduction for offshore wind in 2015-16, coming down to 10% in 2016-17.
- 26th July: Scottish Government replied to an immediate question from NTA the day before, on its response to the UK Government statement, saying: ‘The Scottish Government welcomed the UK Government’s published response to its Renewables Obligation consultation, and we have confirmed that we will publish our own response shortly. In the meantime, Scottish Ministers have said in the past that their support for renewables is not “at any cost”, and that it is important both for developments to take place in the right locations while supporting policies which are aimed at building capacity while enabling the technologies to drive down costs and become more competitive.’
The divergence between the two governments in energy policy is the major commitment to gas contained in the DECC statement of 25th July 2012, a policy which is not properly consistent with the environmental demands of moving away from reliance on fossil fuels.
At the end of May 2011, the Scottish Government upped its target to 100% of energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020, from the previous target of reaching this point by 2025.
This came around a month after it was made known that the UK – committed to generating 15% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 – would miss its targets by a substantial margin.
One has to read the actions of the Scottish Government as game playing – quite good fun as a spectator sport but of concern as evidence of a focus on the serious government which so distinguished the SNP minority administration between 2007 and 2011.
At the end of April this year, the UK is known to be unable to meet its renewable energy target of 15% by 2020. In May is made known that the Scottish Government announces that it is doing so well it will now commit to bringing forward by five years its target of 100% energy needs from renewables.
Then it is known in July that the Treasury wants to see a 25% cut in onshore wind farm subsidy and that DECC are likely to have to settle for 10% to keep the Libdems sweet.
The Scottish Government quickly gazumps the scene by announcing first its own 10% subsidy cut – and gains cost-free brownie points from saying boldly that it will stick to this 10% cut regardless of what DECC does. Everyone interested knew that DECC would go for 10% and not the Treasury’s preferred 25%.
All good for a laugh – but is speed of implementation so centrally the issue in the context of new, untried technologies with virtually no research base on their own environmental and health consequences?
If the cost of gazumping the Westminster Government for a few cheap scores is a scattershot of far too many wind farms over Scotland’s most scenic coastal and island landscapes and its prized wildernesses – all of which support the real earner of our actual and potential tourism market – it is a frivolous failure of responsible, integrated, long term strategic planning.
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