In 2004, there were 12 operational wind farms in the UK and average annual energy bills stood at £522. Eight years later, 359 operational wind farms dot our countryside and annual energy bills have risen to £1,252. Today, over 5.5 million UK households spend more than 10 per cent of their income on fuel. In Scotland, over 900,000 households – more than 33 per cent – have been driven into fuel poverty. As winter approaches, they are faced with choosing 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 fi nancially unsustainable as a coherent energy policy.
Scotland is home to 142 of the 359 operational wind farms in the UK. Thirty more are currently under construction, 117 have been consented and 183 projects are in planning. Taking into account recent news reports, which suggest that an average of 83 per cent of planning applications are approved, then approximately 152 of the 183 projects planned ‘farms’ will eventually be imposed on the Scottish countryside. With the consented projects and those already under construction, a total of 299 more wind farms may soon be erected in Scotland – a 111 per cent increase on what we already have.
Our nation will soon be bristling with giant industrial turbines and the cost of installing, running and maintaining them will be overwhelming. In the autumn, 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 £4.5bn. Yet the 1.5 gigawatts of electricity that it will be capable of producing are no more than any average conventional gas-fi red power plant, which could be built at a fraction of the cost.
But Combined Cycle Gas Plants (CCGT), are greenhouse gas emitters, so let’s look for a CO2 free technology like nuclear. 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. In terms of electricity generation costs, offshore wind power is nearly twice as costly as nuclear. Mott MacDonald, one of the UK’s leading energy consultancies, projects nuclear power to be the least cost option of the main generation types in the long term, but even today, it is far more economical than offshore wind energy. Nuclear currently has a ‘levelised’ cost of around £100/MWh when costs of safe storage of waste and fi nal decommissioning are included. In comparison, off-shore wind costs an enormous £190 per MW hour.
A new nuclear plant would also operate for 60 years, extendable to 120 years. It will work at 80 per cent effi ciency, producing virtually CO2 free electricity. Compare that to the wind turbines, which work at around 30 per cent effi ciency, 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 fi nancially sustainable and would not exist but for the massive subsidies pumped in to the industry by the poor, beleaguered consumers.
Nuclear is not the only alternative form of generation which could help reduce carbon emissions and prevent further rises to electricity bills. However, with their fatuous obsession with wind energy, the SNP Government has overlooked other potential types of generation.
We have massive resources of shale gas in Scotland, the exploitation of which would drive down gas prices, boost industrial growth and take tens of thousands of ordinary Scots out of crippling fuel poverty. The green lobby are appalled at this prospect, because a successful shale gas industry would scupper the mad dash for turbines once and for all. So they have started the usual scare stories about fracking, in the same way they regularly attack nuclear power. Shale gas production in the US has caused gas prices to plummet by 30 per cent and, because of its relatively low greenhouse gas emissions, America has dramatically reduced CO2 while in Europe emissions are rising.
We should also be investing much more into developing new sunrise technologies such as the hydrogen economy. So far, no one has invented an effi cient way to store electricity. But hydrogen, which is the lightest and most abundant chemical element in the universe, can be readily stored and can provide an effective energy source. The only by-products are pure water and heat. Although it is still a relatively new technology, technological breakthroughs and economies of scale are dramatically reducing costs year on year. Moreover, hydrogen-powered fuel cells are at least twice as effi cient as the internal combustion engine.
The benefi ts are so blindingly obvious that even Alex Salmond has recognised the potential of the hydrogen economy. In August 2012, the First Minister announced that Scotland’s fi rst ever hydrogen-powered fl eet of buses would be purchased by Aberdeen City Council. However, spending £3.3m on a few hydrogen-powered buses is not a realistic response to this potentially ground-breaking new carbon-free technology.
Compared to the billions being fl ung at the wholly unreliable wind sector, this is a sad example of just how wrongheaded the SNP Government’s energy policy has become.
Focusing the majority of our efforts on one technology is unwise at best; idiotic at worst.
Scotland requires a mix of energy sources in order to meet its future needs. Carbon capture and storage, shale gas, hydrogen and nuclear power can all help reduce carbon emissions and other technologies such as thorium, biomass, tidal and wave power should also be considered.
Even hydropower, which already produces around 6 per cent of Scotland’s electricity, should not be overlooked. Whether or not any of these options will be suitable for Scotland remains to be seen, but they should be researched. We must study all potential solutions before choosing what is right for Scotland.
The lesson is clear. Stop listening to the SNP’s green mythology and invest in a reliable energy future for Scotland that combines a mix of new nuclear, shale gas and even hydro, with the longterm development of hydrogen pointing the way towards the next industrial revolution.