Even if you are a supporter of wind power, one of the most disturbing aspects of the development of windfarms is that the wishes of local people are persistently and consistently ignored. Inquiries and consultations are set up only for the politicians to ignore them or overturn recommendations. The whole process is sham. What we have is an elected dictatorship. Thanks to David Lintern of the John Muir Trust for drawing my attention to these.
A very dispiriting interview with the Scottish Energy Minister.
SCOTTISH ENERGY MINISTER FERGUS EWING’s OVERVIEW ON WINDFARMS, DECEMBER 2011,
INTERVIEW WITH FREELANCE REPORTER, IAIN RAMAGE.
(Story in Press & Journal, Dec 23, 2011). The full Q & A follows. Ewing (and his press team) failed to answer some questions, and grouped others together.
IAIN RAMAGE: Windfarms are less efficient than developers claim – according to National Grid data – producing less than a fifth of capacity, half the time. Extensive research covering a two-year period of data for the John Muir Trust showed that half the time onshore windfarms produced less than 20% of their capacity and on an average of one day a month fed virtually nothing to the grid. In increasing numbers, objectors conclude that developers are only in it for the sweeteners funded by the customers – which amounted to £1.1 billion last year, and the cost is rising. Armed with all that knowledge, why are we considering more onshore windfarm applications?
The First Minister recently stated: “Guess what, the wind comes for free.” It clearly doesn’t. It costs more than £3million per day in charges on our electricity bills (£1.1billion per year) and has occasionally cost customers to have windfarmers shut down their machines. Highland economist Tony Mackay reckons only 39% of Scotland’s electricity generation will come from renewables by 2020. How does Alex Salmond justify his claim?
The letters pages of the P&J (among others) feature anti windfarm sentiment on an almost daily basis these days, so angry are consumers about the ineffectiveness and vision of giant turbines and the fact that they add significantly to electricity bills. What is your message to those letter writers?
FERGUS EWING: We have significant onshore wind resources – onshore wind now generates more of our green electricity than our hydro stations. Wind farms, through their highs and lows, produced a huge amount of electricity in 2009 – 11 per cent of Scottish electricity demand.
The effect over a year is less need for ever more expensive fossil fuels. Wind farms reduce the need for power from conventional energy sources and all forms of renewables are greening up our energy supply – electricity from renewables met 27.4% of Scotland’s electricity use in 2009.
Any attempt to focus on wind output for a short time is clearly misguided. The wind continues to blow, creating new jobs, cutting emissions and helping Scotland secure its place as the green energy powerhouse of Europe.
The Renewables Obligation is likely to add around £15 to consumers’ annual bills in Scotland – while every increase matters, the cost is small in comparison with what recent price hikes are adding to energy bills, where extremely volatile wholesale energy prices are largely driven by the dominance of fossil fuels in the energy mix.
It may appear cheaper to build a gas or coal-fired power station, but let’s not forget it will need to pay for every unit of fuel it uses or wastes for the rest of its life, and its efficiency at converting fuel to electricity will be about the same as a wind turbine converting wind to electricity. The fuel used by wind generators is renewable, abundant and without cost whereas fossil fuels are increasingly needing to be imported and are subject to extremely volatile pricing. We need a balanced energy mix and onshore wind has a role in that. But we have never said that wind power should be the only form of electricity generation in Scotland.
I understand there are mixed views on wind farms – some are for, some against and many more are arguably are in the middle. I want a planning process that is as open, clear and transparent as possible with industry delivering the highest standards of information to communities and the wider public.
IR: Huge bonuses to power firm bosses at a time of rising electricity bills doesn’t go down well with customers. Anything the Scottish Government can do about that, or are you as helpless as the customers on that issue?
FE: The electricity market is regulated by Ofgem to ensure the market is competitive. A fair deal for consumers is therefore reliant on strong competition in the market place. Ofgem has recently identified a series of proposals to make the market work better for consumers, improving competition and transparency.
Improving energy efficiency is one of the most effective ways to reduce household energy bills. The Scottish Government’s Fuel Poverty and Energy efficiency programmes have helped almost 200,000 households, including some of the most vulnerable in our communities, to reduce their heating bills. The recently launched boiler scrappage scheme will also help over 6,000 people replace old, inefficient boilers.
Under the current constitutional settlement many of the levers which could address fuel poverty are reserved. The transfer of all energy and economic powers would significantly enhance the ability of the Scottish Government to address fuel poverty in Scotland and we will continue to pursue that outcome.
IR: As electricity bills rise, National Grid – the customer – has paid windfarm operators to shut down turbines in recent months when “less power is needed” because it’s been warmer, costing more than £1 million over a period of less than six months. Surely, this is ridiculous and irresponsible?
FE: National Grid must balance – exactly – supply with demand on a second-by-second basis. In the Balancing Mechanism, generators submit offers to increase their output and bids to reduce it. National Grid then accepts these bids/offers in the most economic manner to match supply and demand. In 2010, National Grid incurred costs of £169 million in managing network system constraints. None of this was paid to renewable generators.
This year for the first time (in April and then again in May), National Grid constrained Scottish wind generation. This was due to a combination of factors, including heavy rain, high winds, and a fault on the Scotland-England circuit which affected Scotland’s ability to export its renewable energy. National Grid is currently planning how it will incorporate increasing amounts of wind onto the grid, but it is clear that dealing with the grid congestion in Scotland must be a fundamental part of this planning. Building a transmission system fit for purpose that can connect Scotland’s vast resources of renewable energy, transport it to the centres of demand in the south of the UK and continental Europe, and that will connect us to the hydro pump storage capacity of the Norwegian network will ensure that Scottish renewable generation meets its full and undoubted potential.
IR: The SNP previously set a target of achieving “100% of electricity demand from renewables by 2020”. That was later amended to the “equivalent” of 100% of electricity demand from renewables by 2020. Can you explain why the wording was revised?
FE: It’s the same thing. In May, the First Minister announced the Scottish Government’s new target. He said “we can now commit to generating the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s own electricity demand from renewable resources by 2020. By then we intend to be generating twice as much electricity as Scotland needs – just over half of it from renewables, and just under half from other conventional sources.”
Scotland is already delivering – renewables projects already in operation, under construction or consented would provide almost 60% of our electricity needs – but we now need to go further and faster.
IR: Will you support the inevitable flow of onshore windfarm planning applications that come your way? What factors would dissuade you from approving an onshore windfarm application?
I have witnessed public anger and amazement that VisitScotland is not a statutory consultee on windfarm applications, particularly in the north where tourism is the lifeline industry. Will you add the agency to the list, to allow it a proper input in local debate on future planning submissions?
What of the Dava Moor windfarm plans, which you spoke out against a few years ago? According to the P&J (in August last year), you lodged an objection to some of the Dava plans because of the growing number of complaints from constituents and because you believed the significant historical and heritage value of Lochindorb and the surrounding peatland did not appear to have been recognised by the (former) Scottish Executive or SNH. You said: “It is absolutely clear that the opposition to this application is supported by virtually everyone who has ever visited Dava Moor. No-one supports it and it would therefore be running contrary to the overwhelming opinion of my constituents in the area that Dava Moor should be subject to the massive turbines.” ot long before that you spoke of your “huge frustration” that SNH was allowed by the (former) Scottish Executive to “wave through three-quarters of all windfarm applications in the Highlands, despite mounting opposition to despoliation of our beautiful landscape and damage to tourism.” What is your thinking now about onshore windfarms in general – and at Dava Moor in particular?
Many thousands of people will testify that “consultation” ending with mass objection to windfarms – and the Beauly-Denny power line – has been ignored. For that reason, what action is the Scottish Government taking to restore public faith and fairness in the planning system?
FE: As Energy Minister, I will determine applications to the Scottish Government for onshore wind farms over 50 Megawatts – under 50 MW are a matter for councils. Of course, I cannot determine applications in this constituency – decisions will be taken by John Swinney as Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for energy.
It is open to any person or body to make representations to a planning authority on the preparation of a development plan or a planning application . A final decision will only be taken after careful and thorough consideration of all material issues, including all representations and consultees’ advice.
I believe that effective engagement with the public can lead to better plans, better decisions and more satisfactory outcomes and can help to avoid delays in the planning process. It also improves confidence in the fairness of the planning system. Successful operation of the planning system will only be achieved if those involved commit themselves to engaging as constructively as possible in the process.
IR: In response to your renewables statement at a conference in Glasgow on June 16, Stuart Young of the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum asks: What market research has been done to identify who will buy the electricity produced by Scottish onshore windfarm companies? And who is going to pay for the transmission reinforcement south of Denny to ensure that the identified customers get Scottish electricity as far as Continental Europe?
FE: Scotland is playing a key role in the development and deployment of an interconnected offshore grid in the North Sea. This has been highlighted as a European Union priority project – an offshore grid will allow Scotland to export its vast renewable electricity surplus to the UK and Europe, help cut emissions and ensure the future security of European energy supplies.
Scottish Power (the transmission system owner in southern Scotland) and National Grid (transmission system owner in England and Wales) will deliver the necessary network reinforcements south of Denny and interconnection between European networks will be delivered by a range of system owners across Europe.
IR: Electricity engineer Jim Hall, based in Newtonmore, is concerned that no conventional power stations are planned to replace those that we will lose over the next few years – leaving Scotland having to import more energy. He says the renewables industry has persuaded governments we don’t need base-load power stations when, clearly, we do because wind is unpredictable and sometimes produces no energy. What is your response to those concerns?
FE: There is an underlying requirement for new efficient thermal capacity in this low carbon generation portfolio. The market will continue to bring forward proposals for new or upgraded thermal electricity baseload generation capacity in Scotland – applications for developments at Hunterston and Cockenzie currently going through energy consent procedures and we are expecting an application for Longannet carbon capture and storage later this year.
IR: Denise Davis from Kiltarlity, who opposes the Druim Ba windfarm proposal, says “Jim Mather didn’t care about the north as he lives far away” and asks: Will your actions be more sympathetic to the concerns of many in the Highlands angry and upset by what is happening?
FE: Proposals are subject to fullest possible consultation involving wide range of stakeholders and to which all parties including members of the public with an interest can contribute. We want a vibrant renewables industry in Scotland.
I welcome the economic contribution that renewable energy makes, bringing jobs and investment while securing new green energy infrastructure and tackle climate change. The Highlands is at the heart of these new economic opportunities and is the clear location of choice for testing and deploying technologies in marine energy, with an estimated £6 billion of investment over the next decade from developing 1.6 Gigawatts of wave and tidal renewables projects in the Pentland Firth.
We need more renewables but not at any price – the best applications are those that take care to resolve environmental and planning concerns in advance. We are committed to realising good quality renewable energy projects in harmony with the relevant planning and EU environmental interests.
IR: In Laggan, Jo Cumming of the campaign group Cairngorms Revolt Against Pylons, says: “The winter before last we had very cold weather for three months and no wind across Scotland.” he asks: When the wind does not provide enough power for the wind factories what other source of energy will be used?
Sue Hopkinson of the Highlands Before Pylons campaign group is intrigued by Scottish and Southern Energy’s decision to sell several of its windfarms. he asks: Do you feel that’s because of the growing perception that the technology is not trusted?
Finally, Highland councillor Jim Crawford is interested to know how you balance the issue of massive public subsidies being paid to windfarm developers when those payments have added to electricity costs and pushed more and more people – especially the elderly – into fuel poverty.
FE: Our balanced energy policy will ensure a range of other generating sources are available.
It’s a fact that energy prices will have to rise in the medium to long term in order to fund the required investment to move to a low carbon economy. However, we will see far greater price hikes and volatility if energy supplies are more reliant on fossil fuels than low carbon sources. Significant upfront investment in renewables over the period might lead to cheaper energy bills later, since customers will to some extent avoid paying for potentially increasingly expensive fossil fuels.
Such market trends highlight the need to ensure fuel poverty and energy efficiency support focuses on reducing overall energy consumption and therefore bills, in the face of likely rises in the unit cost of electricity.
We do face difficult decisions – for example I supported the decision to grant consent for the Beauly-Denny line which many in the Highlands opposed. I supported it because it struck the right balance between developing and delivering Scotland’s energy future and protecting environmental, cultural heritage, economic and community issues.
Our commitment to meeting 100% of Scottish electricity demand from renewables by 2020 is one of the most testing and demanding anywhere in world – but it is necessary to ensure that the Highlands shares in the wealth and job opportunities.