Leader: ‘Difficult questions must be answered’

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FOR more than 40 years it has been one of the most striking, if least loved, landmarks on the banks of the Firth of Forth.

This week we learned that the towering structure of Cockenzie Power Station could disappear from the skyline within 12 months.

Problems at Longannet and Hunterston power stations means that Cockenzie has been using up the 20,000 operating hours it had left far faster than expected.

The ugly, old power station’s days may be numbered, but something else entirely now looms over this part of the East Lothian coast, the question of what happens next.

ScottishPower had been expected to build a replacement gas-fired power station within the existing footprint of the existing coal-burning one. Now, with the results of a UK Government review of energy regulations due, the company is holding back from making a clear pledge to press ahead with its plans.

Some will welcome the possibility of the seafront site no longer being occupied by a power station of any kind. It is easy to understand why those who live in the station’s shadow – apart from the 100 employees and their families – would want to see the back of this blot on the landscape. Apart from being an eyesore, it has been condemned as one of the worst polluters of its kind in Europe.

But there are some difficult questions which must be answered by those who oppose the gas-powered replacement.

There may be jobs in Fife for many of those who stand to lose their posts in Cockenzie next March. But can the East Lothian community afford to turn away the 50 to 60 jobs which the gas-powered station would create?

And, perhaps even more pertinently, where do they see Scotland’s energy needs being supplied in the coming years if we are to turn our backs on coal and gas-powered generation of electricity? Are they ready to embrace the only reliable alternative, nuclear power?

Without Cockenzie, almost 700,000 homes will need an alternative supplier of their energy needs. Those who are keen to see the back of energy production on the site need to be sure they have a better plan in mind.