Brian Monteith: Scotland’s future will be powered by hypocrisy

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Will the last person to leave the Scottish Parliament switch off the lights? No need, by 2020 the lights will already have gone out across Scotland!

It’s sad but true, the Holyrood parliament’s penchant for wind power is bringing us to the point where Scotland will have to start importing electricity, even when the wind is blowing. And still some people are in denial about our parliament’s culpability and want to blame English politicians.

Notice my ire is directed at the Scottish Parliament as a whole and not at the SNP government in particular – although it would not be difficult to lay the blame on the current nationalist administration and Energy Minister Fergus Ewing in particular.

It is only fair however that the SNP shares the blame, for the timespan of wrong-headed decisions taken at Holyrood goes back for more than a decade. The dangerous lurch towards wind power really took off after the SNP came to power in 2007, but we cannot and should not ignore the fact it started with the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition before then.

The desperate state has been brought to our attention thanks to a new report from the Institution of Civil Engineers in Scotland. We have had warnings before but these have usually been from Conservative politicians like Murdo Fraser, so have been dismissed as alarmist or partisan. No such allegation can be levelled against the body that represents 8000 engineers, who can be expected to take a dispassionate and evidence-based approach. It is science and provable facts that they look to and the conclusion is simple – we face becoming an importer of electricity rather than the exporter we currently are.

The switch will come as three power stations, Longannet, Hunterston B and, Torness, close over the next five years and will not be replaced by anything other than more wind turbines. Those three account for 55 per cent of Scotland’s electricity generation. To close one without any replacement is unfortunate, to close two plain daft, but to close three is unforgivable.

Unfortunately our expensive wind farms cannot be relied upon to work for 66 per cent of the time when the wind is too slow or (absurdly) too fast. That leaves two options – planned black-outs like I have experienced in developing nations in Africa or Asia – or importing power from England. How ironic that the SNP has brought such a situation to pass: Scotland which once boasted it was the powerhouse of Britain, exporting 20 per cent of the electricity we generated, will be relying on another country that the SNP would like to split us away from.

Excuses about high transmission costs making Longannet too expensive simply don’t wash. The transmission charging regime penalises the cost of transporting electricity over long distances (because it is inefficient) – but due to other factors Longannet cannot compete with power stations far, far away in England or even with one in Peterhead.

The difficulty Longannet has is that coal-fired power stations (like Cockenzie before it) face additional taxes for being “dirty” – while nuclear generation from Hunterston B and Torness is coming towards the end of its serviceable life.

Labour, Liberal Democrat, SNP – and of course Green – politicians have delayed, resisted or refused to allow a new generation of nuclear, coal or fracked gas power stations to be built in Scotland.

The result is that we will eventually have to import electricity from England generated from nuclear, coal or fracked gas – or even from nuclear power stations as far away as France when the UK national grid faces excess demand.

If it is OK to take such power from other countries, what was so bad that we could not have allowed the development of such power stations in Scotland? The reek of political hypocrisy is sickening.

It is also said that energy policy is not devolved. That also is wrong. The regulation of energy companies is the responsibility of Westminster so that the UK has uniform regulations – but the power to approve new power stations rests firmly with the Scottish Government. Consent for large power stations has been withheld while the consent for thousands of wind turbines has been dished out like loose change at a poor-oot.

Especially annoying is how this scandal has been coming down the road for a number of years and is approaching the point of going beyond solving immediately. No government minister can magic-up a large power station “just like that!” The foundations of replacement power stations should have been laid four or five years ago but instead the SNP government wanted Scotland to become the Saudi Arabia of wind power and started pressing for more and more turbines to be built.

I worked on the project for building a new power station in Botswana that started in 2009 and was completed last year. With Scotland’s expertise we could have done that ourselves – and created a demand for Scottish steel at the same time.

Start stockpiling the candles, it’s too late to build nuclear power stations in time, coal is beyond the pale – so that only leaves fracked gas, but the SNP has ruled that out too.