Fracking Threatens Bath

Fracking  has caused further controversy in the UK as plans to begin exploratory drilling in the Mendip Hills for Shale Gas have come under attack from elected officials and members of the public in the nearby World Heritage City of Bath. The Mendip Hills themselves have also been classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Fears have been raised that the process of fracking, which fractures rocks by injecting vast quantities of water, sand and a cocktail of chemicals (the make up of which Shale Energy Companies remain fiercely secretive about) into the earth, could lead to the contamination of the city of Bath’s world renowned hot springs. Fracking has already frequently been accused of contaminating groundwater sources; a claim that the Shale Gas Industry has had to refute repeatedly. Figures in the industry have argued that fracking typically takes place at depths below that where groundwater sources are generally found.However the water which supplies the hot springs comes from a deepwater source. The waters at Bath have been used recreationally and medicinally since Roman times and are the back bone of the city’s vital tourist trade. Indeed Bath City Council have placed direct income from the Hot Springs at around £34 million per annum with the wider tourist trade bringing in £348 million a year to the city.

Paul Crossley, head of the Local Authority, released the following statement:

“There is a great concern that the process of fracking will result in the water courses leading to the natural hot springs being contaminated with pollutants from this process, or for the waters to adopt a different direction of travel through new fractures in the underlying rocks.

“Bath and North East Somerset Council has obtained the very best expert advice on this matter and there is little to suggest that any thought has been given to the deep water sources that supply the springs in Bath.

“Given the fact the hot springs are a crucial part of the tourist attraction that sustains thousands of jobs in the city, the council must stand up against the these drilling proposals in the strongest possible terms.”

The Liberal Democrat MP for Wells, Tessa Munt, has already written to Energy Secretary Charles Hendry to attack the lack of consultation with local people about the proposed fracking: “I share my constituent’s unease of this highly suspect method of squeezing the last drops of non-renewable fuel from a highly sensitive and indeed fragile part of the country.”

However such opposition is facing more than one problem. For one thing the Parliamentary Act introduced to protect Bath’s hot springs (the County of Avon Act of 1982, which requires council consent for any excavation below a set depth) is inadequate in this case as the proposed drilling would be carried out in the Mendip Hills. The Hills fall under a different local authority which is not affected by the Act and they are thusly under no obligation to consider the impact fracking may have upon the hot springs.

Secondly the UK government is under increasing pressure to allow Shale Gas extraction and fracking to be carried out across the West of England.Figures released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) show that North Sea Gas production (and therefore tax revenue) has fallen 25% in the second quarter of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. Shale Gas has been presented as a cheap bridging energy source in the shift from fossil fuels to renewables. Oil imports are up by 0.8 million tons from 2.8 million tonnes in the second quarter of 2010 to 3.6 million tonnes in the second quarter of 2011. This is despite a 1.7% drop in total oil demand.

Malcolm Webb, chief executive of the pressure group Oil and Gas UK reacted to the figures: “On the face of it, a production decline of this magnitude is extremely worrying and we need to investigate and fully understand what has happened here.

“For the sake of the Uk’s economy and its energy security, we should be doing everything we can to encourage sustained investment in our nation’s oil and gas resources to slow the decline and prolong the producing life of fields.”

Far more positive news was seen in the figures for renewable energy generation, particularly wind energy. Renewables are now producing 9.6% of the country’s total energy output; the majority coming from wind turbines. This is a significant increase compared to just last year when renewables were producing 6.39% of total energy output. The figures also revealed that output from wind energy has risen 120% year on year. Scotland’s commitment to renewables was also shown in the fact that the country now has 20% more installed renewable capacity than England.

Gordon Edge, policy director at Renewables UK made the following comment: “These statistics show the wind industry making a tremendous contribution to the nation’s energy supply. Wind is now providing enough power to supply nearly three and a quarter million homes in the UK. This will stabilise energy prices, as well as generating tens of thousands of jobs, and helping us to build a new lower carbon economy.”

With public opposition to fracking on the increase (demonstrated by the protests at Camp Frack) it seems that the energy future of the UK is yet to be decided. A future which only renewables can secure.

Renewables receive Royal Seal of Approval: Marine Turbines Installed at Windsor Castle

On the 7th of September two 40 ton Archimedes marine turbines were installed on the River Thames at Romney Weir, just a few miles from Windsor Castle. The marine turbines will be used to generate power for the Royal Palace and is expected to reduce the Royal Household’s carbon footprint by 790 metric tonnes per year. This renewable development is expected to be the just the first step in a drive to de-carbonise the Royal Family’s home life.

Marine turbines such as these were based on technologies developed over 2000 years ago by the Ancient Greeks (specifically in this case by Archimedes of Syracuse) to allow irrigation of land at the top of slopes.

Plans to install renewable electricity generators at Windsor Castle have been in the pipeline for a number of years. The Royal Household had initially been approached by Southeast Power Engineering Ltd. (otherwise known as SEPIEL) in 2007 but it is only now that the project has reached the stage were marine turbines could be installed. The delay was attributed to the particularly thorough scrutiny that the Environment Agency placed the proposals under. Issues such as local wildlife and riverbank ecology had to be placed under especial scrutiny as the Environment Agency had, before this, never granted a Weir lease to a private company let alone a development such as this which would always attract far more media attention than could be usually expected.

Barry Russell, the Environment Agency’s hydropower project leader released the following statement:

“This is a great opportunity for developers and community groups to get involved in generating clean, green electricity in an environmentally sustainable way.

Marine Turbines must fulfill their potential

“Weirs are an untapped source of energy and the Environment Agency is keen to ensure that hydropower fulfills its potential as a small but useful renewable energy source, whilst protecting the environment.”

The marine turbines are expected to be operational and providing power to Windsor from November but it is as yet unclear whether the installed marine turbines will be sufficient to fully power Windsor Castle from entirely renewable sources. Royal household sources have indicated that they fully expect full green power to be achieved by 2012. A Spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace commented: “I can confirm that the royal household now has an agreement in place to purchase the energy generated by the hydro scheme, implemented by SEPIEL.

“We have been looking at this for a number of years. It is one of a number of green initiatives introduced at royal residences by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.”

Friends of the Earth UK‘s director of policy and campaigns, Craig Bennett issued the following comment:

“This is exciting news – we urgently need to develop clean and safe energy to tackle climate change and build a greener economy and it’s great that the royal family is showing leadership in doing so.

“It’s not just the royals who can take advantage of the UK’s huge potential for renewable energy on and off shore – from our wind and sun to our waves and river weirs. The Government should get on with the job of greening all of our energy supplies and ensure communities are properly supported to produce their own clean power.”

The installation of marine turbines at Windsor Castle has not been a project without its problems. SEPIEL encountered difficulties in securing a bank loan to fund the project. In fact they were unable to secure a loan which would have allowed for the marine turbines to be manufactured within the UK. A problem vocalised at the time by the company’s director David Dechambeau: “I have got a local company that would be willing to build the turbines, but we are finding it difficult to find the financial support needed to build the Archimedes-type pump for the first time.”

As a result of this reliance upon bank finance the marine turbines have now had to be sourced from the Netherlands at a cost of around £700,000 each. The example of SEPIEL indicates the problems that a renewable scheme can run into, and the compromises that may have to be made, when it has to deal with the problem of bank finance (particularly in these days of banking hesitance and caution), projects get delayed, costs are raised and the project itself can be potentially compromised. It is clear to see then, the advantage a company such as ours, which does not rely on securing finance from banks, has.

Sustainability, Waste and Whisky

Scotch whisky is not only Scotland’s biggest export it is now being used to power some of the country’s homes. Diageo, the global alcohol conglomerate, has announced plans to consturct a biomass power plant at it’s distillery complex in Glenlossie. This follows investments in similar schemes at other Diageo sites in Fife and Roseisle.

This new plant will be fueled by a combination of wood-chip pellets and graff. Graff is spent grain; a waste product from the distilling process. The use of graff to produce more whisky will reduce money spent on power for the distiller as well as making operations at the Glenlossie site sustainable. It is expected that the plant will use 30,000 tons of graff per annum which will be left over from the production of approximately 3.2 million gallons of whisky. Diageo has stated that this will result in a reduction in carbon emissions of 6,000 tons a year which is equivalent to removing 1,600 family cars from the road.

Brian Higgs, Diageo director of malt distilling released the following statement: “With Roseisle distillery we showed what can be achieved in using the natural by-products of our industry to produce green energy.

“Diageo is committed to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and to reducing our overall impact on the environment. The plan for Glenlossie is another significant step in our journey towards that sustainable future for Scotch whisky production.”

Neill Stuart, the Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables stated that Scotland’s “world famous whisky industry is now increasingly looking to renewable fuel sources to power its operations with Diageo very much leading the way.

“Renewable heat and small-scale renewables have the potential to help all sorts of businesses generate new revenue or reduce costs while cutting carbon emissions.”

Additionally the Combination of Rothes Distillers announced earlier in the year that they will be working in partnership with Helius Energy (a British Biomass company) to build a biofuel power plant in Speyside (one of Scotland’s traditional whisky heartlands ) which will be the first such facility in the country to provide power to both industry and to the public. The planned facility is intended to power 9,000 homes in the local area by burning a combination of draff and wood pellets.

This news has not met with an entirely positive reaction. WWF (Worldwide Wildlife Fund) Scotland have questioned how the wood pellets will be sourced, arguing that unless the pellets were obtained from a local and sustainable source then any carbon reductions achieved from reduced usage of fossil fuels would be cancelled out by emissions produced by importing them. Sam Gardner, the organisations climate policy officer said: “It is using waste products from our whisky industry which is an eminently sensible thing to do, and is producing heat both for whisky production and for the local community. We would want to see assurance, however, that the biomass was sustainably sourced.”

The shift to renewable power comes at a time when the whisky industry is seeing strong growth in exports. For the first half of the year exports reached a value of £1.8 billion, an increase of 22% on the first half of 2010. The US is the industry’s top export market by value, shipments to this market were up 14% to £276.6 million. France was the biggest market by volume, importing 94.8 million 70cl bottles which was an increase of 18%.

However the biggest rises were seen in emerging markets such as Central and Southern America (which saw an increase of 49% to £214.4 million), Taiwan (increased by 45% to £70.3 million) and Singapore (increased by 64% to £148.5 million). The chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, Gavin Hewitt attributed these large increases to “a growing mixture of affluence and aspiration” amongst an emerging middle class as well as “recent breakthroughs in trade relations”.

It is right then that Scotland’s biggest exporting industry should be involved in the country’s renewable revolution.Such a key part of the Scottish economy should and is insulating itself against the increasingly volatile fossil fuel markets.