Positive news for Islands amid future energy uncertainty

As part of their 2017 election manifesto the Conservative party pledged to support land based wind turbines in Shetland as long as the community benefit from any development. However no timescale was attributed to the pledge.

Local newspaper ‘The Shetland Times’ learned this week that an announcement is due later this month when it is hoped that information relating to the proposal will produce definitive plans for future developments and end the uncertainty over the islands’ energy supply.

Industry regulator Ofgem recently released a proposal stating that a 60MW subsea cable from Dounreay on the mainland could be connected to the islands however this would require backup provided by diesel engines. Alternate plans for a new power station at Rova Head in Lerwick were scrapped as Ofgem claimed it didn’t offer value.

This new proposal has been met with resistance from local councillors who this week published a special report focusing on the limitations of the supply only cable in particular concerns that Shetland’s potential as an exporter of energy will be delayed and even lost if the ability to export electricity to the mainland is lost.

Development committee Chairman Alastair Cooper remains optimistic. Speaking to ‘The Shetland Times’ he said: “Ofgem and National Grid needs the UK government to clarify its position. They’re actually dealing with a situation that is in front of them today. They’re having to deal with the situation as they have it.

“If the UK government would provide clarity on the remote island wind they may even, at this late stage, still be able to take a better decision.”

While Shetland is experiencing issues with potential renewable generation, further south the picture is much rosier. This week industry giant Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) released figures showing the impact renewable energy community contributions had affected the Perth and Kinross area in a positive way over the past year. In total £518,000 was delivered in support of local groups and projects.

Forty eight local projects in total have benefitted from the fund including the Tayside Mountain Rescue Association which was awarded £25,000 from the Griffin and Calliachar Fund to purchase a new communications command vehicle.

The thirty strong volunteer team assist those in need on mountains, local rivers, canyons and cycle trails. The new vehicle will assist in the safety of expeditions until at least 2030 and will also be used to educate the community on staying safe while outdoors.

Stuart Johnston, team leader, said: “The funding will help to protect our mountain rescue volunteers and the people we rescue. Our new incident command vehicle provides essential support for volunteer safety.”

Others to benefit from the community fund included Dunkeld and Birnam Friends of Guiding who received £70,000 towards restorations to their meeting hall and the Alyth Development Trust which received £22,000 to help support the Alyth Town Development Plan.

The SSE report published last week also stated that for every £1 received from the fund, recipients obtained an additional £5.26 in match funding from other sources.

SSE head of sustainability Rachel McEwen said: “We hope that these projects will leave a lasting legacy for the local communities in Perth and Kinross and that the success of these projects will encourage more groups to come forward and apply for funding.”

SSE’s community investment annual review documents every award made from SSE’s 27 community benefit funds. In total, 402 not-for-profit projects received grants to the value of £4,965,322 in the 12-month period.

Due to location Shetland unfortunately missed out on the renewable energy boom of the past ten years so it was very welcome to see the government pledge to support new onshore wind farm developments on the islands. However the delay in any further information plus the recent Ofgem recommendation is concerning.

The islands are particularly windy, even for Scotland, and therefore their ability to generate a surplus of electricity would almost be guaranteed. Add the advancements in battery technology and the right amount of strategic developments and the islands could be powering themselves, and others, cleanly and safely for the foreseeable future. We strongly hope the outcome of the forthcoming announcement is positive for the entire island community.

Further south things are very different. Community contributions have in the past been perceived by detractors as a negative, playing their part in convincing local communities to allow turbines in the area. However time and time again it has been shown the majority of those living close to wind farms do not feel negative towards them whether they benefit from community funds or not.

In most cases, almost everyone does either directly or indirectly and when such worthwhile causes such as Mountain rescue teams receive a boost it is difficult to frame it as a negative.

Renewable energy and wind power in particular is now less expensive than the majority of alternative generation sources providing clean, safe energy for everyone. Local communities are benefitting in a number of different ways through funds including skills, education, community facilities and services.

All in all we do not see any negatives and believe that in the future we will be powered 100% from renewable energy. We also believe it won’t be that far in the future.

The cost of Wind Power continues to fall

Like all new technologies when they first enter the commercial market, wind turbines were costly and therefore the cost of generating electricity from them was higher than the more established methods. Over time the cost started to fall as the technology became more widely used and more widely understood and this pattern continued as more turbines were installed throughout the country.

However certain factions continued to claim that the cost of generating electricity via wind was high, particularly in relation to other more traditional methods of generation.  They had their reasons for perpetuating this false claim but such was their influence that when discussing our industry with those on the outside we were often asked ‘isn’t that very expensive?’ and ‘doesn’t that mean higher costs for consumers?’

This myth however was shattered this week in a new round of CfDs (Contracts for Difference) for the energy sector in which two energy companies proposed to build offshore wind farms and generated electricity for export to the grid for a guaranteed price of £57.50 per megawatt hour.

In comparison the proposed new nuclear power plant Hinkley Point C has secured a guaranteed price of £92.50 per megawatt hour.

Emma Pinchbeck, from the wind energy trade body Renewable UK, speaking to the BBC about the latest figures said they were “truly astonishing”.

“We still think nuclear can be part of the mix – but our industry has shown how to drive costs down, and now they need to do the same.”

The nuclear industry unsurprisingly agree and state that due to the intermittency of wind power and the winding down of carbon intensive generation nuclear is needed now more than ever.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) also speaking to the BBC, said: “It doesn’t matter how low the price of offshore wind is. On last year’s figures it only produced electricity for 36% of the time.”

EDF, which is building the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, said the UK still needed a “diverse, well-balanced” mix of low-carbon energy.

“New nuclear remains competitive for consumers who face extra costs in providing back-up power when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. There are also costs of dealing with excess electricity when there is too much wind or sun,” a spokesperson for the multinational said.

They also stated that like wind, energy from nuclear power will become less expensive as markets mature however history has taught us that this isn’t the case as the cost of generating electricity via nuclear power has continued to rise since the 1950s.

Also both EDF and the NIA conveniently forgot to mention the rise of battery storage which in its many forms is tackling the problem of intermittency head-on without the production of dirty nuclear waste and the potential threat of meltdown.

Dong Energy were one of the two companies to successfully bid for the contract for phase two of what will become the world’s largest offshore, the 1.4 gigawatt Hornsea project.

Dong is currently building the first phase of the Hornsea project, which has a capacity for 1.2 GW and was guaranteed a price of £140 per MWh. Phase two of the project, which will be built 89 kilometres off the Yorkshire coast, will produce enough energy to power over 1.3m UK homes. It is expected to be operational from 2022.

“This is a breakthrough moment for offshore wind in the UK and a massive step forward for the industry. Not only will Hornsea project two provide low cost, clean energy to the UK, it will also deliver high quality jobs and another huge boost to the UK supply chain,” said ​Matthew Wright, managing director for Dong Energy UK.

Dong has already started the consultation process for Hornsea project three which will add more jobs and income to the UK economy and if completed along with the first two phases will generate enough power for 3.6million homes.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s figures were released after an auction for subsidies, in which the lowest bidder wins. In 2015, offshore wind farm projects won subsidies between £114 and £120 MWh meaning that in the two years since offshore wind subsidies have fallen by at least 50% with the reductions attributed to the downturn in the oil and gas sector, the availability of larger turbines and a more competitive supply chain leading to lower costs across the renewable sector.

Lawrence Slade, chief executive of energy industry body Energy UK, called on ministers to build on the UK’s lead in renewables.

He said: “This (auction) shows what can be achieved by providing the necessary certainty for investment, which drives down the cost of decarbonisation, benefits customers and the wider economy, and creates highly skilled jobs and stimulates growth in rural economies.”

Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Green Party, said the figures achieved should be the “nail in the coffin” for new nuclear; “While clean, green wind power has the potential to seriously cut people’s bills, the Government’s undying commitment to new nuclear risks locking us into sky-high prices for years to come.

“The Government should now commit to this technology – and scale up investment in offshore wind so that it becomes the backbone of British energy.”

I don’t think even the most pro-nuclear power campaigner can say that these figures are good news for their industry. Hinkley, still not built will now receive subsidies for the next 35 years at least 60% more costly than offshore wind.

New nuclear power plants in Suffolk and Wales are expected to be less than Hinkley but even then it is highly unlikely to be less than £80 per MWh, still much more expensive than the most recent offshore wind figures.

Wind farms are also much cheaper to build than nuclear plants and can be developed in stages. They are also constructed much quicker with UK wind farms boasting an excellent record of on time completion. Yes, there is intermittency but as alluded to above, new storage solutions added to smart grid technologies are expected to negate these issues in the near future.

Wind is proving to be an inexpensive modern viable energy option while nuclear trails somewhere far behind. With the government due to publish a major review on the cost of energy next month our hope is the wind is very much on their expansion agenda whilst at the same time we see an end of new nuclear power plants.

We believe that clean inexpensive renewable energy is the best option for everyone, economically and environmentally it makes sense.

Scotland’s Electric Future

Scotland’s longest road, the A9, is to be fitted with electrical charging points its entire length from Falkirk in central Scotland, through Inverness and on to Scrabster Harbour in the very north of the country. At the launch of the project First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the road will show that electric vehicles can offer important advantages to motorists in rural as well as urban settings.

Speaking at the launch she said “Over the next few months we will set out detailed plans to massively expand the number of electric charging points in rural, urban and domestic settings. We will make the A9, already a major infrastructure project, Scotland’s first fully electric-enabled highway.

“This is an exciting challenge and one I hope all members and the whole country will get behind. It sends a message to the world – we look to the future with excitement, we welcome innovation and we want to lead it.”

The policy which is part of the Climate Change Bill also includes the phasing out of new petrol and diesel cars and vans and promoting ultra low emission vehicles by 2032, eight years earlier the current UK Government proposal.

Scotland currently has more than 1,800 charge points – around 15% of the UK total and the highest of any UK region with further plans to expand Scotland’s EV charging infrastructure right across urban, rural and domestic areas between now and 2022, with promises of financial support for local solutions and small-scale research into challenges surrounding charge points, particularly in domestic tenement properties.

The government also plans to transform public sector car and van fleets by the mid 2020s and commercial bus fleets by the early 2030s.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The A9 already has a number of fast and rapid chargers at strategic locations. We recognise that as electric vehicle driver numbers increase so must our charge point numbers to ensure that drivers have the support and confidence to travel the country without experiencing ‘range anxiety’.

“To support our ambition of phasing out the need for petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032, we will continue to work with each of our delivery partners to further develop the A9, making it Scotland’s first electric highway.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland director Richard Dixon welcomed the plans as “the greenest programme for government in the history of the Scottish Parliament.

“The Scottish Government has put improving and protecting the environment at the heart of their legislative and policy programme. Promises here will reduce climate change emissions, save people from air pollution and help Scotland become a leading example of a low carbon country. This package is a very significant step towards a fossil-free Scotland.”

Scottish Renewables deputy chief executive Jenny Hogan welcomed “recognition of the economic, environmental and social value of renewable energy.

“The announcement of £60million to deliver cutting-edge low-carbon energy infrastructure like electricity battery storage and sustainable heating systems will build on the success of projects already announced under the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme and further enable our shift to a cleaner, greener economy.

“A focus on ultra-low emission vehicles, and particularly a drive to encourage their uptake by public bodies, will help move our transport system to one powered increasingly by renewables. A new Climate Change Bill which will toughen Scotland’s statutory 2050 greenhouse gas emission target will provide a context for the further development of our industry, enabling renewables to continue to reduce emissions and drive sustainable economic growth.”

While the Scottish Government is planning our carbon free future a new offshore wind farm, which will provide a slice of the clean energy required is according to the University of Strathclyde, expected to contribute £827.4 million to the country’s GDP.

The 450MW Neart Na Gaoithe project could see capital expenditure of up to £2 billion, with around £510 million of this to be spent in Scotland. Operational expenditure is expected to total around £1.7 billion over the project’s 25-year life, with around £610 million of this to be spent within the country.

The wind farm will also support around 13,900 jobs over its construction and operation. The majority of the jackets and piles that make up the turbine structures and half of all maintenance will be procured within Scotland. The facility is expected to go into operation during 2021.

Jenny Hogan, Director of Policy at Scottish Renewables, said: “These new figures show the huge potential offshore wind offers to Scotland’s economy, in addition to the key role it has in tackling climate change.”

With Scotland producing record amounts of clean renewable electricity it makes sense to promote clean use policies. Our transport energy use is one of the largest contributors to our carbon emissions so an increase in charging points along with a constant reduction in new petrol and diesel cars will greatly reduce our overall emissions.

The definitive reduction targets as part of the Paris climate deal will not be easy to meet but it is our obligation to do so. Government policies like those above are therefore necessary for us to achieve these targets.

We will one day all be driving electric cars that much we can now be sure about. The pace of uptake has pleasantly surprised us and as the technology continues to improve, particularly covering the issue of range, we expect this to increase further.

The government policies will also speed up use and as our carbon emissions reduce everyone will benefit.