Scotland’s Energy Needs Blown Off Course by Fantasy of Wind Power

By CO2 Coalition Member Dr. Euan Mearns

Sir, In response to the article published by the Director of Communications at Scottish Renewables on 7th October.

The article claimed that climate change was the greatest threat to our landscape. I enjoy walking in the Scottish hills and glens and can see no evidence for the change to the landscape claimed by the author. What is all too visible, especially in NE Scotland, are wind turbines everywhere. Turning to our pastoral landscape the most notable change are bright yellow fields of rape in the Spring. Actual impacts of climate change on our landscape are elusive to find while measures deployed to combat climate change are everywhere, and are not pretty.

In 2022, the UK was responsible for 1% of global fossil fuel derived CO2 emissions (BP review, one of the gold standards for global energy data). We can assume that Scotland accounted for about 10% of the UK total, in other words we account for 0.1% of the global total (that is one thousandth). It is wrong to argue that eliminating this tiny amount is going to make any difference to global climate, let alone to suggest that we are engaged in a fight to save the global climate. This kind of groundless scaremongering is evidently harming the mental health of our children. Only the OECD are engaged in this virtue signalling crusade. Most of the rest of the world (China, India, Russia and the Middle East) are going to carry on as before, gaining competitive advantage over the OECD for every year that passes.

It is claimed that wind power is cheap and reliable. If so, then let us get rid of all the subsidies and support mechanisms – feed in tariffs, contracts for difference and constraint payments. It is absurd that we should pay companies to not produce when the wind blows too hard. The claim of “cheap” is also disingenuous since the way electricity costs are calculated are performed on a steeply sloping playing field. It may be the case that the cost of a megawatt hour for wind is lower than the equivalent for gas. But this ignores all the ancillary costs of providing a stable and secure supply and the transmission lines required to deliver wind power to its distant market. It does happen that the wind blows nowhere across the whole of western Europe, from the UK to Sweden, Germany and Spain. At these times it is necessary to fall back on backup, normally provided by natural gas. It therefore becomes necessary to maintain a whole fleet of combined cycle gas turbines, enough to power the whole country, for occasional use. This includes maintaining the whole gas production and import infrastructure – pipelines and liquefied natural gas trains etc. The cost of this support mechanism is rarely reported, it seems likely that it will be huge. To claim that wind is reliable is a fantasy. If it were reliable then we would not need the vast support mechanism outlined above.

“The network was designed for fossil fuels a century ago”.  This is also untrue. The Scottish grid probably came into being around 1900. Then, coal fired power generation took place in cities causing horrific pollution. The clean air act of 1956 resulted in a transformation with large power stations with tall chimneys like Longannet (1973 to 2016) being moved to rural areas, but still close to population centres to minimise transmission costs and losses. In the 1950s we saw the development of hydroelectric power that was the beginning of power stations and new grid everywhere. Hydroelectric power is infinitely superior to wind and solar, but has still caused immense environmental harm.

The nuclear age dawned in Scotland with the first reactor at Dounreay in 1955. This was followed by Chapelcross in 1959 and Hunterston A in 1964. The GW scale Hunterston B came in 1976 and Torness in 1988. All of these events led to grid extensions, but again, with the exception of the experimental breeder reactor at Dounreay, all were built close to population centres to minimise transmission costs and losses.

The article in question calls for 11GW of onshore wind and 20GW of offshore wind. Peak electricity demand in Scotland is likely to be around 5 GW. This is an estimate since the deployment of large amounts of unmetered wind and solar obscures what is actually going on. Given that we already have about 1GW of hydro and 1.2 GW of nuclear, the deficit is around 3.8 GW of unmet demand. Why do we need 31GW of wind to cover this? The honest answer is likely to be to line the pockets of unscrupulous developers. Wind developers and politicians need to come clean on where all this surplus electricity will be used. The likely answer will be the midlands of England requiring about 25 Beauly to Denny scale power lines, each, hundreds of miles long. Where are they going to go, what is this going to cost and who is going to pay for it? Turning Scotland into a vast power station to enable England to reach silly CO2 reduction targets does not seem like a good idea whether you sit on the Unionist or Nationalist side of the debate.

Dr Euan Mearns


This commentary was first published in the Aberdeen Press and Journal, October 2023.

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