ONSHORE WIND WILL DO THE HEAVY LIFTING OVER THE NEXT 30 YEARS
9th May 2019
A while before Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion (in their own ways) had everyone focussing again on climate change, I had my own minor epiphany in March. I was attending the Scottish Renewables Annual Conference and (as we lawyers do) was largely focusing on the networking opportunities it afforded. I hadn’t even given the programme much consideration but before long I was sitting up as Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change took the stage.
Chris is an engaging speaker anyway but , as he says himself, he is somewhat “unleashed” since departing his role with the Scottish Government.. He started, his presentation with the most probing of questions - why are we doing this? His answer was nothing short of scary. The work which needs to be done to ensure that the earth’s temperature does not rise sufficiently to cause catastrophic damage is huge and sadly, we are not in control. A change in approach in China would have more impact than anything else. There was some comfort, however, in relation to our efforts to date. We have a huge distance to cover transforming our transport network and the way in which we provide heating, but in low carbon generation of electricity Britain, and in particular, Scotland are genuinely world leading.
As well as we have done there is more to do. The performance against 2020 targets is to be toasted, but 50% of energy use from renewables for 2030 sets a new standard and we should not see targets as caps ( a point which the planning authorities mercifully seem to be acknowledging).The drive to rid ourselves of reliance on fossil fuels is (and must be) ongoing. Well deserved fanfare greets offshore wind at the moment; great hope exists that tidal will eventually provide a long lasting, commercial scale energy solution; and solar has made such impressive technological steps that it is now widely commercially deployable in Scotland but much of the heavy lifting in relation to the energy load over the next 20-30 years is going to have to be done by onshore wind. Wind farms, existing and new, are here for a good while yet.
With the first commercial windfarms having been constructed in the 1990s we might have expected a huge swathe of replanting by now but an uncertain market in a still fragile economy is prompting a desire to optimise and sweat existing assets. The position is not helped by the failure of our planning system to give a clear presumption in favour of development in existing sites but that tide its turning and we can expect replanting to become more prevalent in the next 10 years.
This all leaves us with the certainty that we are going to see more new windfarms. Developers though are clear that the case for developing a new project is far different from what it was in the past. With no government supported route to market they face a challenge to find suitable corporate PPAs or to generate electricity at merchant levels. Before all other agendas were wiped off the map by Brexit there was some hope of some sort of a market stabilising instrument from Westminster, based on some positive noises, in particular from the Tories!! How realistic that was I cannot say but it would be a very optimistic developer at this stage that would be expecting some certainty on an alternative route to market which might be meaningful to projects currently in development.
Smart developers are going on a journey (and trying to take their landowners and other stakeholders with them). Every prospective project is being scrutinised for wind speed , suitability for larger turbines, and minimised infrastructure costs (often by sharing). Affordable solutions are being sought to traditional problems such as unavailability of grid connection, aviation impact, cultural heritage, and crofting tenure. It will be survival of the fittest. Many have started that journey already but they will face competition from new entrants to the market wishing to bring the requisite skillset from other countries to develop Scottish wind farms.
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