Energy price hike sends up greenhouse gas emissions

AS THE Scottish Government announces it is stepping up efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, latest figures yesterday revealed emissions are increasing.

Statistics released by the Scottish Government showed rose by 8 per cent in 2006, partly because of the rise in the price of gas. The increase in Scotland's emissions reverses recent trends which saw greenhouse gases fall in Scotland between 1990 and 2005.

This rise is mainly because of a shift to dependency on coal-fired power stations, which produce almost three times the per unit of electricity as gas.

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Yesterday, John Swinney, the finance secretary, said the year ahead was "a critical one for addressing climate change", and warned that more needed to be done to tackle emissions.

But with fuel prices rising and the credit crunch tightening, experts last night said the latest statistics suggested Scotland would find it harder to hit its ambitious target of cutting emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Mr Swinney said: "Scotland can, and must, play its part in seizing opportunities to reduce emissions.

"Later this year, we will frame in law our commitment to reduce Scottish emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, the most ambitious statutory target anywhere in the world.

"Much has been achieved over the past year, but it is clear that more needs to be done."

Mr Swinney was speaking at the launch of a report which suggested there would be a "significant" rise in Scotland's greenhouse gas emissions for 2006 compared to the previous year.

Power companies have increasingly sought to prop up their interests in ageing, cheaper coal-fired power stations amid rising gas prices, greater consumer and manufacturing demand and the temporary decommissioning of nuclear power stations.

The figures on emissions are contained in the second annual report on Scotland's climate change programme.

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The report states: "Although the 1990-2005 trend shows a reduction in emissions, emissions can vary significantly from year to year, often due to factors outwith government control. Published figures for emissions from Scottish sites in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme in 2006 suggest these will lead to a significant increase of around 8 per cent of Scottish emissions compared with 2005.

"This rise is principally due to a shift to more coal-fired electricity production that year as the relative price of gas increased."

Nick McGregor, an oil and gas analyst at the stockbroker Redmayne Bentley, said: "Broadly speaking, gas prices have gone up eightfold in the last decade, while coal prices have only doubled although they are starting to accelerate as well.

"Ten years ago, power companies were talking about phasing out coal-fired power stations, but now they can't afford to.

"Coal-fired stations that were facing decommissioning will be propped up and there will be investment to prolong their lives. More electricity is being produced at Longannet power station in Fife and Cockenzie in East Lothian (both coal-fired].

"This is going to threaten the Scottish Government, hitting their targets, because coal is so more polluting than gas.

"A lot of European countries that signed up to fairly ambitious targets are starting to backtrack, and Scotland might have to as well. I guess the hope is to offset some of that pollution by using renewable technologies, but the percentage of overall output is marginal and the economics are terrible – wind turbines are hugely expensive and the profit margins are wafer-thin.

Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland,

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said: "To reach the 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050, the Scottish Government would have to eliminate the use of any coal-fired power stations without the use of carbon capture and storage. Extending the life of the existing (coal-fired stations] without doing this is the wrong direction.

"This current government and the last one have done a reasonable job of promoting renewable energy, but because they have not addressed energy saving with the same vigour, that has meant that we are vulnerable to these sort of changes in the world markets."

A spokesman for ScottishPower said the company's emissions had reduced from 80 million tonnes in 2006 to 15 million tonnes in 2007. He added: "The Longannet power plant did operate to a high extent but that is because there was issues with the nuclear fleet.

"We have been making changes to the Longannet and Cockenzie power plants, making them run more efficiently."

A Scottish Government spokesman insisted the targets programme was viable, and full statistics for 2006, once released, would probably show more electricity was produced via renewable sources than coal-fired power stations.

He said: "The latest energy statistics show that in Scotland between 2005 and 2006, electricity generated by renewable sources, apart from hydro-natural flow, increased by 46 per cent. Continuation of the rate of growth in these other renewables would result in achievement of the Scottish Government's renewable electricity targets of 31 per cent by 2011 and 50 per cent by 2020.

A spokesman for the Scottish Green Party said: "The SNP administration must now do more than set targets. They must act quickly to reduce our dependence on ever-more expensive fossil fuels. If they do not, the price will be paid both by the climate and by consumers."