Construction could begin late next year and even though the gas power station is supposed to be connected to a carbon-capture-and-storage plant (CCS) there are enough weasel words in the application to ministers to cast doubt on whether this will happen.
The application says that the plant “will generally be operated” with CCS – ie, not necessarily all the time. The plant will be “ready” to connect to CCS.
In the last 15 years, two £1 billion UK Government competitions have failed to get a CCS plant up and running, with Peterhead being one of the losers in the second competition.
There are currently no CCS plants operating in Europe and most of those that exist in the rest of the world use the captured carbon to pump out more oil, creating more carbon emissions.
The UK Government has had a spurt of enthusiasm for CCS but the Acorn carbon-storage project, which the new Peterhead power station would rely on, was refused funding last year.
The Scottish Government’s official advisor on climate warned that its plans were too reliant on CCS, and the government’s own recent assessment admitted that the plan to use CCS was not going to happen any time soon.
If, as seems very, very likely, the Acorn plant is not going to be ready in time, the application says the Peterhead development “might” be delayed to be ready at the same time. The application does not state that the plant will only operate if it is connected to a fully functioning carbon-storage solution.
Neither does it guarantee that the current gas-fired station of just over 1000MW will be shut down before the new one starts operating, indeed the applicants say it will be kept in reserve at reduced capacity until 2030. In the worst case, emissions from the site could double.
Even if the 910MW plant is connected up from day one, it will still not be carbon free. If it works as promised, at least 10 per cent of the carbon in the gas burnt will still make it to the atmosphere, not counting leakage of gas before it reaches the power station and after the exhaust gases have been captured. Its emissions will be the equivalent of keeping around 100,000 of our current gas guzzling cars on the road for the next 25 years.
If things run smoothly, SSE expects the plant to be up and running in 2027, with a design lifetime of at least 25 years. This means when we are supposed to have reached net-zero emissions in 2045 the Peterhead power station will still be pumping out hundreds of thousands of tonnes of climate for at least another seven years.
The current gas-fired power station is Scotland’s largest single source of climate emissions. With real zero-carbon renewables available today, we would be crazy to build a plant that could easily hold that same unenviable title in the 2040s.
Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant