Scotland cannot become a giant renewable electricity transmission station – Kenny MacAskill

Renewable electricity is required but Scotland needs to be able to protect its natural environment too

I fully support the drive for renewables. The hottest April ever recorded confirms our planet’s need, and our nation’s blessed with a natural bounty. My objection is not in principle but about consideration of just what we need, where it should be sited and whether what’s being done is even required, let alone appropriate.

And although the environment and economic factors are to be given equal weight, from whose perspective is that to be viewed? Is it the communities who are to be blighted or those areas and corporations that will massively benefit?

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Several rural areas in Scotland, including my own patch of East Lothian, are facing the huge intrusion of battery storage plants. Now I see the need for battery storage. It’s absurd that some 17 per cent of onshore turbine capacity has had to be switched off annually due to lack of capacity on the National Grid. Worse than that’s the perversity of constraint payments where the sums paid to operators to switch off are higher than what they receive for supplying energy.

Pylons are the cheapest way to carry renewable electricity from new windfarms to where it's needed (Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)Pylons are the cheapest way to carry renewable electricity from new windfarms to where it's needed (Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Pylons are the cheapest way to carry renewable electricity from new windfarms to where it's needed (Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
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Renewable energy expansion needs some Victorian know-how – Kenny MacAskill

Applications for them are coming in thick and fast, especially in Scotland where more electricity is produced from renewables than is consumed. So, it’s not for our benefit but for others elsewhere that more projects to be sited there.

With grid capacity being improved, there must come a time when there’s sufficient access to the grid. There will, of course, still require to be storage for when the wind doesn’t blow, for peak demand or for other products such as hydrogen.

However, a time will surely come when grid improvements negate the need for ever-more storage plants. I asked National Grid ESO, which oversees all this, when this would happen. The response was that it was a good question and yes, it’s true, but we don’t know. Surely, some outline calculations and planning should be done. Instead, it's a free market free for all. Whether collectively we need it, who knows and, for those communities which will suffer, who cares.

It’s the same with the balance between the environment and economics. Not just with battery storage but the pylons taking the energy south. Underground cabling’s four times more expensive than pylons and subsea cabling eight times.

For the villages and communities across Scotland, the environmental damage will sometimes be catastrophic and, on other occasions, simply unsightly and unwelcome. As well as the loss of views, the disruption will be considerable and long-lasting or permanent. That’s what matters to people.

After all, there’s little need for more development as we’re already supplied with more energy than we require and the economic benefits will be minuscule if not non-existent. High energy charges will remain, no jobs will follow, and businesses likewise won't be relocating there.

Looked at from local people’s perspective, protecting the environment will always trump economic benefit. But when seen from a corporate perspective or even a major metropolitan area in England, the economic benefit of cheap and renewable energy is massive, and the environmental impact doesn't affect them.

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Local communities mustn't be a resource and they have rights. Scotland cannot simply be a giant transmission station. It must be able to protect its environment.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba MP for East Lothian



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