Leaders: Cable benefits | Human genome

would provide a means of transporting 1.2 gigawatts of renewable electricity, equivalent to half the output of Longannet. Picture: TSPL
would provide a means of transporting 1.2 gigawatts of renewable electricity, equivalent to half the output of Longannet. Picture: TSPL
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An UNDERSEA electricity cable may have no visible impact on the landscape, but the scale of the project prop­osed by electricity firm SSE is huge. The cable it plans would cost £1.2 billion, akin in cost to dualling nearly half of the remaining single-carriageway A9 between Perth and Inverness.

The economic benefit it could have is arguably greater. The cable, planned to be laid between Caithness and Moray, would provide a low visual impact means of transporting 1.2 gigawatts of renewable electricity, equivalent to half the output of Longannet, Scotland’s biggest power station. It would carry the output of wind farms in the north of Scotland and offshore turbines in the Moray Firth more cheaply than can be done by conventional overland power lines.

Though the land stations at either end of the submarine line may end up looking rather insignificant, the scheme is probably the biggest engineering project the Highlands will have seen since the construction of the Kessock Bridge. The benefits lie in the bypass the cable could provide to the bottleneck caused by lack of overland transmission capacity to development of onshore wind farms in Caithness, to offshore wind farms and, further ahead, to wave and tidal energy projects in the Pentland Firth. It is in allowing these projects to go ahead that the major economic benefit that construction of this cable would provide.

There is, however, a way to go yet before this vision can become a reality. The approval announced by Ofgem, the energy regulator, is merely the first stage in a long process before shovels and dredgers can start the physical work. Ofgem will now start evaluating SSE’s costings to make sure the company has chosen the cheapest and most effective option.

And this, of course, is planned in the context of the existing Great Britain single electricity market. A Yes vote in the referendum might alter the overall macroeconomics in the short term, but the fundamental econ­omic sense of developing and investing in Scotland’s renewable industry would surely shine through regardless.

Provided all hurdles are cleared, the value of the cable cannot be under-estimated. Apart from the regional impact it may have, there is the prospect that it can assist in adding to the amount of renewable power capacity for the grid. That, all other things being equal, a company is willing to invest on this scale demonstrates the commercial value to be derived from renewable power.

Just as valuable is the fact that Ofgem has demonstrated its willingness to cut transmission charges, making renewable projects in remote areas more viable. It has been a good day for the Highlands and for the renewable industry, and hopefully it will not be long before promise becomes reality, keeping Scotland at the forefront of the renewables industry.

WHEN scientists started delving into the mysteries of the human gene, a lot of people threw up their hands in horror, fearing mutations and other abominations while some warned mankind was trespassing on God’s territory.

News that UK medical resear­chers are close to finding a gen­etic treatment which could cure some forms of the dreadful wasting condition of motor neurone disease should silence such critics.

It has been long been known that the disease does not stem from an infection, but from a

genetic defect. Doctors have been unable to prevent its dreadful course as it progressively disables, beyond offering drugs to slow its advance or ease symptoms.

In some, such as the eminent scientist Stephen Hawking, the progression is slow; in others, such as theatre producer David MacLennan, it was more rapid. But for all, there has been no cure. It is a dreadful blight, not just on those with the condition, but also on those looking after them.

Now, however, there is the prospect of a cure. The proportion of the numbers affected who may benefit from the discovery of the possibility of a cure by, in effect, switching off the faulty gene, are small. Perhaps one in 50 of the 5,000 British sufferers may gain

Nevertheless, it is a significant breakthrough. Of course, the treatment proposed by the researchers has yet to undergo clinical trials.

But if it does prove successful, it opens the way for further research to find treatments for other forms of the disease.

Science is merely standing at the dawn of gene therapy. It could yet prove to be of huge benefit to humanity.