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Coffee House

Spectator debate: Scotland’s energy policy is just hot air

21 September 2012

9:15 PM

21 September 2012

9:15 PM

Donald Trump and the world’s first ‘professor of carbon capture’ clashed last night in the Spectator’s first debate in Edinburgh over the motion :  as they sparred over the contentious motion – Scotland’s Energy Policy is Just Hot Air. Andrew Montford posted his argument on Coffee House earlier, and I thought CoffeeHousers may like to know how the rest of the debate went,
Trump could not, alas, be there in person but he sent in a video message in which he supported the motion. It was, as you’d expect, a coruscating attack on the SNP administration’s pro-wind farm policy. He is a well-known opponent, having been campaigning against a proposed off-shore wind farm which, he claims, will ruin the views from the golf course he has just built on the Aberdeenshire coast. ‘Your country will go bankrupt because you will not be able to afford it,’ he declared, before warning: ‘Don’t let Alex Salmond ruin Scotland. I don’t know what his problem is.’Mr Trump has been in trouble this week for a newspaper advertisement he ran warning about wind farms when it emerged that the picture he used was from Hawaii, not Scotland. He also claimed in the advertisement that Scotland was going to get 8,500 wind turbines – this figure is considerably higher than the official estimates of 5,500 turbines. But undeterred, he claiming in his address that Scotland would get 10,000 turbines and also that ‘they kill thousands of birds’.

Enter professor Stuart Haszeldine, teh world’s first Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage. He advises both the UK and Scottish Governments on climate change. An Edinburgh University scientist, he opposed the motion saying he was a scientist not a debater and his role was to explain the facts about climate change and the need to pursue alternatives to finite fossil fuels. Using graphs, tables and charts, Prof Haszeldine said he could prove, both that the world was getting warmer and also that the world had to end its reliance on fossil fuels because they were running out.

“Oil and gas have 50 years left at the present rate of consumption, coal has 100 years left, at a present rate of consumption,” he declared. Prof Haszeldine stressed that it took time to develop new energy sources which is why he backed the Scottish Government’s drive to generate the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity supplies from renewable sources by 2020 – thought to be the most ambitious renewables target in the world.

The professor warned that nuclear energy, although good for reducing greenhouse gas emissions was very expensive, particularly because of the disposal costs and that, when these full costs were taken into account, nuclear energy cost twice as much as renewables.

He also attacked the opponents of climate change for spreading misinformation and not basing their arguments on proper scientific research. “Pseudo science is being used to show global warming doesn’t exist,” he warned.

Andrew Montford, whom CoffeeHousers heard from earlier, was one of the “climate change sceptics” that Prof Haszeldine had in his sights. Mr Montford has written books decrying what he claims is the bias of climate change enthusiasts and he hit back to claim that the Scottish Government’s drive for renewables was a waste of time and money. “It almost defies belief,” Mr Montford said. And he added: “The idea that this is a plausible future for Scotland relies on that combination of ignorance and wishful thinking that you only get at Holyrood.” Mr Montford claimed that the cost of meeting the UK’s 2020 emissions targets would be £120 billion because wind was so much more expensive than existing systems.

Niall Stewart is the Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, the industry body for the renewables sector in Scotland and he was there to oppose the motion. His contribution started uncertainly. “I might be wrong,” he declared, only to hear the rejoinder from a sceptical member of the audience: “You are.” But Mr Stewart recovered to set out what he claimed were the facts about renewables in general and wind energy in particular. Mr Stewart said it was necessary to get away from the hyperbole and claims about the sector and focus on statistics.

He claimed that 11,000 jobs were being created in renewables in Scotland, that old industrial units were being revived and re-industrialised by inward investment into this sector in Scotland. Mr Stewart dealt with the thorny question of what happens when the wind does not blow to claim that wind power was designed to dovetail with oil and gas, with traditional power stations scaling back whenever the wind did blow. “The truth is that every megawatt of wind displaces output from gas and output from oil,” he declared. Mr Stewart spent some of his allotted eight minutes criticising the website of Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, who has become something of a noted critic of the Scottish Government’s wind-based energy policy.

Mr Stevenson then got the chance to reply and was blunt in his assessment of the Scottish Government’s approach. “It doesn’t work, it’s horrendously expensive,” he declared. And he added: “It is not clean, it is not green and it is certainly not free as Alex Salmond likes to tell us.” Condemning the reliance on wind power as “ill-conceived and financially unsustainable,” Mr Stevenson argued: “It’s a no-brainer. Wind is simply not financially sustainable and would not exist were it not for the massive subsidies pumped into the industry by the poor, beleaguered consumer.”

The second, and final, video address came from author Stephen Bayley, an expert on design. Speaking against the motion, Mr Bayley admitted that wind turbines were far from perfect but he praised those pursuing the wind energy dream because of their desire to achieve something industrial. Accusing the opponents of turbines of “technical prejudice”, Mr Bayley argued: “They (the turbines) are ugly and intrusive and inefficient but so were the first generation of steam railways.” And he added:  “But at least wind turbines are at least a nod towards Watt and Stevenson and Brunel.”

The debate was then thrown open to the floor, where there was some discussion as to whether shale gas could provide the answer to Britain’s energy needs. Mr Stevenson, a supporter of the development, dismissed warnings about an earthquake of 1.2 on the richter scale which is supposed to have been produced by a pilot project off the coast of England. “1.2 on the Richter Scale? That’s probably what happens every time Alex Salmond sits down,” he retorted.

One questioner raised the issue of tidal power – there are a number of offshore experimental projects already underway off the coast of Scotland – but the speakers found it hard to get away from the really contentious issue of wind farms, where the real disagreement lay. Other questioners queried the number of jobs which Mr Stewart claimed would be created with others demanded more evidence on the claim that wind power actually displaced electricity generated from oil and gas generation.

The motion was decisively supported.

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