Editorial – was Longannet’s fate sealed long ago?

So it was a case of you take the high road and I’ll take redundancy. The awarding of the voltage balancing contracts by National Grid earlier this week has left […]

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By Sumit Bose

So it was a case of you take the high road and I’ll take redundancy.

The awarding of the voltage balancing contracts by National Grid earlier this week has left two power stations in Scotland facing very different futures.

Peterhead, a CCGT plant run by SSE in Aberdeenshire has a rosy outlook with a windfall of £15 million to help balance out our needs over the coming years. But 150 miles south of it lies the now forlorn Longannet coal plant. The third biggest in Europe and a hulking fixture in the Fife environs. It’s owners ScottishPower say it now faces closure after more than 45 years of electricity production.

National Grid said the choice was simple: “Peterhead was selected because its proposal was determined to be the most beneficial across a number of factors. These include the ability to provide system stability and resilience and value for money for GB consumers.”

On the face of it a fair decision based on what matters. Reliance. Value for money. A lower carbon agenda.

Ooops, that last one shouldn’t have slipped out. I have no proof of that obviously but it seems to me there must have been some form of context taken when making this decision. Coal is dirtier than gas period. It’s not low carbon but it is lower.

Longannet is reliable, robust and has had lots of money invested in it as recently as 2009 when it was supposed to test out CCS. That plug was pulled by the Coalition in 2011. Perhaps since then its fate was sealed.

Coal is dirty we all know that. But it is also reliable. It is stable and has given us constant power for centuries.

Longannet is the second biggest power plant in the UK and if, if it had CCS it could have provided more stable and much cleaner power for decades to come. No one doubts it is a polluter but it could have become the place for the UK to lead the world in CCS technology.

Instead we have consigned it to closure. The Scottish government is fighting to save the jobs and I am sure ScottishPower will do their best to protect the hundreds directly and indirectly affected. But now we will have to find someway of plugging the huge generation gap its departure causes.

Two million people got their power from Longannet, where will it come from now?

I’d guess from gas imports. Sure we have more renewable power in Scotland and that will help but the sheer size of the shortfall can only be solved by gas.

Who is to blame for this closure? National Grid? ScottishPower for not investing more? The UK government for being shortsighted on CCS?

I’m sure the people who work at Longannet have their own views.

All I know is the cost of closure in terms of livelihoods, local society, infrastructure, decomissioning and replacement generation will be staggeringly high.

And gues who’ll end up paying…