Renewable energy: Trump's tempest

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 24 April 2018 in Inside Politics

Is Donald Trump’s prediction that wind power will destroy Scotland’s economy fake news?

Donald Trump in Scotland - Andrew Milligan/PAWire

Remember when Donald Trump was just a loudmouth property developer and fake news was ostensibly confined to The Daily Mash?

The man who would be president used a slightly less glamorous forum than the White House lawn to test out his singular brand of diplomacy in 2012, when he appeared in Scotland’s granite grey parliament to oppose a wind farm that would put him off his golf swing.

He had already realised that bombastic outbursts could trump facts in the arguments to come in the next half decade ­— but he hadn’t quite perfected his technique.

“If you dot your landscape with these horrible, horrible structures, you will do tremendous damage” to Scotland’s tourism industry, he shouted.

MSPs cried, “Where is the evidence?”

“I am the evidence,” said The Donald, repeatedly, declaring himself “a world-class expert in tourism” and much smarter than those so-called experts (Michael Gove must have been listening) who are just “doing it to make a paycheck”, in contrast to his own presumably philanthropic motive to Make Scotland Great Again.

Fast forward six years, and there is an emerging theory that Trump is indeed a genius, propagated by a “high-level government insider with Q clearance”. 

Initiates in the QAnon conspiracy know that Trump just pretended to collude with Russia to hire special counsel Robert Mueller to help him bring down ‘Deep State’ traitors and child sex traffickers that, by the way, include Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros.

If this is true, then tourists will soon be shunning Scotland like a leper colony.

The first “windmill” at the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre that will “destroy the financial wellbeing of Scotland” was installed this month.

The first photos show the turbine rising from the sea with its blades jutting out at an obtuse angle, like two fingers to Trump’s well-heeled golfers. The massive V sign is a reminder that The Best Negotiator In The World was outmanoeuvred by a bunch of green snowflakes and jumped up toon cooncillors in Scotland’s wee pretendy parliament.

His dire predictions for the Scottish economy have yet to emerge, according to the so-called experts at VisitScotland, with their figures, which are probably fake news.

Overnight tourist spending rose by eight per cent to £4.7bn between 2012 and 2016, wholly driven by a massive 23 per cent rise in overseas visitors to 2.75m.

That was before the turbine went up, though, and QAnon is reliably informed that April 2018 will be the month that Scottish tourism falls off a cliff.

Trump also declared in 2012 that “wind is a very inefficient form of energy” but the so-called experts at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy didn’t get the memo, recording a record rise in renewable energy generation in 2017 due to improved storage capacity and higher wind speeds.

It is estimated the equivalent of 68 per cent of gross electricity consumption in Scotland came from renewable sources last year, up 14 points from 54 per cent in 2016.

And it didn’t stop there, according to those snowflakes at WWF Scotland and WeatherEnergy who reported even more record-breaking generation in the first three months of 2018.

Scottish onshore wind turbines provided 5,353,997 MWh to the National Grid, an increase of 44 per cent on the same period last year.

In January alone, renewable wind powered the equivalent of over five million homes, well over twice the number of households in Scotland, they said.

Trump will no doubt take solace in the wildly intermittent power generation, but even on the calmest day, Scottish turbines produced enough energy to power a city the size of Glasgow and when the wind really got up, they could have powered Scotland four times over.

For avoidance of doubt, The Donald declared in 2012 that he is “all for renewable energy”.

“I believe in wave technology and tide technology,” he said, presumably on the condition that the onshore connection infrastructure is nowhere near any of his golf courses.

The Scottish Government believes in wave and tidal energy, too, but its results have been even more intermittent than the wind so far.

In 2008, shortly after he became first minister, Alex Salmond announced a £10m award for innovation in marine energy technology called the Saltire Prize.

It was billed as the largest award of its kind anywhere in the world, but the competition officially ended last summer after the Scottish Government admitted it probably “cannot be won” under the required terms.

Developers had to demonstrate a commercially viable wave or tidal stream energy technology producing at least 100GWh over a continuous two-year period, and by 2013 there were five companies in the running.

However, wave power firm Pelamis went into administration in 2014, followed by Aquamarine Power the following year.

Trump hates offshore “windmills” because they’re apparently prone to rust from “salt water, wind and rain, and other problems” and their steel foundations, seemingly, won’t hold up under water. 

QAnon is reliably informed that these problems can be solved by putting the entire turbine beneath the waves, where salt water and ocean currents won’t pose a problem to the complex rotating mechanism.

One so-called expert close to the Saltire Prize said the competitors were foiled because wave technology has “too many moving parts and wasn’t robust enough”. Fake news, surely.

A Scottish Government spokesman said the marine energy industry had “taken major steps forward” since the Saltire Prize guidelines were developed in 2008.

But he added: “Despite a number of high profile successes in the sector, the path to commercialisation is taking longer and proving more difficult than initially anticipated, not least due to a lack of dedicated, or ringfenced, market support mechanisms for commercial-scale marine energy projects.

“As a result, no competitor was able to meet the original prize deadline of June 2017.

“However, the [Saltire Prize challenge] committee is considering options for reshaping the prize to better reflect the circumstances of the wave and tidal sectors, so that this can continue to provide an incentive to drive innovation in Scotland.”

Tidal power is far from a lost cause, though, as Atlantis is seeking to demonstrate with the world’s largest tidal stream array at the Pentland Firth.

The 6MW capacity MeyGen array began its 25-year operations phase this month following a prolonged period of testing. The array has generated approximately 6GWh of energy to date and in March set a new world record for monthly production from a tidal stream array, generating 1,400MWh.

Tim Cornelius, Atlantis CEO and MeyGen chairman, said: “This achievement is a triumph of public policy and a demonstration of what can be achieved when government and the private sector roll their sleeves up and decide to create a whole new industry together.”

Political will appears to be just as crucial as technology in the development of renewable energy.

Small wind turbine manufacturer Gaia-Wind blamed Westminster cuts to tariff support for small-scale renewables, compounded by similar moves in export markets, for their decision to bring in a liquidator last month.

Scottish Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, MSP for Renfrewshire North where Gaia-Wind is registered, accused the UK Government of “putting Scottish jobs at risk and standing in the way of climate change progress”.

“The Tories’ backwards decision to cut subsidies for the renewables sector has hampered growth in a vital industry of the future that experts say will be more cost-effective than nuclear power,” he said.

The recent Spring Statement showed an improved picture for the North Sea oil and gas industry, indicating fossil fuels are likely to remain the major player in Scottish energy economics for the foreseeable future despite many grim warnings about its imminent demise in recent years.

Improved technology has made the previously inaccessible oil and gas fields west of Shetland economically viable, creating something of a double-edged sword for the SNP which based a large part of its 2014 independence case on oil revenues but remain in thrall to the environmental lobby and reliant on the Scottish Greens for votes.

The OBR revised its revenue forecast upwards due to higher oil prices, increased production and lower costs – putting forecasted revenues £400m higher in every year from now until 2023, averaging around £1bn a year for the next five years.

The SNP has demanded this cash be ploughed into renewable energy development.

Gillian Martin, SNP MSP for Aberdeenshire East, said: “We won’t accept the Tories resuming their cash grab of North Sea revenues, never to be seen by Scotland again – this practice by successive Westminster governments has seen the long-term health of the sector neglected while filling the Treasury’s coffers for decades.”

The Scottish Government wants to have more control over Scotland’s energy supply by having environment and energy policy devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but also recognises the importance of maintaining energy links throughout the British Isles, particularly if Scotland can generate four times more renewable energy than it can use.

Scottish ministers are also setting up a state-owned energy company to rival the Big Six suppliers, supply household power and invest in renewable energy.

Consultancy EY estimated the cost of setting up the company could be up to £3.5m, with first year running costs at £9m, and warned that there is already tough competition on price, with 42 rival companies in the Scottish market.

EY also highlighted the risk to the Scottish Government of making a loss. Of those 42 firms, half reported a loss in their most recent accounts, including two of the Big Six.

The Treasury took a massive hit when the oil price collapsed, but it was able to cushion the blow with the UK’s diverse economy. If Scottish budget forecasts are tied to prospective revenues from a national energy company that fail to materialise, public services could suffer. 

The Scottish Government is also increasingly becoming a direct stakeholder in the precarious renewable energy supply chain that plunged component manufacturer BiFab into difficulty.

Workers in Fife and Lewis were given hope for the future when Canadian firm JV Driver acquired the firm last week.

The Scottish Government has also taken a stake of up to 38 percent by converting £19 million of loans into shares.

However, the 250 permanent staff and 1,100 contracted workers cannot breathe a sigh of relief just yet, as a decision redundancies will be taken by the new owners.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown warned of “difficult times” ahead, and said BiFab’s future depends on securing new contracts as it nears the end of work on the £2.6bn Beatrice Offshore Windfarm.

Renewable energy is a precarious business, but oil and gas is not the safe investment that it once was either.

Fossil fuel fans regularly point out that they are a stable form of generation, easily stored, with the ability to turn the tap on and off in response to demand. But oil prices are as variable as the Scottish weather and more easily manipulated by the self-serving regimes in the countries where the most lucrative deposits lie. 

The wind may come and go but it can’t be curtailed by an Arab sheik or Russian despot to punish an enemy or make a political point.

The political will for an all-out effort to shift from fossil fuels to renewables may also be held back by the lucrative revenues they generate for investors and their friends in parliament who also have a direct stake in keeping the oil flowing.

A cross-party campaign to urge the British parliament to ditch fossil fuel investments from the parliamentary pension fund is gaining strength, with nearly 150 current and former MPs signing the Divest Parliament pledge, including party leaders Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable and Caroline Lucas, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford and sitting Conservative MPs David Warburton and Zac Goldsmith.

There is still a long way to go for the campaign to gain the support of the majority of parliamentary pension holders, but QAnon is reliably informed that MPs would never put their personal wealth above the future of the planet.

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