Hydro Nation – rhetoric and reality

The Water Resources (Scotland) Bill has completed its parliamentary stages. It includes a duty on ministers to report to Parliament every three years on how it is ensuring the maximum value is being taken from Scotland’s water resources. This is the legislative teeth to back up the Scottish Government’s Hydro Nation agenda – making use of the abundance of water in Scotland.

The legislation was largely uncontroversial as the final proposals fell somewhat short of the grand rhetoric when the First Minister announced the idea in the legislative programme. The trade unions argued for a more radical approach, particularly to the governance of the initiative. As UNISON Scotland’s submission said:

This does not mean that we should cling to the status quo. The water trades unions have published a paper, ‘Its Scotlands Water that highlights other public service models that demonstrate that a more democratic structure can deliver a more efficient, socially responsible and more accountable public water service. It is in this context that we believe that a new governance model is needed to take forward this vision for Scotlands water. Scottish Water is a big part of that structure, but it should not be running it.”

However, even the trade unions recognise that while the Bill was something of a damp squib, it did at least entrench Scottish Water as a public service. No small achievement given the heavy privatisation lobby. This lobby is supported by the European Commission that is working hard to undermine water as a public service.

A practical example of Hydro Nation is Scottish Water being a partner in an 18-turbine wind farm in Angus to help cut its own £40 million electicity bill. Scottish Water is planning to be a partner in the 18-turbine wind farm to help cut its own £40 million electicity bill. The planned development at the Backwater Reservoir near Kirriemuir has the potential to generate up to one-third of the utility’s energy requirement. Chris Banks, commercial director at Scottish Water, said: “As one of Scotland’s biggest consumers of electricity, the generation of renewable energy on appropriate sites is a natural fit for Scottish Water. We want to become increasingly energy efficient while helping to meet Scotland’s ambitious renewable energy targets. That’s why we are exploring the feasibility of renewable energy development on suitable Scottish Water land.”

Another example is the installation of  a turbine into its pipe network which will reduce the amount of electricity it will need to use. The turbine, which is capable of producing 600Mwh of electricity each year, is located in a strategic trunk water main at Denny, near Falkirk. The technology, known as Difgen, can be installed where the flow of water needs to be controlled by installing a pressure reducing valve. A turbine recovers the lost pressure and turns it into energy. 

Despite these new responsibilities Scottish Water is still focused on the core utility business and it continues to perform well. Even the pro-privatisation Water Industry Commission CEO said in the latest report:  “We are pleased to report that Scottish Water continued to perform well in 2011-12, with all areas achieving a rating of ‘on track’ or better.”

Bills in Scotland are expected to be about £50 below the average paid by households in England and Wales to private water companies even after this year’s 2.8% increase in water charges. This was the first increase for four years and is all the more noticeable because of the Council Tax freeze. Douglas Millican, chief executive described the increased charges as, “a fair deal for our customers in these challenging economic conditions. These charges are helping to pay for the current £2.5 billion investment programme which is delivering the investment that Scotland needs in its water infrastructure while providing thousands of construction jobs.”

A good example of this investment is in Glasgow as Victorian ­sewers are to be upgraded in the biggest regional investment in sewage works for more than a century. The Greater Glasgow waste water network will undergo a £250 million, five-year improvement programme to stop sewage polluting the Clyde and ­connecting waterways. Drivers trying to get around Glasgow may be less impressed by the roadworks!

Finally, the benefit of a public water service is spreading down to England. Bernard Matthews has become the first business customer in England to switch its water supplier to a Scottish provider, in a three year deal with Scottish Water’s Business Stream.

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