Fracking or renewables – no easy solutions

Fracking is Britain’s new energy battleground, eclipsing, for the present at least, nuclear power and wind turbines. Aided by the media silly season, all eyes have been focused on the Sussex village of Balcombe. 

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But as Eddie Barnes highlights in yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday, Scotland has its own battleground with Dart Energy’s plans to drill in the central belt. There are now some 2500 objectors to the planning appeal. As at Balcombe, these are not just environmental protestors, but local residents. The fact that Dart plans to use a different method of extraction, pumping water through the coal seam to release the gas, makes little difference to local residents. As Professor Peter Davies of Durham University puts it the science is “secondary”, to people’s concerns about the industry. “There are issues of trust and that the big bad oil industry is coming for you.” 

Historically dirty industries have been sited in the north of the UK, far away from the shire counties. But that is changing with shale deposits across southern England in safe Tory seats. Energy Minister Michael Fallon almost seemed to welcome that, as reported in the Independent, when he said, “The beauty of that – please don’t write this down – is that of course it’s underneath the commentariat. All these people writing leaders saying, ‘Why don’t they get on with shale?’ We are going to see how thick their rectory walls are, whether they like the flaring at the end of the drive!”

The alternatives are not pain free either. Sir Donald Miller has returned to the fray with another savage attack on the Scottish Government’s renewables strategy. He warned that Scots could face the highest bills in the world once a single UK energy market ceased to exist and they had to pay for imported power. He also pointed out that the strategy is dependent on nuclear power, “So long as the nuclear stations at Hunterston and Torness are operational Scotland might just about muddle through, but without them would be reliant on energy coming from England. It would be importing energy back when the wind is not blowing strongly enough, and that would be for most of the time.”

He was also sceptical that marine power could prove a reliable source of energy. He said: “Marine energy is a waste of consumers’ money. Costs would be entirely unacceptable. Wave energy is even less promising, with consumers presently paying five times the value of the energy in subsidies via their electricity bills. No disinterested engineer would believe that these could ever be sensible investments to meet the UK’s energy requirements.”

To add to these problems Scottish Renewables have expressed concern about changes in Scots Law that make it easier to challenge planning decisions. While most challenges are not successful, they can cause uncertainty and delay for developers.

Fracking or renewables, there are no easy solutions to our future energy needs. But fear of the unknown will be a big factor in winning hearts and minds.

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