Dave Toke on Scottish shake-up and fallacies of carbon capture
One thing that English commentators at least have missed about the SNP leadership election is that the SNP narrowly avoided giving the Scottish Greens a major electoral boost. Kate Forbes, who was narrowly beaten into second place by Humza Yousaf, was likely to ditch a suite of policies favoured by Greens which would have left the Scottish Greens as the only major proponent of key policy objectives.
First, Forbes seemed to want to water down the gender identity reforms of the Scottish Government. Second, the deposit return scheme for bottles could well have been dropped. This scheme, which is likely to be blocked by the Westminster Government, has been organised by Lorna Slater, the Scottish Greens co-leader and junior minister in the Scottish Government. Third, she implied that she would reverse the Scottish Government’s ‘presumption’ against new oil and gas developments. Fourth, Forbes is at odds with the current Scottish Government plans, much wanted by the Scottish Greens, for more waters to be protected from fishing.
Certainly, the Scottish Greens themselves had signalled, just before the leadership vote was announced, that they would have ended the Bute House Agreement if Forbes became leader. The agreement is a hybrid not-quite-coalition arrangement. The SNP and Greens agree policies, and the government includes two junior Green ministers without them having to maintain collective responsibility rules.
With a Forbes leadership, the Scottish Greens could have claimed much clearer ‘green water’ between them and the SNP and thus boosted the Green vote. Indeed, we could be witnessing a sea change in the fortunes of parties in Scotland. The nationalist vote could in future be split between a right-wing-leaning SNP and a green left-leaning Scottish Green Party. Labour and the Tories would be left competing for the less green vote and hard-line unionists. The Scottish Greens have an advantage here in that whilst they are nationalist on principle, they are not seen as having independence as their principal reason for their existence.
Carbon capture and storage failure
The Government has signalled plans that it will pour many billions and pounds into fossil fuel carbon capture and storage schemes. This technology absorbs (some) of the carbon dioxide emitted from power plant and stores it somewhere. The Government’s idea is that fossil fuel power plant using carbon capture and storage (CCS) will help to balance variable renewable energy sources, mainly wind power and solar power. The UK Government has recently promised to pump in £20 billion of support for the technology. This money will be paid to the fossil fuel industry and allied interests.
Yet CCS technology is a failing technology. The only power stations that have used this technology have demonstrated CCS’s hopelessness. At best, the technology is hoped to capture almost 90% of carbon dioxide, but in reality, the only two major demonstration schemes involving power plant have never achieved anything like that. The longest-running project, the Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant in Canada, worked so badly that less than half the carbon has been captured.
The other major demonstration scheme at a power station to have been tried is Petra Nova in Texas. This has achieved a carbon capture rate of no more than 70%.
Quite apart from the failure of the technology, three unanswered questions hang over the use of CCS in power plant. The first is whether a technology that, even if it worked properly, could not deliver more than 90% carbon capture, was something that should be a target for Government subsidies. Wouldn’t spending on innovative renewable energy technologies such as tidal stream and wave power, not to mention more established renewables and energy efficiency, be a much better bet? Why not put some money into developing fuels made from renewable energy that could be stored? That would do the job that CCS is supposed to do anyway.
The second question is how CCS power stations are to be supported financially. Because of the added equipment of various sorts, extra operating costs and inefficiencies compared to standard fossil fuel generation, the electricity will be much more expensive. So, what is the financial mechanism that will be used to support fossil fuel CCS? There’s a lot of hand-waving when that question is asked, and some mumbling about increasing carbon prices. But to have the effect of bringing the CCS power plant online would require a dramatic increase in carbon and thus energy prices.
This leads onto the third question, which is how on earth is increasing subsidies for the fossil fuel industry going to benefit energy security? This is at the end of a year when fossil fuel energy prices have been the whole cause of energy insecurity!
What the Government really means when it is talking about energy security is that this is about protecting the security of jobs in the fossil fuel industry. Instead, of course, we should be talking about how we can transition jobs to a green energy economy.
Wouldn’t spending on innovative renewable energy technologies such as tidal stream and wave power, not to mention more established renewables and energy efficiency, be a much better bet? Why not put some money into developing fuels made from renewable energy that could be stored? That would do the job that CCS is supposed to do anyway.