The most recent figures on Scotland’s energy mix are a small step in the right direction, with renewables accounting for 29.8% of 2012 generation (don’t be misled by the consumption figures at the beginning there).
The same data, however, shows that coal accounted for almost 25% of Scotland’s output. That figure will be significantly reduced for 2013, because Cockenzie closed in March of this year, a plant which amounted to about a third of Scotland’s coal-fired capacity.
The remainder is almost entirely Longannet. It’s Scotland’s number one source of carbon emissions, and it’s a killer: literally. Stuttgart University did the sums for the years by which coal shortens lives, and Longannet’s annual toll was substantial.
The third key figure in there was that 26% of the energy Scotland generated in 2012 was exported, almost exactly the same amount as was generated from coal. Essentially, we’re burning vast amounts of coal at Longannet and massively aggravating climate change not “to keep the lights on”, but just to keep Iberdrola’s profits up.
This isn’t just a failure of the market: it’s entirely consistent with the dirty little misdirection at the heart of the SNP’s energy policy in their last manifesto. As I put it in 2011: “On the environment, the 100% renewable pledge looks good, until you see that for the SNP it also means retaining all the climate-busting generating capacity for sale.”
The climate doesn’t care whether coal’s burnt for export or domestic consumption. And no amount of renewable generation does a damn thing for climate change unless we use it as an opportunity to close down coal, oil and gas plants at the same time. The figures are clear: Scotland can’t afford Longannet. It needs to be shut down as soon as possible, and proper training and investment put in to support the hundreds of people who work there. And yes, coal plants must be shut before the nukes: their time will come.