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« Harsh liberalism | Main | Bird scaring »
Thursday
Jul192007

Meaningless gestures

Scottish Power has announced that it is going to convert two of its coal-fired power stations to burn wood - coppiced trees in other words. They aim to replace fully 5% of their coal requirement (that's their coal requirement, not the country's coal requirement, mind) with this "carbon neutral fuel".

In order to do this, they need to use 12% of the agricultural land in Scotland.

So it's an expensive, but meaningless gesture.

Update:

It's a very expensive meaningless gesture. According to this, biomass fuel is more expensive than oil or coal, even if set-aside subsidies are still paid!! It's daylight robbery!

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Reader Comments (2)

And how will they cut down the trees and bring them to the power station, by horse and cart?
Jul 19, 2007 at 10:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn
There is more to this than meets the eye. If you want to understand what is really driving this announcement, have a look at my post over at PickingLosers (http://www.pickinglosers.com/blog_entry/bgprior/20070721/energy_crops_fact_and_fiction ).

On a point of detail, they are not "going to convert" their power stations to burn wood. They already converted Longannet and Cockenzie to accept a small proportion of biomass (which covers more than just wood) within the fuel stream some time ago - in fact Longannet has been co-firing since April 2002, the month in which the Renewables Obligation took effect, and was the second largest producer of co-fired electricity (after Drax) in 2006. Cockenzie began co-firing in November 2004. What this announcement is about is not their power stations, but the type of fuel that may be used for co-firing, and the extent of utilisation of their co-firing facilities. And it is entirely political and insincere. My post at PickingLosers explains why. They are letting the Government and Drax know that these two power stations alone can deliver around 5% of the Renewables Obligation in 2009 (around 1.5 TWh of 30 TWh) under the Government's proposals to band the RO, and threatening an illusory impact on the Scottish countryside and agriculture, and on other renewables-developers, if those proposals are not modified in the ways they and their fellow FLBs want.

If you're interested in hypothetical costs, you can find more recent calculations than the ones you found, accompanying the RO Consultation and the Biomass Strategy. But these are bullshit generalisations by consultants with little expertise and every incentive to deliver the answer the Government would like to see (the Biomass Strategy is better than the RO Consultation, as that was done in-house by one of the few remaining intellectually-rigorous civil servants). If you want to generalise, it is fair to say that it can be economic to co-fire some forms of by-products simply on the strength of a strong carbon-price in EU-ETS, without additional support, but that energy crops (to the extent that they can or should be differentiated from by-products) are more expensive, and likely to become increasingly so as competing demands for land-use increases. But I do wish we could get away from Cost-Benefit Analyses and other forms of mathematical economic calculation, and go back to discovering real values in markets. It's all part of our socialization by stealth.
Jul 21, 2007 at 4:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterbgp

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