by Malcolm Spaven, Chairperson, Scottish Opencast Communities Alliance
Longannet, Scotland’s sole remaining coal-fired power station, will almost certainly close at the end of March 2016. That was the message from evidence given by power station owners Scottish Power to a committee of the Scottish Parliament on 11 March.
Longannet had been expected to continue operating until 2019. Scottish Power and local politicians have been blaming the early closure on grid transmission charges, which are higher for plants in Scotland because they are further from the main centres of demand in the south of England. But the economics of Longannet, like all other coal plants in the UK, are being severely challenged by the UK carbon tax. This was first introduced in 2013 and presents Longannet with a bill of around £140m this year, against a plant turnover of about £500m a year. Scottish Power’s evidence yesterday also revealed that Longannet could not continue much beyond 2016 without significant additional investment in technology to reduce NOX emissions.
Longannet is currently one of three bidders for a contract from National Grid to provide power to the grid for voltage regulation purposes for the period April 2016 to October 2017. Politicians are jumping on this as a means of keeping Longannet open. But even if they won the contract, it would require Longannet to completely shut down three of its four units for good, and produce no electricity from the fourth unit unless National Grid required voltage on the network to be stabilised. National Grid has estimated the probability of these circumstances arising as “once in 600 years”. So, whether the contract to Longannet is awarded or not, it is highly unlikely that any more coal will be burned in Scotland to produce electricity after March 2016.
Longannet currently burns around four million tonnes of coal a year. Up to 3.5m tonnes of this is imported, the bulk of it from Colombia. All the imported coal comes through the port at Hunterston on the Clyde. Longannet accounts for about half of Hunterston’s traffic, so the closure of Longannet may place a question mark over the port’s future too.
Longannet is the single biggest polluter in Scotland, coming top of the league by a long way for CO2, SO2 and NOX. It is responsible for about 17% of Scotland’s carbon emissions and has sent thousands of people to an early grave because of its air pollution.