OVER the last year, the Scottish website These Islands has been having fun with the SNP administration in Holyrood. Just before Christmas, it discovered the claim that Scotland’s ‘offshore wind potential’ represented 25 per cent of Europe’s total was entirely without foundation. Unfortunately, this canard had already been repeated ad nauseam by a host of the party’s highest functionaries, and had even been picked up by the UK government.
Sam Taylor, who runs These Islands, has recently obtained some of the internal paperwork relating to the furore under freedom of information, and it makes fascinating reading because of what it reveals about what civil servants are telling elected officials. A briefing for ministers, prepared just after the news had broken, contains another remarkable claim about the future of offshore wind in Scotland, but this time framed in terms of the pipeline of projects, and in particular of floating offshore windfarms.
‘Scotland’s enormous potential for offshore wind has not changed . . . Scotland remains at the forefront of the developing offshore wind industry in Europe and ScotWind, the world’s largest floating offshore leasing round, represents a massive step forward in our transition to net zero and breaks new ground in putting large-scale floating wind technology on the map at Gigawatt scale.’
It goes on to tell ministers that the potential pipeline exceeds 40 gigawatts – ‘subject to planning and consenting decisions and finding a route to market’.
The problem is that finding a route to market is likely to be impossible. It is now beyond doubt that, while there is a great deal of denial among the chattering classes, there is little hope of meaningful reductions in the costs of fixed-bottom offshore windfarms.
As for floating windfarms, it’s worse still: there is no hope at all. The UK has two floating offshore windfarms, Hywind and Kincardine. On my estimates, Hywind is around five times costlier at generating power than gas turbines. Kincardine is even worse.
Floating offshore wind is therefore among the most expensive known forms of electricity generation. So when civil servants tell ministers that the pipeline of projects is huge, they are being economic with the actualité. ‘Finding a route to market’ will involve identifying and deploying a miracle, or at least subsidies on a scale that consumers simply can’t afford. In other words, there is no route to market.
Why are civil servants failing to inform ministers of the facts? Are they unaware of the facts themselves? Are they fearful of being demonised for a lack of faith in the Net Zero project should they dare to tell the truth? Perhaps they are true believers. It’s hard for outsiders to know.
The authorship of the document is unclear, but it was signed off by Andy Hogg, Deputy Director, Energy Industries Division. He and the big boss, Roy Brannen, Holyrood’s Director-General of Net Zero, have some explaining to do.