Pressing nuclear button

I am truly touched and humbled by the innocence of belief demonstrated by J. MacDonald when he equates our insane wind farm frenzy with free electricity for Scotland (letters, March 29).

He has perhaps been out too much in the splendid sunshine we have recently been blessed with, or perhaps he has been standing too close to Alex Salmond, an arena where all logical thought is absent and the pious hope becomes the reality.

It is true certainly that the wind is free (free as the air) if you wish it to dry your hair on a summer day or, for that matter, your washing blowing on the line.

But if you wish to generate electric power you require infrastructure and vast and expensive pillars topped by turbines. These turbines are set in enormous foundations of reinforced concrete, the cement for which is created, with the assistance of some coke, by thermally decomposing quarries of limestone which, in process, dutifully delivers 44 per cent of its mass as beautifully pure carbon dioxide direct into the atmosphere.

Additionally, the turbines have gearboxes with bearings and much else besides, and it is a fact of life that stuff fails. So we have the white van man dutifully attending, though in the case of those turbines set in the silver sea it would have to be the white helicopter man for repairs or the white lifeboat man in the event that an errant ship should be so unlucky as to proceed on a course distinct from that intended by her captain.

Such events have been known to happen, even without the help of fog, storms and all the other hazards which make fishing one of the more dangerous ways to earn a crust.

All the above considerations have, in the parlance, “financial implications” and the whole bill plus the rake-off for the financiers will devolve on the taxpayer and the user of power – in a word, you and me.

The statement by Alex Salmond underpinning all this renewable nonsense – a statement issued without any detailed analysis of how the lights would be kept on – binds us to have no generation from nuclear energy, presumably ever. It must rank and will be historically seen as in the company of Michelson who announced the end of physics in 1894, Spencer Jones, the astronomer royal who said “space travel is bunk” in 1957, and the hapless Decca agent saying “We don’t like their sound and guitar music is on the way out” in rejecting The Beatles in 1962.

Nuclear energy is the only substantial, scaleable power source that does not use carbon to generate.

Scotland is peculiarly suitable for nuclear generation and should be tiled with stations, making clean electric power our principal export. Our universities could be world ranking in nuclear studies.

For those who cite the dangers of earthquakes, I have to tell them that in that event I would far rather be near the nuclear power station at Dunbar than down the mine winning coal for Cockenzie.

When the power policy of Scotland comes down in flames, as did the turbine near Glasgow in spectacular fashion, then we will import from England who will in turn import from France over the Channel interconnector, and we will all try to ignore the fact that the bulk of French power is nuclear.

It is important, in providing for the energy needs of a country, to be responsible and to reflect that consultants, when sufficiently paid, can and will justify any pet scheme suggested to them. He who pays the piper calls the tune – remember that the Border railway had a business case, as no doubt did the Edinburgh trams.

Robin Cross

Netherby House


Musing over Selkirk’s latest bid for wind turbines on the common and watching a neighbour install solar panels, I suddenly became aware of what might be a trivial problem – but upon reflection soon became significant.

Scottish independence from the UK (God forbid) as proposed by Alex Salmond poses a number of complications.

One such obstacle gave me enough concern that I emailed the Scotland Office to find out if contingency plans might be in place. It was an ambiguity regarding feed-in tariffs paid to the likes of wind farm owners that bothered me.

After waiting a couple of weeks within which no reply came, I wrote to further representatives of the Borders of whom only Vicky Davidson took the time to address the misgivings.

Even then no tangible answers to the question was put forward and my only conclusion is that the Scottish government has not actually deliberated upon the consequence which separatism will have upon the already fragile industry which is wind farm construction and solar panel installation throughout Scotland.

The dilemma with separatism is the predicament that a break-away Scotland might find itself in when considering the various established UK funded or grant-assisted UK schemes currently in place – none more striking than feed-in tariffs associated with renewable energy schemes such as wind farms.

The problem with these tariffs is that they are funded by the entire UK customer base directly via his/her monthly electric bill. A separate Scotland can hardly expect consumers in England to subsidise those who no longer wish to be part of the UK, and why should they.

Indeed, I would imagine that there would be general outrage throughout England if this were the case.

Take the incentive of feed-in tariffs out of the equation which feeds the profit-frenzied bankers and financiers currently making obscene short-term returns on their investments in Scotland and the entire industry will collapse overnight.

This is precisely what I can only imagine will happen if Scotland separates from the UK. Worse still could be a dilemma facing those who might lose the 20-year guaranteed tariff income already under way which is the economic foundation upon which their existing installations are wholly dependent.

This arrangement of tariff subsidy is a UK agreement which Scotland will essentially break its contract with and lose all rights contained within – i. e. feed-in tariffs could cease to exist in Scotland. Thus all schemes in the pipeline will likewise collapse. Scotland’s “green target” will become a fiasco.

Perhaps our local SNP councillors can provide us with reassurance that, if Scotland separates from the UK, the new Scottish Government will accept and honour the current UK method of funding and likewise pledge to assume those applications waiting for consideration by the various planning authorities throughout Scotland.

My advice would be for anyone thinking of wind farm construction or solar panels to wait and see what 2014 brings.

Scottish electricity consumers could never bear the burden of the level of feed-in tariff funding necessary to sustain and continue to support a Scottish requirement for renewable energy as projected by the SNP Government.

This uncertainty needs reassurance from the Scottish Parliament at the very least for those with up-to-date installations, giving peace of mind that their tariffs are in no danger of disappearing down the rabbit hole of an Alex in Wonderland voting box.

Hugh Lovatt