Posts Tagged ‘Renewable Energy’

A yes for Scotland, a no for renewables?

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By Ratio Law’s Stuart Stones 

With only a couple of weeks before Scots vote on whether they want to stay united with the rest of Britain or become an independent nation, both supporters and critics of the ‘yes’ campaign are voicing their views. There is a lot of discussion about what impact an independent Scotland would have on business in general, however what has particularly caught my eye is the debate around how it would affect the renewables market.

Scotland has an extremely prosperous renewable industry, boasting 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind resources and an estimated 25 per cent of its tidal potential. Scotland has set itself the ambitious target of generating the equivalent of 100 per cent of gross annual electricity consumption through renewable energy by 2020, and it was recently announced the amount of heat generated by renewable sources in Scotland grew by 17 per cent last year.

Should Scotland go independent, the rest of the UK would have to work hard to meet its EU commitments to reduce carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. But while some may think this is the main reason why critics of the yes campaign are standing against it, there are other factors to bear in mind.

If Scotland wants to truly establish itself as an international leader in green energy, it needs to secure funding to finance new projects and the new technology to drive them. However, there has also been a lot of uncertainty for potential investors, with a report by Citigroup urging “extreme caution” over investing in Scottish renewables. Even before the vote takes place, with such uncertainty around the future of the country and how it will ensure investments are secure, a lot of potential investors may have already been put off parting with their cash.

Finally, cost is always, unsurprisingly, a key consideration with any business issue. At the moment, a third of the UK’s renewable subsidy goes to Scotland, but Scots only contribute one tenth of the cost. It has been estimated that if Scotland goes independent, and subsequently loses this financial support, it could increase household energy bills by as much as £189 a year by 2020. Businesses wouldn’t be exempt from price increases either, with a medium-sized manufacturer expected to see bills rise by as much as £608,000 per annum.

A lot still remains unclear in terms of how Scotland will ensure it keeps bills affordable for consumers and businesses, and how it will encourage investors to spend. While Scotland has an abundance of renewable energy sources, it remains to be seen if it has the ability and gravitas to manage international relationships, secure investments and drive the market forward.

Regardless of whether Scotland goes independent or not, if the whole UK cannot work together to build a powerful, sustainable and effective renewable market then it risks missing out all together on some of the exciting opportunities available in the market.


Checkmate: Onshore wind farms are the latest political pawns

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By Stuart Stones

Wind turbines, it appears, are being used as pawns in the latest political battle. But could using renewable energy as a means to win votes be dangerous to the UK’s energy market?

Back in December, it was announced there would be big changes to how subsidies are allocated to renewable energy. The plan was to cut support for onshore wind and solar energy, which the government argued had already received their fare share of finance, in favour of greater support for offshore wind power, in the hope of attracting more long-term investments.

Now, it has been reported David Cameron may go into the next election with promises to “eradicate” onshore wind farms. A source told The Daily Telegraph the Prime Minister could pledge to cap the number of wind farms and change planning rules to make them more difficult to build, as well as cut financial support further.

Some believe the Conservatives’ strong stance on onshore wind farms is to appease Tory MPs who are unhappy about wind farms being built in their constituencies, while others think it is an attempt to save losing votes to UKIP, which opposes them.

However, the Liberal Democrats appear to be standing their ground on green policies, after it was revealed Nick Clegg had stopped the introduction of a moratorium on building new wind farms. A source, reported in the same article, said: “Clegg was simply not going to allow the Tories to move the goalposts on green energy again. Some sort of crude block towards onshore wind would seriously damage investor confidence in Britain’s energy markets. It would be a double whammy – bad for British business and for the environment.”

So who has the next move?

Unsurprisingly, spokespeople from the industry have started voicing their concerns, with RenewableUK deputy chief executive Maf Smith declaring: “Mr Cameron needs to act firmly and stop some of his MPs using wind energy as a football in their short-term playground politics.”

Scottish Renewables chief executive Niall Stuart has also spoken out highlighting the benefits of onshore wind farms. He said: “In Scotland alone the industry supports almost 3,400 jobs, with many more dependent on the sector. More than £1bn was invested in 2013, with much more to come…Almost half of the power generated in Scotland last year came from renewable sources, with onshore wind making up 65% of that.”

Reports of cut subsidies, stricter planning rules and attempts to limit onshore wind farms will undoubtedly unsettle an already fragile market and could well put off future investors. Going head to head with opposing views on wind turbines is a precarious game. It is detrimental to our green economy, threatens thousands of jobs and puts us way behind some of our European counterparts.

The parties need to think carefully about their next moves and show businesses and consumers alike how they have considered the country’s long term energy needs and how these are going to be funded.

For more information and advice on renewables and energy law, please contact Stuart Stones on 0161 464 9540, or by email:

2014: The year of fracking?

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Fracking is a topic that divides opinion, and one which has created a new generation of protest camps at sites as far apart as Manchester, Sussex and Lincolnshire. But why is opposition to fracking so vocal, and do the protesters have a point?

The term ‘fracking’ is derived from the technical term ‘hydraulic fracturing’ and describes a process developed in the 1940s for extracting natural gas and oil from deep inside shale rock formations underground.

The natural resources are extracted via a combination of drilling and forcing water and chemicals into viable shale rock, at extremely high pressure. This pressure causes fissures in the rock face, which allow oil and gas to be released and pumped back to the surface.

Fracking is controversial for a number of different reasons, and the American experience has done little to allay the fears of opponents. Over in the USA, the fracking industry has reversed the fortunes of the struggling gas and oil behemoths, and estimates suggest its proliferation has created a guaranteed supply for the country well into the next 100 years.

Those who argue against fracking do so for a number of different reasons. Health and environmental concerns are a big issue, and in particular with regard to the chemical mix added to the water used to ‘frack’ the rock faces. In the USA, regulations around chemical use and contamination are far looser than in the UK, and it’s not hugely uncommon to read reports of contaminated water supplies and of home-owners being able to set fire to the water in their taps – as a result of the drinking water supply having been contaminated with the natural gas from nearby fracked wells. There have also been reports of residents living close to fracking sites suffering from a range of health concerns, including nosebleeds, asthma, nausea and headaches.

For environmentalists, concerns around fracking include damage to the immediate areas surrounding fracked wells, as a result of the aforementioned and often poorly regulated chemical use, but also to the US’s reliance once more upon unsustainable fossil fuels. Although there is an argument that fracking is less environmentally damaging from a CO2 emissions point of view, the natural resources produced are still mined to be burned. There have also been reports that fracking could cause earth tremors, leading to more safety concerns.

Here in the UK, there is real concern around where fracking leaves the UK’s burgeoning renewables industry. We wrote recently about uncertainty in the market around subsidies and government support for that industry, and if plans to create fracking wells from the north-west across to Lincolnshire become reality, investors will require certainty if they are to continue their involvement and support of sustainable energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass.

Of course, fracking does have its supporters in the UK. It’s certainly true to say that our regulatory system is far more advanced than that of the USA, and fracking companies will be required to monitor for contamination of water supplies, and contain waste fluid created by the process in sealed units. In addition, they will also be required to capture any excess gas, and pump this back into the UK’s pipeline – rather than follow the US’ example, which is simply to burn any excess on site.

Further, US group ExxonMobile has made moves towards creating fracking fluids that can be used without damaging local environments, and is developing these for use in Germany – a country with a smaller estimated reserves than neighbouring Poland or France, but with sufficiently large predicted supplies to fund significant research into these new ‘clean chemicals’.

A further perceived benefit for supporters of fracking is that it will enable the UK to reduce its reliance upon foreign oil and gas imports. Of course, the political instability in the Ukraine has only added fuel to this particular fire and this, combined with the government’s generous tax breaks on profits for fracking companies as announced in the recent Budget, may mean that 2014 really is fracking’s year. Only time will tell.

For more information and advice on renewables and energy law, please contact Stuart Stones on 0161 464 9540, or by email:

Renewable Energy vs Nuclear: which is better?

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Governments in Europe appear to agree with the need for a move away from total reliance upon fossil fuels for energy, and have backed this sentiment by agreeing to carbon reduction targets requiring renewable energy reliance levels of 20% by 2020. On the other side of the pond, president Obama recently (2011) called for 85% of all America’s energy to be derived from ‘clean sources’.

But where does this leave nuclear energy? Interestingly, Obama’s ‘clean sources’ include nuclear, but for all its high level supporters, there are just as many detractors. So is either energy source better than the other – or are they just simply too different for comparison?

A quick glance over to Germany reveals an interesting situation. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Germany took the decision to immediately shut down eight of its nuclear power plants, and announced that the rest would close by 2022. This move would be understandable if like Japan, the country typically experienced earthquakes, but it doesn’t.

Germany’s decision certainly won’t help it to meet its carbon reduction targets, and a recent post on the Carbon Counter blog suggests that the country’s CO2 emissions have increased by 3.3% or 30 million tonnes since the power plants closed. It’s now likely to face a real struggle to replace the gap left by nuclear if it also wants to cut its reliance upon fossil fuels in the future.

Of course, the cons of nuclear energy have been discussed for years and it’s true to say that the industry still has a bit of an image problem. But perhaps this is not surprising, with the likes of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters still casting a shadow, even many years later in Chernobyl’s case. Indeed, Germany’s withdrawal from nuclear energy production only seeks to underline this fact further.

Of course, the risk of nuclear disaster is not the only reason it can be so unpopular. The waste created by the nuclear process is a massive issue for many environmentalists, neighbours of nuclear power plants, and often ‘the man in the street’. Radioactive waste is extremely dangerous, and takes thousands of years to become safe, and this fact alone is a reason for many to oppose reliance upon nuclear energy.

There is also the commonly expressed fear that radioactive products could be used to create nuclear weapons, along with the equally rational fears around the proper management of nuclear power plants in countries with unstable governments.

Neighbours of nuclear plants often fear for their health, with some scientific studies showing increased incidences of certain types of cancer in nuclear neighbourhoods, pitted against others showing no such results. (Carry out a simple Google search for ‘do nuclear power stations cause cancer’ for reports of studies both supporting and disproving the theory).

In addition to potential damage to human health, there are also environmental concerns. Nuclear power plants use huge amounts of water, typically taken from the sea. Wildlife such as fish and sea turtles can become trapped in water inlets – despite widespread use of protective filters. Microscopic organisms and algae are destroyed once they enter the cooling system.

For energy investors, one of the potential issues with nuclear is cost. Whilst nuclear produces more energy than equivalent wind, solar or bio-energy plants, the cost of building nuclear power stations, not to mention the storage and maintenance costs for waste products, may outweigh any efficiency gains.

Time is also typically a challenge; it currently takes around 20 years from discussions regarding nuclear programmes to the actual commissioning of a power station (and that’s before the build even commences).

On the flip side, however, nuclear does have some benefits. It is the largest source of emission free energy, and overall provided 12.3% of the world’s electricity in 2011. It doesn’t pollute the air, unlike fossil fuel power stations, and unlike ‘true’ renewable energy sources, it is completely sustainable. It doesn’t need rain, high tide or sun to continue to produce energy. Also, renewable power stations have a much longer ‘shelf life’ than renewable plants.

Further, although nuclear disasters can cause loss of life and inflict tremendous damage to the environment, they actually occur very infrequently, meaning that nuclear is one of the safest forms of energy production in the world. By way of comparison; burning lignite causes approximately 32 deaths and 300 cases of serious illness from pollution per terrawatt hour (TWh). The equivalent figures for nuclear are zero in each case.

Renewable energy is defined by Natural England as deriving from ‘energy flows that occur naturally and continuously in the environment… and (which) is essentially inexhaustible’. Sources of renewable energy include wind, solar, tidal and biomass. The benefits of renewable energy sources, when compared to fossil fuels are clear. However, when compared to nuclear energy – the case is less clear cut.

Renewable energy is not cheap (yet). From a consumer perspective, the government’s forecast for average household energy bills shows an average of £1,285 by 2020, which includes £280 added to pay for green policies. This figure is still 7% less than the £1,279 estimated without the policies – which include subsidies for the creation of renewable energy.

In addition, there are some environmental concerns around building renewable energy plants. Wind farms, for example, are typically located either offshore or in remote areas, meaning high transport costs with a serious CO2 load to accompany these. Further, environmental groups have raised concerns about damage to natural wildlife in and around wind farms and tidal barrages.

Further, and perhaps most importantly, renewable energy sources are not constant. The sun doesn’t always shine, and it’s not always windy.

The benefits of renewable energy are often pretty similar to those of nuclear and that’s perhaps why they are sometimes lumped together. Like nuclear, renewable energies don’t (on their own) pollute the environment – although there may be an environmental cost involved in creating wind farms, solar arrays and tidal barrages, for example. Further, renewable energy sources won’t run out and neither will nuclear.

The biggest problem for nuclear is the issue of waste and safety. The biggest problem for renewable energy sources is reliability. If either industry can overcome these challenges then the world’s energy problems will, quite literally, be solved.

Such a perfect outcome is, of course, extremely unlikely and this means that at some stage, unless a viable alternative to both can be found, a combination of nuclear and renewable power is likely to be needed to keep the world’s lights shining.

For more information and advice on renewables and energy law, please contact Stuart Stones on 0161 464 9540, or by email: