Scotland's quest for energy balance

We recently attended a reception at the residence of the British Consul General in Chicago held in honor of the Scottish Affairs Committee of the British Parliament’s House of Commons. The Committee spent a week in Illinois looking at ways of dealing with issues related to the future decommissioning of the Dounreay nuclear power plant in Scotland. These included:

Economic impact including future job prospects for people currently employed at the power plant when it is finally decommissioned;

Long term strategy for managing radioactive waste, intermediate-level waste in particular; and

An energy strategy addressing how the shortfall in energy output can be met once nuclear power no longer provides Scotland’s energy needs.

Informal discussions provided an opportunity to exchange views on appropriate policies and strategies addressed during the week of discussions with experts and selected visits to energy installations such as the Zion Nuclear Station. Our discussions involved the potential role of efficiency and renewable energy in offsetting lost production from decommissioning nuclear power plants nearing the end of their licensing period. Replacing a nuclear plant with intermittent power from renewables was considered a key challenge.

Committee members felt global warming takes precedence over nearly all other issues. As signators to the Kyoto Protocol, the United Kingdom including Scotland is committed to reducing carbon emissions 12.5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012. Their Kyoto commitment ensures a substantial future role for renewable energy and efficiency in the Scottish economy. Committee members expressed concern with our country’s failure to address the issue.

As supplies of oil and gas from the North Atlantic diminish, Scotland is faced with increased reliance on natural gas imports from Russia and oil imports from the politically unstable Middle East. Their sense of vulnerability was symbolized by being at the end of the Russian gas supply pipeline. They reminded us how fortunate we are to have a diverse supply of oil and natural gas.

Another concern was increased competition for oil as China continues to modernize. China’s massive demand may lead to smaller markets being underserved with higher prices.

Scotland generates some electricity from coal and may be able to offset carbon emissions by injecting carbon dioxide into declining North Atlantic oil wells.

Geothermal is being tried for winter heating; cool summers eliminate the need for air conditioning. Old mine shafts are being experimented with as the source of stable air temperatures. Unlike most of our current installations, water loops are not yet used.

Scotland has tremendous wind and ocean energy resources that could produce electricity. Young people are generally enthusiastic about wind farms, while older people resist the loss of scenic vistas, tourist attractions and native species. Offshore wind farms hold considerable potential, but face the rigors of storms characteristic of the North Atlantic and are more costly to install and maintain. While Scotland is a world leader in wave and tidal energy, the industry is still at the research and development stage and not ready as a proven, reliable energy source.

Key questions hinge on the mix of efficiency and renewable energy sources that will best serve their needs. The committee will develop a report incorporating information from their week in Illinois and in California, where they were headed next to visit the Sacramento Public Utility District with integrated solar installations and geothermal applications.

From our discussions we gained an appreciation of the uniqueness and similarities of our respective energy situations. We eagerly await the policy outcomes from the Scottish Affairs Committee.


The photos included with the Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2005, article “Small town solar: Lindenwood’s Eswood Elementary goes solar” were taken by school staff, not Dr. Sonia Vogl. The Rock River Times regrets the error.

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