In an exclusive interview with The Herald, Mr Ackroyd highlighted plans at various stages of development to create large-scale windfarms on nine Scottish Water sites around Scotland, including in Ayrshire, Angus, the Borders, and Renfrewshire.
Highlighting Scottish Water’s current limited access to capital, Mr Ackroyd said that these projects were being pursued with partners such as Scottish & Southern Energy and German electricity giant E.ON.
On a more general note, he believed the Scottish Government could in future, if it wished, use Scottish Water as a vehicle to raise money on capital markets. Scottish Water’s predictable income stream and track record as a stand-alone business, he said, meant there was “no doubt” it would get an investment grade credit rating.
Mr Ackroyd, who highlighted the scale of Scottish Water’s electricity usage and bill and Holyrood’s ambitious renew- able targets as drivers of the utility’s green energy push, said: “The bit we think is not really known enough is our achievements and aspirations in de-carbonising the Scottish water industry.”
The bulk of this renewables push will be funded through the “Horizons” commercial arm of Scottish Water, rather than by using customers’ money.
Mr Ackroyd said that Scottish Water was the single largest consumer of electricity in Scotland, using 450 gigawatt hours per year.
He added that it accounted for about 1.5% of overall Scottish electricity consumption, with the energy used for pumping of water and sewage, and treatment processes including aeration.
This meant a “very substantial electricity bill – over £40m a year”.
Mr Ackroyd also highlighted the Scottish Government’s renewable energy targets.
The Scottish Government is aiming for 100% of Scotland’s electricity needs to be generated from renewable sources by 2020, and has declared this is “one of the most ambitious” green energy targets in the world.
Referring to Scottish Water’s current electricity consumption, Mr Ackroyd said: “At the moment, we are approaching 10% coming from renewable sources. The 10% is coming from renewable power generated from within our own asset base. It is hydro-electricity, anaerobic digestion of waste.
“At the moment, there is not much wind, but there will be wind in future. The thing that makes the difference is hosting wind generation on our substantial land base.”
Mr Ackroyd noted Scottish Water had earmarked nine sites on its land with “potential” for large-scale wind power generation at “various stages of development”.
He said: “Those are things we are having to do with partners. It is capital-intensive stuff. As a public corporation, we don’t have enough access to capital to do that ourselves. We find partners who can bring expertise as well as capital.”
Mr Ackroyd added: “There is actually potential, if all of those nine sites come to fruition, we could be generating three times as much power as we use from Scottish Water’s own asset base.”
However, he also highlighted his belief that not all nine schemes would succeed in securing planning permission.
Mr Ackroyd said: “I don’t think we are going to get planning permission for all nine. I don’t think we will get them all away (but) you can see we can be more than self-sufficient (on) power. There is bags of potential there.”
Scottish Water is already receiving an income for hosting on its land some of the turbines at ScottishPower’s Whitelees windfarm south of Glasgow.
Mr Ackroyd noted Scottish Water had invested £400,000 in installing a 52-kilowatt hydro turbine at a redundant water treatment works at Touch near Stirling which was now starting to generate power for the nationwide grid. He added that it was looking at doing something similar at about 20 other sites.
The Touch turbine is expected to generate 300 megawatt hours per year – enough to power 50 homes.
Mr Ackroyd said that a hydro turbine was also being installed at the utility’s new water treatment works at Glencorse, outside Edinburgh, making this facility 40% self-sufficient in power. This hydro turbine will be powered by the water which flows into the treatment works from the Megget reservoir in the Borders hills.
And Mr Ackroyd said Scottish Water had also entered into an agreement with a small renewable energy company to look at the potential to put “one or two” wind turbines on its operational sites, to power these.
He also declared that Scottish Water, which employs about 3500 people, was now the market leader in the central belt in generating electricity from the anaerobic digestion of food waste to create biogas.
It generates electricity from food waste at a redundant sewage treatment works at Deerdykes in Cumbernauld. In the year that this has been operating, Mr Ackroyd said it had taken in 30,000 tonnes of food waste. He added that the plant had the capacity to generate about eight gigawatt hours of energy per year for the grid.
He noted that it was now taking food waste from councils including Stirling and Glasgow, as well as supermarkets, restaurants and nursing homes.
Mr Ackroyd said that Scottish Water had planning permission for a second food-waste-to-energy plant at a redundant sewage works at Johnstone.
He added: “That is a business which operates in a truly competitive market-place. We are competing with other big waste-disposal companies. We are currently (in) market leader position in the central belt on this.”
He named waste companies William Tracey and Shanks as competitors in this area.
Mr Ackroyd, who emphasised Scottish Water’s focus on providing good service and value for customers and reducing leakage in its core regulated business, also highlighted its drive to create openings for young people, to ensure a stream of talent coming through as older workers approach retirement.
He said: “One of the things we are particularly pleased with is the progress we are making creating job opportunities for young people. This is against a backdrop of a recessionary economy. (It is) very easy for businesses to cut back on taking in new people, especially young people. We think it is important for a number of reasons we don’t do that.
“From a pragmatic business reason, we have a relatively high average age in our workforce. We need to be sure we have a succession of younger people coming through with the right skills.”
Mr Ackroyd added: “We are in the top 10 of Scottish businesses. We have an obligation to the Scottish economy as a whole to maximise opportunities for young people.”
He noted Scottish Water had about 60 modern apprentices in its business, and took on slightly more than 20 per year.
Mr Ackroyd also highlighted arrangements with companies working on Scottish Water contracts whereby they took on significant numbers of apprentices.