Ever since it was announced earlier this year, there has been constant criticism of the decision to close Longannet, Scotland’s last coal-fired power station. There is undoubtedly a consensus that coal-powered fire stations have to be phased out in the long term (for the sake of the planet and our health) but are we really ready yet to lose Longannet in March 2016?
An impressive triumvirate of experts believes we are not. They are Donald Miller, the former chairman of Scottish Power, Colin Gibson, the former Power Network Director of the National Grid, and Iain Macleod, a past president of The Institution of Engineers in Scotland, and they say we could face an extended loss of power supply of up to 36 hours unless some of Longannet's generators are kept in service.
The experts’ concern is based on what they see as the lack of an alternative to the current emergency plans for restoring power in the event of a catastrophic loss. Under the current arrangements, with the Cruachan hydro station at Loch Awe supplying Longannet, there would be restoration of power in around a minute. However, according to the experts, post-Longannet, the only option would be Cruachan combining with small hydro schemes and that could take up to a day and half.
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Obviously, this is an extreme situation but it does raise the issue of security of supply. Both the Scottish and UK Governments want to move towards renewables as quickly as possible, but it should only be done when we can be sure there is no threat to the continued supply of energy.
What this means is that for the foreseeable future, there will need to be a mix of renewable and other forms of power, including nuclear. Does this include coal-powered stations as well? It certainly makes sense to put the closure of Longannet on hold until the National Grid can complete its studies into the long-term security of supply.