In the last ten years Scotland has moved to the forefront of renewable energy use. I would like to see it take an even bigger role as a leader in intelligent use of natural resources. This means we need a nationwide strategy on the use of renewables and the implementation of big projects. The strategy would ensure large projects work efficiently in conjunction with smaller ones.
I think the SNP’s proposal for Scotland to produce 100% of its energy needs from renewables is very challenging. However, sometimes we need to challenge ourselves to ensure we deliver our best. What we need to remember is that not everything that is labelled as ‘bio’ is environmentally friendly. In fact, some of it comes with a substantial layer of greenwash. Scotland should say yes to renewable energy, but not for renewables’ sake.
That’s why I am against the proposed biomass plant in Leith, which will use more energy to run than it generates. The proposed plant intends to import timber from the Americas to burn to produce energy here. This is a project that would come under the renewables label but would do more harm to the environment than good. Intact forests sequester, or soak up, carbon more effectively than those that are harvested. When a tree’s carbon is released into the atmosphere in one go, as biomass plants do, it contributes to climate change much more than woodland timber rotting slowly over decades. The harvesting of fast-growing trees is an issue in itself, since this method drains the soil of nutrients. Since the trees are harvested quickly there is also no chance for humus to develop from leaves and rotting timber. The soil quality deteriorates, the humus layer becomes thinner, so that the end of the process is desertification. There’s no benefit in that, especially once you add in the financial and environmental cost of transporting the timber across the Atlantic.
Add in the human cost of having a plant the size of 17 football pitches, with a 120m chimney emitting toxins that will affect the local population’s health. Then there’s the increased lorry traffic that will add to congestion and pollution. What makes the proposed plant worse is that it will only generate electricity without harnessing the enormous heat produced. In continental Europe such plants pass this on to heat nearby homes and businesses. Yet again, this is classed as a renewables project but I can only see it harming, not benefiting, the environment.
Edinburgh Council has recently launched a pilot project where around 20,000 properties have their food waste picked up once a week. The collected food waste is then composted, which is then in turn used to help Edinburgh’s parks and gardens. Edinburgh households throw out between £450 and £550 food waste on average per year. That’s a lot of wasted money and food that will end up in landfill. A better way is for people to home compost where possible, reducing the need for vans to collect the waste in the first place.
Going one step further, why not create an biowaste plant, with all four of the local authorities collecting food waste? Such a plant would use anaerobic digestion, where micro-organisms break down food waste material to release energy.
The process produces a biogas, comprising of methane and carbon dioxide. You can use it directly as cooking fuel or in Combined Heat and Power gas engines, which generates both electricity and heat. Anaerobic digestion also reduces the emission of landfill gas into the atmosphere. This is a win-win surely – less rubbish going to landfill and polluting the environment while also producing energy. Given the number of hotels, bars and restaurants in the Lothians I would say the plant would have plenty of fuel. Then, the councils could either sell the energy produced to the national grid or use it themselves. Businesses would also benefit, as they would have less waste collected, meaning they pay less for the service.
Using our own waste food to produce energy to benefit everyone in the area – doesn’t that sound a much better idea than importing wood to burn it and pollute Leith and the Forth?
- The proposed Leith biomass plant would sit 200 metres from local housing, with a 120m high chimney, emitting toxins and generating increased lorry traffic and pollution. More information is available on the No to Leith Biomass Plant website.
- Last night I attended a discussion on plans to extract oil from tar sands and the building of a super-pipeline through Northern Alberta, Canada. The Royal Bank of Scotland, which the taxpayers own 84% of, is financing companies mining tar sands and planning to support the pipeline plans. You can read more about this in my press release on the subject and find out more about tar sands on the UK Tar Sands Network website.