U.K. utility could build three more big Scottish hydros

Britain’s green energy plans could be bolstered by three big new hydroelectric schemes in the Scottish Highlands, but only if planning laws are overhauled, Scottish &Southern Energy (SSE) said.

In May, the government is to set out plans to speed up major infrastructure projects like power stations as part of the battle to cut climate warming emissions. The plans are to tear up much of the existing red tape, and could include a “presumption in favor” of any plans in the national interest.

“I want balance brought into the debate that climate change is as important, if not more so, than other aspects of the environment,” SSE Chief Executive Ian Marchant said during an April visit to the 100-MW Glendoe hydroelectric project.

Scottish &Southern is building Glendoe deep beneath the mountains by Loch Ness. It is Britain’s first big scheme for about 40 years, and it is widely viewed as the last. (HNN 6/27/06)

But it need not be the last if politicians overhaul a planning regime that currently puts local flora and fauna ahead of the global issue of climate change, both SSE and green energy groups say.

The power station will be hidden 250 meters beneath the rugged landscape, powered by eight kilometers of pipes taking water from a lake in a boggy depression 600 meters above the valley floor.

Three Highlands sites could enter climate change debate

“We know of another three of a similar sort of scale to Glendoe that would be very unlikely to get consent,” Brian Smith, SSE’s director of new projects, said. “They’re all in the Highlands. They’re all on private land and in areas of environmental interest.”

SSE has not put them forward until now in the knowledge they stand little chance of being approved, but Marchant said he is considering putting them forward to force the debate onto the political agenda.

His views are not just those of big business, but are backed by the Renewable Energy Association.

“The new European target signed up to in March means we’re probably going to have to strive for nearer 35 percent of our electricity from renewables,” Head of Power Gaynor Hartnell said. “We’re not going to do that unless we put climate change above conservation in planning terms.”

The European Union is hoping to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020, and both hydropower and Scotland’s wind power could contribute to that goal. (HNN 3/9/07)

SSE’s Smith said he hopes the Glendoe scheme will help prove that hydropower schemes need not spoil the landscape.

“People will see. You’d never even know it was there, even though it’s a huge civil engineering scheme,” he said. “The same should be the case in these other three areas.”

The British Hydropower Association last year said it is scouring the country for scarce locations to build dams. (HNN 9/5/06)

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