Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum from The Highland Council

  The Highland Council welcomes this opportunity to present evidence to the Committee.

  The three strands of the Committee enquiry are all matters of great importance to the Council. The first two relate specifically to activity at the Dounreay nuclear establishment which has been a major part of the economy of the far north of Highland for the last 50 years employing over 2,000 at its peak. The Council is acutely aware of the potential deteriorating employment situation in Caithness and parts of Sutherland, particularly in the light of the revised decommissioning timetable and the immediate reduction of jobs.

  The second strand is equally of great significance in that the Council has well established views on the management of nuclear waste in relation to Dounreay.

  The third strand of the Committees enquiry raises the issue as to whether there is a need for a specific Scottish Energy Strategy. The Council in submitting evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Enterprise and Culture Committee into the development of Renewable Energy in Scotland argued strongly for the preparation of a Scottish Energy Strategy to put the current aspiration targets for renewable energy for Scotland into a wider energy policy context within which decisions on renewable energy developments might be made, rather than the current ad hoc arrangements.


  It is understood that the UKAEA have presented the Committee with staff projections for Dounreay over the next 30 years and the initiatives which are underway to secure the long term economic future of Caithness and north Sutherland. The Council would however wish to impress on the Committee that the reducing employment at Dounreay has to be set against the background of a declining population with all that implies for the future well being for communities in Caithness and north Sutherland.

  The population in Caithness has been in decline since the early 1980s, dropping from 27,563 in 1982 to 24,950 in 2002 (a decline of 9.5%). This is a combination of out-migration and negative natural change. The latest population projection from GRO(S) forecasts a further 7.1% decline in the population of Caithness by 2016. Neighbouring north east Sutherland is also experiencing population decline, by 3.1% over the 1991-2001 period.

  Population decline of the magnitude envisaged by the GRO(S) would have significant implications for the sustainability of north Highland communities as there is currently difficulty in maintaining existing levels of service provision (the Wick Hospital maternity unit is a case in point). Everything points to the need for special measures in response reduction in employment at Dounreay and the decision to locate elements of the HQ for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in Caithness is welcomed. The significant savings resulting from the acceleration of the Dounreay Decommission programme for 2003 to 2036 (in excess of £1 billion) should mean that resources are available to ensure that the area is able to develop new skills and jobs building on the expertise that already exists. To have £4 billion or now only £3 billion of public money invested in decommissioning and then to leave the communities economy in decline is not acceptable. The Council is of the view that at least 10% of the savings should be allocated to legacy projects to secure the infrastructure and services necessary for continuing community development and long term sustainability.


  The Council has yet to determine its position on the recent consultation document issued by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CORWM). An official response has, however, been submitted commenting "that this stage of consultation relates to consideration of 15 options for storage or disposal which are to be refined downward so that a limited number of options are carried forward for full assessment. It is thus technical options that we require to comment on and not the geographical location of where the final solution or solutions might be located.

  A distinction needs to be drawn between storage and disposal. In the absence of a long term solution then there is little choice but to accept interim storage close to where the waste is produced which in our case is at Dounreay in Caithness.

  Above ground storage is not considered unacceptable but solely on the basis that it is an interim solution.

  The long term solution in the view of the Council has to be sub-surface disposal which leads us to the conclusion that only options 2, 3 and 4 should go forward to more detailed technical assessment. The Council would then expect to comment on and between the full assessment on those options that are taken forward.

  On behalf of the Council, I should make it quite clear that this response says nothing about the geographical location of any future facility or facilities since that can only take place once much more information becomes available about a preferred technical route for dealing with the higher active solid radioactive waste."


  The DTI Energy White Paper published in February 2003 makes it clear that if the UK's carbon dioxide emissions are to be cut by some 60% by about 2050 then "energy efficiency and renewables will have to achieve far more in the next 20 years than they have until now . . ." This recognises the demise in indigenous energy supplies in the UK, including nuclear power. Scotland already generates a significant amount of renewable energy with a significant amount from Highland where there is a long history of renewable energy developments, particularly the construction of large scale hydro electricity schemes following the Second World War. More recently onshore wind farms and small scale hydro schemes have been constructed as a result of government policy incentives. In consequence Highland is already able to meet electricity demand from renewable sources of energy. Any further development of renewable energy in Highland would therefore not be for local community requirements but would be in order to contribute to Scottish and UK renewables targets and to help compliance with Kyoto agreements. This has major implications for questions regarding impacts on the high quality environment of Highland and for local community acceptability. Nevertheless it is recognised that there is major potential capacity for Highland to contribute towards future wind, hydro, biomass, wave and tidal energy production.

  The Council has gained considerable expertise in the consideration of renewable energy matters in recent years as a result of receiving a large number of applications and enquiries for wind and hydro proposals in particular. For example over 1,000 MW of capacity of wind farms is currently at varying planning stages within Highland (ie between "scoping" for Environmental Assessment and approval subject to legal agreements).

  At present there are aspirational renewable energy targets for Scotland as a whole up to 2010 and then 2020. It is impossible for those outside the Scottish Executive to put this into any wider energy policy context especially in terms of:

    —  the relationship of renewables to future nuclear, coal, gas and oil generation (which will provide the essential "base load" capacity to ensure that the lights stay on);

    —  the relationship between Scottish and UK renewables targets, especially if offshore wind power for England and Wales develops substantially; and

    —  the relationship between renewables in Scotland that may be developed in the shorter term (eg onshore wind) and those that may be developed in the longer term (eg wave, tidal, biomass).

  Following on from the UK Energy White Paper, a Scottish Energy Policy Paper is recommended which would put targets for renewable energy into context. This Paper should also cover as a vital first step the conservation of energy, including transport. In the absence of this, the present perceived "dash for onshore wind" in Scotland is taking place in a strategic policy vacuum. As well as the 1,000 MW or so of onshore wind energy in Highland mentioned above, there are many more schemes proposed at the pre-planning stage that are currently commercially confidential. In contrast say to planning for future housing, there is no helpful local target (expressed as a range figure) against which approvals and proposals can be placed, and which might allow a sensible roll-out of development on sites that are most appropriate.

  Such local targets would follow from the above Policy Paper and could be prepared for strategic renewable energy areas in Scotland. These might be:

    —  Highlands and Islands (including Argyll).

    —  NE Scotland.

    —  Central Belt.

    —  South of Scotland.

  They should take into account inter alia the following in respect of onshore wind:

    —  Grid capacity.

    —  Environmental factors.

    —  MOD Low Flying.

    —  Separation from existing communities/settlements.

    —  Scope to provide local employment and a "critical mass" for turbine production.

  Such local targets could of course be reviewed at regular intervals, but crucially they would enable individual schemes to be put into context. Local targets can be met in the first instance by avoiding more sensitive sites (by virtue say of visibility or incursion into designated areas) and this would assist planning authorities in resisting the more contentious schemes. Targets could be revised upwards as and when integrated national policy is updated.

27 January 2005

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