Right now, Lancashire is self-sufficient in electricity generation.
The two nuclear reactors at Heysham supply over 17,000 GWh of power a year, a total of 97 wind installations add 475 GWh, solar panels on around 17,100 domestic and commercial rooftops supply a further 85 GWh a year, and five biogas CHP plants contribute a modest 6 GWh a year, bringing the total to 18,436 GWh versus demand of about 6,000 GWh.
But in just twelve years from now, those two nuclear reactors are expected to close, along with all the others across the UK which, in 2016, supplied 20% of the nation’s entire power requirement. It’s made worse by the fact that in 2025, all the UK’s remaining coal-fired power stations are going to close too.
The loss of coal and nuclear generating capacity is going to leave a very big gap to fill both nationally and locally.
Many will hope that renewables will fill this void, but I’m unconvinced. For a start, only 2.6% of Lancashire homes have solar panels on despite all the government incentives designed to encourage their take-up in the last 10-15 years. It’s doubtful that there will be much in the way of new windfarms being built because all the best hill-top locations in Lancashire are already taken and it’s highly unlikely that planning permission would be forthcoming to erect turbines on the remaining hills.
Nationally, there’s a lot of noise about offshore wind, but I don’t think we’ll see enough capacity brought forward in just 12 years from now to make up for losses elsewhere. And, even then, we’d need masses of batteries to store excess electricity for use when output from renewables falls.
In all likelihood, gas is probably going to do the heavy lifting alongside modest growth in renewables. The trouble is that by the early 2040s, we can expect to see the last of our North Sea gas reserves all but used up, and that will leave us increasingly dependent on imports – imports that already meet over half our demand.
In this context, I think that our energy future is too uncertain, and if there’s one thing businesses hate it’s uncertainty.
In a recent survey, Lancashire businesses said their energy priorities are that it must be affordable, available when needed, and reliable. They want certainty: certainty that they’ll be able to pay for the energy they use and stay competitive, and certainty that they won’t be let down by a lack of it.
County politicans, policy formers and decision-makers at all levels need to focus on delivering energy policy that is aligned with the needs and priorities of Lancashire businesses. That includes finding out what role the county’s shale resources could play in meeting growing demand for gas and displacing some of our rising imports.