POWER is problematic.
In recent weeks, four of the ‘big six’ energy companies – Scottish Power, SSE, British Gas and Npower – have announced rises of between 8.2 and 10.4 per cent on their bills, citing a rise in wholesale energy prices.
The increases will differ according to supplier and location, but some residents in our region will be affected.
On Tuesday some of Britain’s biggest energy suppliers were accused of overcharging customers by £3.7 billion a year when grilled by MPs about price hikes. A report by the Royal Academy of Engineering issued this month said the occurrence of rolling blackouts – where areas of the country are systematically ‘switched off’ to reduce the load on the energy network – was “unlikely”.
But constant assurances from politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron, to “keep the lights on” has raised the spectre of the three-day week endured in the 1970s.
As a nation we have become accustomed to readily available energy.
Switching on the kettle is routine. We are not likely to ponder where the energy we use to boil the water is being generated, let alone whether it's coming from our home county or not.
It turns out Flintshire and Wrexham have a substantial role in ensuring the lights do not go out. There are existing power stations dotted about North Wales, including at Shotton, Deeside and Connah’s Quay, with all gas-fired and within a few miles of each other.
The construction of a new power station can spark public protest. Wrexham Power Limited, which wants to build a gas-fired power station the county, the preferred site being Kingsmoor Park South on Wrexham Industrial Estate, has seen opposition from the Wrexham Residents Against Power Scheme (WRAPS).
The company claims the project would bring 50 skilled jobs, 1,200 construction jobs and £800m investment to Wrexham.
But Kevin Braithwaite, spokesman for WRAPS, said the proposed power station wasn’t right for the area, and had doubts as to how much power the station would be able to produce.
He said: “The proposed plant will take approximately three years to build, only adding disruption and congestion at a time when the prison is being constructed.
When it’s finished it will offer at the most 50 permanent skilled jobs. Additional to the problems we foresee on the industrial estate is the 400kva electrical connection to Legacy, which will require a new line with pylons that would cut through areas tourism and outstanding beauty.
“There is likely to be a need to lay a pipeline from Wrexham to Morecambe Bay, where the nearest Carbon Capture facility has been identified.”
Last year Friends of the Earth Cymru weighed in, concerned with increasing carbon output and perceived lack of political will to cut emissions. Group director Gareth Clubb said: “We need to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels year on year for the next 40 years.
“We’re very concerned about what is a worrying trend.”
One alternative to fossil fuel is nuclear power. Richard Foxhall, stakeholder relations manager for Horizon Nuclear Power, said: “We are still going through the process of a Generic Design Assessment. The reactor design itself is not yet licensed for use in the UK, so the Office for Nuclear Regulation is making the assessment now. We expect to reach the second stage of that process about the end of this year. It will take a couple of years to go through in its entirety.
“We will be going to launch the first stage of public consultation events in September next year.”
The consultations are likely to be fiery.News the UK government green-lit the first entirely new nuclear power station in decades at Hinkley Point last week
reignited a flurry of activity on the PAWB Facebook page. The PAWB group (People Against Wylfa B), including supporters in Flintshire and Wrexham, is campaigning against the ongoing development on Anglesey.
Marc Jones, a community councillor in Wrexham, said: “Wales produces more electricity than it consumes. Deeside Power Station alone produces enough electricity for half the homes in Wales.
“If we invested in solar, tidal, hydro and offshore wind with greater community ownership then we would have a safe and sustainable energy future. Nuclear power is neither safe nor economic. Bills will double as the UK Government provides a blank cheque to the energy firms.”
While green technology is not without pitfalls – concerted campaigns against wind turbine proposals attest to this – it does not carry the same stigma of sustained environmental degradation that carbon or nuclear industries bear.”
One of the biggest local green projects is visible from Flint and Mostyn. Gwynt y Môr offshore wind farm, the biggest of its kind in Europe, crossed a milestone this month when the 80th of 160 planned turbines was successfully installed. Not all are operational yet, but once the project is complete it will have an installed capacity of 576MW.
RWE npower renewables Gwynt y Môr project director, Toby Edmonds dismissed sceptics’ accusations that wind power is unreliable, pointing out the existing off-shore turbine arrays of North Hoyle and Rhyl Flats consistently generate their predicted output.
Back on shore, there is a plan in the offing to build a 180,000-panel solar farm near Weighbridge Road in Sealand.
At a meeting in Connah’s Quay last week, Cllr Christine Jones said of the proposed solar farm: “We do need renewable energy. It is massive but we are used to getting power stations on our doorstep. It is nice to see a renewable one for a change.”
The North Wales Residual Waste Treatment Project is still rumbling on. The project, which would see any waste that couldn’t be recycled from four North Wales counties burned to produce energy, was hit earlier this year when one of the two final companies bidding for the contract withdrew its tender.
Wheelabrator is the last company in the running for the £800 million project, which will probably centre on the Deeside Industrial Estate.
A Flintshire Council spokesman said: “The project is still in negotiation called ‘competitive dialogue’ with the final bidder to secure the most value for money in their final tender. A further announcement will be made in due course.”
It is possible there is no one single solution to the problem of power. Equally challenging seems to be arresting the soaring rise in energy bills.