The National Grid holds a monopoly on the operation of the high voltage electricity transmission network within the UK. They have done so since Margret Thatcher sold off the nationalised Central Electricity Generating Board in 1990. They also own the high voltage electricity distribution network in England and Wales, but the grid in Scotland is owned by Scottish Power and Scottish and Southern Electric (SSE). Last year National Grid made £3863000000 profit (that’s almost £4bn) and disbursed £1614484200 (£1.6bn) in dividends to its shareholders. Since it was created the share price has trebled. All this just goes to show how profitable an enterprise this is.
As regular readers will know, Scottish consumers pay more for their electricity than our cousins in England. We also pay more to connect a generator to the grid, which is why Longannet is closing. If it was located in the SE England then it would be paid for generating electricity. From an environmental perspective, the closure of Longannet’s dirty, coal-fired, furnaces would be a good thing. However lots of jobs depend upon it and it would leave Scotland a net importer of electricity from our cousins down south. Which would cost more than generating it here of course.
The logic behind the closure of Langannet goes like this: generators which are far from London must pay more to connect to the grid because it costs more to transmit the power over longer distances (Edinburgh and Glasgow don’t count as major population centres). In a lovely piece of Joseph Heller style logic remote communities, which are far from power generators, must pay more for their electricity for the same reason. So Scotland not only pays more to consume electricity, our generators also have to pay more to connect to the grid. All this money flows into the energy companies pockets.
So what’s the solution? It’s called the Micro Grid. This is where a community, or even a group of houses or an industrial estate, have their own electricity generator which supplies most of their needs. This generator can be anything, but let’s think of the environment so it should be a combination of renewable energy technologies like solar, wind and some biomass. The generators will be able to power the needs of the community for most, if not all, of the time. There could also be a grid connection, but crucially, the generators will not export to the grid so no connection charges are required. If the community shared a meter then there would only be one consumer connection charge. The grid connection would just cover the shortfall of the generator during high demand periods.
But energy policy is reserved to Westminster, so how can this be achieved? Well the Scottish Government controls the planning system. They could make it a planning policy for all new developments which would free the lucky people who live and/or work there from the extortion of the energy companies. They would be masters of their own power. Eventually, when energy policy becomes more enlightened, all those wee grids could be connected together into the Scottish National Grid.
Existing communities could be encouraged, through grants and planning policies, to create their own micro grids. Through these small steps we can be free of the oppressive pricing regime that currently exists for our electricity, free from the monopoly of the National Grid.