I have a positive vision of Scotland’s future without unconventional gas, and it is not ‘poor, cold and green’, it is ‘safe, warm and thriving’. The fallacy that green comes at a disproportionately high cost is a falsehood that serves only to keep communities from owning and generating their own power, and those who hope to profit by cornering things people need to survive, and keeping prices artificially high, which they can only do by keeping them scarce.
If we choose to develop an alternative energy industry, more jobs will be created and heat will be cheap. I have just been to Iceland where every home is toasty and piped hot water is unlimited, because they are all connected to community-owned Geothermal Power. Energy bills are 15% of what they are here, and yet the spin would have us believe we will be cold and poor if we don’t let them exploit our communities with fracking. The chairman of Cuadrilla and George Osborne have already confirmed that frack gas will NOT bring down domestic prices.
We don’t need a volcanic landscape to tap the heat in the earth, and the Government has already commissioned reports that have found enough resource in Scotland to heat the whole country using Geothermal energy, as the Times reported last year. When faced with pollution of our communities and a hastening of the climate catastrophe that threatens extinction within decades, why on Earth are we NOT chasing the sustainable wealth in Geothermal Energy? Where I live, communities all around the Firth of Forth at at risk of Underground Coal Gasification, which is currently set to be allowed through the back door despite the Scottish Government moratorium. Coal Gasification has never been tested on this scale and there are serious public safety concerns – SEPA confirms that they are responsible for regulating, but that there is no framework for UCG and that companies will self-monitor, which would of course be in conflict with their requirement to maximise profits for shareholders. There is no motivation for them to protect the public, and no way of flagging up spills and mistakes independently..
The narrative coming out in the pro-fracking propaganda is that we ‘need’ this dangerous technology for ‘energy security’, but this this is inaccurate and wrong-headed. The renewables sector is a vast global growth area, where Scotland could become a world leader in technology and skills. Currently employing 11,000 people, the sector generates almost half of Scotland’s total electricity needs. Coincidentally, the geological properties that make Scotland’s most densely populated areas attractive for frackers make it prime for Geothermal energy. We have a chance to become world leaders in Geothermal Energy instead of being left to clean up the mess after a two-year raid of the coal and gas beneath our homes.
At its most simple, heat recovered from disused collieries in the Central Belt of Scotland could provide district heating and account for a quarter Scotland’s entire electricity consumption. This has already been done in Glasgow and for the past eleven years has been running in Glenalmond Street, Shettleston. The British Geological Survey have researched the national scenario and suggest that the possibilities could be substantial if we tapped into hot aquifers 2-3km down or if we drilled into hot granites 5-6km down. We could use the heat for heating, but also to power turbines, potentially generating 10s-100s MWe, possibly even GWe of baseload power. That would mean that geothermal energy could equal that of wind power, meeting our entire electricity demand. Geothermal energy has the additional advantage of supporting baseload independent of season and weather changes throughout the year.
In technological terms, we could spark a technological Scottish Enlightenment, with engineers and specialists leading the world in design and expertise, creating a cheap power source that would last indefinitely. Or we put our farmland and waters at risk of contamination for up to thousands of years, pushing the world towards the climate tipping point and extinction of the human race. For the sake of a false claim of ‘cheaper bills’, and no real difference in jobs growth for an industry that lasts only a couple of years. It’s a no brainer.
I know which one I’d rather have for my children, for our communities. I’d like us to be thriving ten years from now, a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now. If we choose geothermal energy instead of fracking, we might be able to give them a future they will be thankful for.