Energy dispute

SSEN in row over use of diesel over green power

Donald Houston: generators emit greenhouse gases

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) has been criticised by Scottish businessman and landowner Donald Houston for what he calls the ‘insane’ use of diesel generators to provide power to remote communities during planned outage periods.

SSEN is disconnecting the power supply to the whole of the Ardnamurchan peninsula, the most westerly point of the British mainland, for four weeks this Autumn and again in 2023 and 2024, and will use diesel generators to supply power for hundreds of affected residents.

Mr Houston said diesel generators produce twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as other fossil fuels and emit significant quantities of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulates. He also says they are also one of the most expensive ways to generate power. 

At the same time SSEN has declined the offer of an entirely renewable energy supply which could be made available to the national grid from a local provider.

Mr Houston, a director of Beinn Bhuidhe Energy, has written to Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, and to local MP Ian Blackford.

He says:  “The use of diesel generators is absolutely insane at a time when Scotland is seeking to reduce its emissions and in particular in a place like Ardnamurchan, one of the most beautiful  and unspoilt parts of the country.”

“It is absurd to pollute the air for local people, to generate such high emissions and to refuse to work with local energy companies who have already created renewable energy schemes.

“The Scottish government should intervene to ensure that our energy supply is not polluting the environment. The Scottish government talks about net zero but it repeatedly fails to deliver.”

The power supply on Ardnamurchan is being disconnected during these periods to enable Forestry & Land Scotland to undertake felling operations in an area where the power lines pass through.

Beinn Bhuidhe Energy, based on Ardnamurchan Estates, generates renewable energy from two hydroelectric schemes and a wind turbine.

The small company currently sells its power to the national grid, but says it has been informed it will not be allowed to do so during the entirety of the outage periods.

SSEN said that: “While the tree-cutting teams are not working 24/7, they are working 7-days (ie weekdays and weekends) and will be carrying out their work for a large part of every day.

“As such, it simply would not be practical to disconnect the generators and reconnect the 560 properties to the network and then carry out a reversal of the process every day for four weeks – this would also see them without any power at all for approximately 2-3 hours every day as teams carried out the connection/disconnection process.”

Mr Houston said: “To achieve net zero on the farm and to provide an income stream outwith hill farming we have invested in excess of £5 million in renewable energy and associated schemes. Our vision is to be totally sustainable by generating our own power and making the most of all opportunities to recycle materials and minimise waste. 

“We are net exporters of power and we rely on the income generated from our renewable energy schemes to support our farming business.”

Mr Houston said SSEN has in the past affirmed its commitment to ‘the use of renewables and energy storage to keep the power flowing for local communities’ during periods of disconnection and to avoid unnecessary carbon emissions.

A spokesman for SSEN said: “I can confirm that the use of innovative flexible solutions such as these were considered as part of the overall planning stage, but in this case it was not possible to implement these given the location on our network –  although that is not to say this won’t change in years to come.

“We recognise Mr Houston’s concerns and have been in dialogue with him ever since these works were at the planning stage – after carrying out a desktop feasibility study, we can confirm we have agreed to allow Mr Houston to use a maximum of self-generated 50kW on a trial basis, on a machine of his choice, while the mobile generators are in use.”

He added: “We’re committed to delivering a secure and reliable supply of electricity to the homes and businesses across our network, with everyone’s safety being at the forefront of all we do.

“When work is being carried out close to our network, be that by our own teams or following an access request by a third party, it is often necessary to turn off the power to keep everyone safe – when this is the case, we will look to minimise disruption, and the most common way of doing this is by connecting temporary mobile generation.

“In this particular instance we have been in regular dialogue with Mr Houston since the outage was at its planning stage in an attempt to reach a solution which is agreeable for everyone concerned.”

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