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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 May 2007, 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK
Where weather means energy
By Sarah Mukherjee
BBC environment correspondent

Wind farm at Windy Sound
Thirty six wind turbines run at the aptly named Windy Standard
Today's Energy White Paper has brought a variety of energy sources to the fore - renewables, gas, and, of course, nuclear power.

Our environment correspondent Sarah Mukherjee reports from a hillside in Scotland where weather means energy.

The wind almost blows you off your feet, making your eyes stream and your ears burn. This is Windy Standard, an appropriately named hillside in Dumfries and Galloway.

Once, people scraped a living sheep farming. Now the regular beat of the turbine blades means money in the bank for renewable energy companies - and more of the green power that's beloved, these days, by politicians of all political colours.

Scotland has a huge wind energy resource - but we've inherited a grid system from a different time
Jeremy Sainsbury, Natural Power

Jeremy Sainsbury is one of the directors of Natural Power, which has run the 36 wind turbines at Windy Standard for 10 years, producing enough power for about 18,000 homes.

But Jeremy and his colleagues are finding that future wind projects, potentially providing thousands more megawatts of electricity, are in limbo because there's no capacity left in Scotland on the grid to take the energy: "Scotland has a huge wind energy resource - but we've inherited a grid system from a different time and it's now slowing up development" he says.

Longer-term plans

For many years, the National Grid provided a power motorway to take the energy from coal, gas and nuclear plants in the north and east to the densely populated areas of the midlands and the south.

But if the government is to meet not only its own but also new European targets on renewable energy, that map must change to build capacity where the wind and waves are - and that will cost millions.

Chris Shears, chairman of the British Wind Energy Association, says: "If you look at where the renewable resources are - and where the demand centres are - we need a new grid for the long term. But the framework isn't there for either developers or the National Grid to pick this up in the long term. That's what the White Paper needs to do."

On Monday, in the first of a week of major government announcements, the Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly proposed a radical streamlining of the planning system for major infrastructure projects like grid capacity.

Sizewell B nuclear power station (Image: PA)

Nick Windsor from the National Grid says his company can be fairly fleet of foot when it comes to putting in capacity. For them, the problem until now has been the planning system which could delay a project for years.

He says: "Currently 85% of wind farms don't have planning permission, which is a real problem for us. We don't want the expense of investigating putting in capacity in places where it's not needed."

But this could be the first real test of Anglo-Scottish relations since the recent elections resulted in a Scottish National Party (SNP) minority administration.

It's been suggested the SNP could cap onshore wind power, making UK renewable targets much more difficult to meet. And, on the day the trade and industry secretary also publishes a consultation on nuclear power, the new Scottish administration has been very clear that it wants no new nuclear power stations.


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