Flagship UK carbon capture project 'close to collapse'
Scottish Power expected to pull out of government-promoted scheme to build a £1bn prototype CCS plant at Longannet
Terry Macalister and Damian Carrington
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 6 October 2011 15.32 BST
A £1bn flagship government project for fighting climate change – the construction of a prototype carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at Longannet in Scotland – is on the verge of collapse, it emerged on Thursday. Talks between the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) and Scottish Power have run into deep trouble and the electricity supplier is expected to pull the plug on the government-promoted scheme, which hoped to bury carbon emissions from the coal power station in the North Sea. [...]
Decc had promised £1bn of public money but the developers are understood to be arguing that they cannot proceed without more money to trial the scheme, close to the Firth of Forth. Both sides insist "talks are ongoing" but well-placed industry and political sources say the process is "pretty much over" and a statement to that effect could be expected shortly. Jeff Chapman, the chief executive of theCarbon Capture and Storage Association, said the collapse of the Longannet scheme would be a "severe disappointment" for the wider hopes of the sector. "Everybody knows the negotiations have been very difficult, so to that extent it's quite possible [the talks] don't come to a conclusion – although there are other projects coming through the system hopefully." [...]
The Fife scheme was by far the most advanced and spearheaded the drive to develop this new technology in Britain. Ministers have repeatedly stressed the importance of CCS as a way of keeping coal and potentially other fossil-fuel burning power stations in operation without undermining moves to cut CO2. Longannet is the third largest coal-fired power station in Europe at 2,400MW and was once highlighted as Scotland's biggest single polluter.
Three mega-rich (at least one of them giga-rich) capitalists of Aberdeen. Standing at the head of their multiple boardroom tables in the town which styles itself the 'Energy Capital of Europe' they are watching as this scheme to neutralise the atmosphere-menacing emissions of Europe third's largest coal-burning power-station - Scotland's biggest polluter - collapses. This project to neuter its teratogenic discharges lies close to breakdown for want of an investment shortfall - the sum of which would be less than one tenth of this cadre's aggregate net worth. That is; this project does not want for material, or know-how, or industrial capacity: no, it fails for lack of the trivial fiction of cash-money.
For this novel technology (while scientifically simple) remains commercially unproven; it is a business risk; the financial returns are uncertain. For this pecuniary reason alone - despite its promise of continual gigawatts (but scrubbed, guilt-free, of harmful carbon) from the 50-year-yet certain supply of global coal - no power station anywhere in the world has a full-scale carbon capture and storage system running. No-one yet knows just how much it will cost to clean up electricity which is manufactured from coal. No-one yet knows how much (or how little) profit is to be made.
In this town, we have a large workforce of innovative technologists and engineers with the skills and experience necessary to design, manufacture and operate systems like these. The wrangling of high-pressure gas, fluid and plasma is very much our stock-in-trade. And in our oil tycoons, we have the capital which, if deployed into these low- and no- carbon electricity and motive power sources (of which CCS is just one) would truly, finally change this town's self-styled moniker from "Oil Capital" to "Energy Capital" and so at last give truth to the conceit.
Now, today, we all stand at the crossroads. Will these men mobilise their capital - are they prepared to take the risk? Much is made by the PR agencies they retain of their philanthropic credentials. What could be more humanity-loving than risking a small part of their capital on a chance to safeguard the atmosphere? Or is the one-way-bet certainty afforded by an oil-price which, despite globally defective demand; despite recession or depression, remains proudly above the psychologically significant $100 per barrel mark distracting them?
Flashing in their minds like the urgent "HOLD NOW" buttons of a slot machine stuck on a jackpot payout, this ton-high oil price militates against any thought of reallocation of capital crossing the minds of the tycoons. The certain play of continued and renewed investment in the oil-bearing strata beneath the seas of the UK's continental shelf satisfies the needs of capital oh so much more than adequately. Why would capital (the need to increase itself being its primary reason for existing - integral to its true definition) redeploy away from so certain a one-way bet into something risky?
The tycoons stand at the heads of their boardroom tables, their hands on the levers of capital. The tickers tick up on global heat budget, CO2 concentration, social inequality, species extinction, deforestation, ocean acidification, resource depletion and political instability and conflict. But the ticker also ticks up - ever up - on the free-market price of a barrel of oil. The tycoons have their hands on the control levers of capital. But they have feet of clay.
Profile: Ian Suttie, the tycoon with natural reserve
Published Date: 02 October 2011
HE IS the stealth bomber of Scottish business, appearing only rarely on to the radar screen of public consciousness before quickly disappearing. And that, by and large, is the way Ian Suttie likes it. But all that changed last week when a major oil find in the Kraken field, 88 miles off Shetland, by Aberdeen-based First Oil put Suttie at the top of Scotland's rich list. With one positive North Sea seismograph, he was catapulted out of the business sections of newspapers and on to the front pages.
For an oil tycoon with 40 directorships whose company's 30 per cent stake in the Kraken field means he is now reputed to be worth more than a billion pounds, remarkably little is known about Suttie. Indeed, Suttie is said to regard the prospect of becoming public property with unalloyed horror. An oilman who worked with him said he's "not exactly reclusive, but he's not far off it - he's very private".
/ONE OF A KIND/
Demand for oil and gas pulls energy sector through recessionAlthough the oil and gas industry has been affected by the global economic slowdown the energy sector tends to work in longer-term cycles. This is particularly true of deepwater operations. The demand for hydrocarbon-based energy is continually increasing and this has pushed the industry into new territories and ever deeper waters. As a result of continuous exploration and production activity much of the offshore supply chain has remained relatively well protected from the worst ravages of recession. Despite the economic slowdown Balmoral Offshore Engineering’s international business has increased exponentially between 2007 and 2010 We are delighted that the industry is showing its faith in us as a premium provider of high quality, reliable products and have been successful in securing significant contracts for some of the industry’s most prestigious global deepwater provinces. To cope with the increasing demand we are investing heavily in a new manufacturing plant in Brazil
Jim Milne CBE, Chairman and Managing Director, Balmoral Group
/LOOKS BEYOND OIL/
In the school of hard Knox: Sir Ian Wood: Britain's northernmost tycoon looks beyond oil.[...]Sir Ian is proud of the Granite City. Once it had realised the opportunities of oil, he says, it did the right things. 'It would be wrong to say it would all have happened anyway. The business could have gone to Dundee or elsewhere. The harbour has been rebuilt, and the local civic leaders did what they could to encourage development. That is very much to their credit.'Now he feels his job is to make sure Aberdeen does not drift back into economic obscurity. 'We're the lucky generation of north-east Scotland,' he says. 'I'd hate the next generation to look back and say,
"Well, what did you leave us?" '