Chris Hanlon: Screw the clouds, we’re finding the silver lining in Longannet’s closure

31/08/2016
angela

Campaigner Chris Hanlon explains how a community is trying to inject optimism for the future into a site of Scotland's industrial past

IF you head south from the Kincardine Bridge a few hundred yards and take the first exit you can stop in the car park of the late Pine & Oak, may it rest in peace, and walk back a little ways to the footbridge over the motorway.

From there you can see the magnificent vista of the Forth Valley spread out before you. Off to your right is the looming bulk of the prematurely idle Longannet power station, once the second largest in Europe, now a footnote in the unedifying annals of UK energy policy.

But, if the light is right and you squint a little, just to one side, you will be able to make out the form of the magnificent Queensferry Crossing rising from the Forth several miles downstream, like a symphony of steel and light during the day and some sort of Star Trek-inspired Christmas tree at night – not at all like the Bladerunner­esque display that Longannet used to provide us, and Grangemouth still does. 

A few of us here in Kincardine have decided that we should ask ourselves, with what opportunities does this 'end of an era' present us?

It is like a symbol of hope for a better future keeking out from behind the death knell of Scotland's industrial past. A few of us here in Kincardine have decided that we should take up that hope and ask ourselves, with what opportunities does this 'end of an era' present us?

Screw the cloud, what sort of silver lining can we make for ourselves and our community?

When I first heard of the closure I decided this was what I was going to do and I've been dreaming up ideas to make it a reality ever since. The best ones so far all revolve around using the site very much for variations on its original purpose. 

There is a massive sub­station, a hub in the distribution network, that would let you sell enormous amounts of power into that network if you could generate it in a way that didn't attract punitive transmission fees.

Well, wind and solar fit that bill nicely. Wind is a bit problematic because it's quite a small site. Even if you include the ash lagoons and the disused site of the old Kincardine power station it's 'only' about 900 acres or so. 

Read more – Clementine Sandison: Take a tour of Glasgow's industrial past with the Our Land festival

That sounds like a lot but wind turbines need to be spread out, and the ash lagoons are bird habitats. Plus, you can't have turbines too close to houses because they can be proper noisy. Nevertheless, there is potential there and an opportunity to look at adapting new technologies to overcome the difficulties. 

Solar, on the other hand, despite the limitations of our latitude, might well be a different matter altogether. A site that size might support up to 180MW of solar panels. A hybrid renewable energy park of that scale might generate between £1.5m and £3m a year for the benefit of the local community.

All of these plans represent a pretty decent silver lining for the local economy and the renewables industry in Scotland in general. Donald Campbell, a veteran on our community council and convenor of the West Fife Community Forum, prepared a fantastic plan for the Longannet Taskforce detailing many, many more potential renewables opportunities that might be pursued – potential opportunities too numerous to mention.

My long term vision is for a renewables innovation park operating on the site; dozens of small firms using the existing buildings and the cheap abundant power our community provides to bring new and creative products to market that will be the foundation of Scotland's second renewables explosion.

We recently held our first public meeting to judge how the community feels about the proposal, as part of the Our Land Fife Festival. The response was pretty positive so we'll be moving on to a full scale community consultation and engagement with Scottish Power on how they can work with us for the benefit if everyone.

Maybe one day we will be able to look back and see that the closure of Longannet was the best thing that ever happened to our community.

My thanks to local Green MSP Mark Ruskell for coming along and listening to our proposals, and being kind enough to say that "the possibility is amazing, absolutely amazing" and encouraging us to pursue our plans. 

My thanks also to the redoubtable Andy Wightman MSP for his encouragement at the main Our Land event in Dunfermline. With supporters like them and our local MP and MSP's involvement with the Longannet Taskforce we stand as good a chance of success as is possible.

There are a great deal of challenges to overcome, not least the cooling of the investment environment thanks to Westminster's intervention, but I am confident that our vision will attract the sort of capital it needs to become a reality.

Maybe one day we will be able to look back and see that the closure of Longannet was the best thing that ever happened to our community.

I hope so and intend to do my best to make it so.

Picture courtesy of Chris Hanlon

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