Climate pollution on the rise because of Peterhead gas plant

Climate pollution from Scottish businesses rose by three per cent between 2017 and 2018 because emissions from a gas-fired power station at Peterhead doubled.

New data released by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) reveals that the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from the plant – run by Scottish energy company, SSE – leapt by nearly a million tonnes in a year.

This makes the Peterhead station Scotland’s top climate polluter, pushing the Ineos oil refinery at Grangemouth into second place. There are three other Ineos plants at Grangemouth among the top ten polluters.

SSE has come under fire from environmental campaigners for damaging Scotland’s attempts to cut climate pollution. They say the Peterhead station should close “in the not too distant future”.

Sepa’s latest Scottish Pollution Release Inventory covering 866 sites in 2018 has been posted online. Other major carbon emitters are the ExxonMobil and Shell petrochemical plants at Mossmorran in Fife and the Tarmac cement works near Dunbar in East Lothian.

Other oil and gas facilities, two paper mills, a glass plant and a whisky distillery also feature in the top twenty carbon polluters.

Scotland top carbon polluters 2018

SiteCarbon dioxide emissions (tonnes)
SSE gas power station, Peterhead1.9m
Petroineos oil refinery, Grangemouth1.7m
ExxonMobil ethylene plant, Mossmorran851,000
Combined heat and power plant, Grangemouth702,000
Ineos chemical plant, Grangemouth617,000
Tarmac cement works, Dunbar574,000
Ineos infrastructure plant, Grangemouth 456,000
RWE biomass plant, Glenrothes372,000
Ineos oil and gas pipeline system, Grangemouth357,000
E.ON wood power station, Lockerbie346,000
Shell St Fergus gas plant, Peterhead319,000
UPM-Kymmene paper mill, Irvine271,000
Norbord paper mill, Stirling216,000
Total gas plant, Shetland219,000
Engie combustion plant, Shetland206,000
Shell gas plant, Mossmorran180,000
Repsol oil terminal, Orkney144,000
O-I glass plant, Alloa141,000
William Grant whisky distillers, Girvan136,000
Source: Scottish Environment Protection Agency

According to Sepa, emissions of six greenhouse gases rose three per cent from 11.5 million tonnes in 2017 to 11.9 million tonnes in 2018. This reflected “the realism of a transition economy and demand from the grid from the 2018 Beast from the East severe weather event,” it said.

“The 2018 increase in greenhouse gas emissions is largely due to a 0.96 megatonne rise in carbon dioxide emitted from Peterhead power station.”

The gas-fired plant was designed to respond quickly to market changes to maintain security of supply, Sepa stated.

“The site ran for roughly twice as many hours in 2018 in respond to demand, impacting its emissions from the previous year,” it added.

“Stations like Peterhead are generally considered as least polluting large scale thermal generation technology and are necessary in the shift to renewable energy generation.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland, however, pointed out that other sectors would have to work hard to make up for SSE’s increased emissions. “When every sector is supposed to be reducing emissions it is very disappointing that emissions have risen because SSE has been running the Peterhead power station extra hard,” said the environmental group’s director, Dr Richard Dixon.

“We look forward to this station closing in the not too distant future, ending for ever the large-scale use of fossil fuels to generate electricity in Scotland.”

In response the Scottish energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse, defended the Peterhead plant’s role in restoring electricity generation after an emergency shutdown of the power network, known as “blackstart”.

“Peterhead is currently a vital player in Scotland’s ‘blackstart’ capabilities and is playing an important role in supporting decarbonisaion of our electricity supply as we transition to net zero,” he tweeted. “Hence, be careful what you wish for.”

Sepa pointed out that emissions of another greenhouse gas used in refrigeration, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), more than trebled between 2017 and 2018. This was because of “accidental releases” from Anglo Beef Processors (ABP) in Perth and North British Distilleries in Edinburgh.

ABP’s slaughterhouse at Inveralmond, which handles 1,500 cattle a week, released over two tonnes of HFCs in 2018, making it by far the biggest emitter of the gas. It also was rated as “poor” by Sepa because of “repeated offensive odours detected outwith the boundary of the site”.

North British Distilleries, a major grain whisky producer, accidentally released 743 kilograms of HFCs in 2018, making it the second highest emitter of the gas in 2018. Sepa said that it took action at both sites leading to “investment in alternative refrigeration technologies being introduced by October 2020.”

Sepa also reported increased emissions of a third greenhouse gas, methane, from intensive livestock farming. “The increase is due to the permitting of four new facilities and capacity increases at several existing sites,” Sepa said.

Named: the ‘dirty dozen’ companies that pollute Scotland

Sepa stressed that, though climate pollution had increased between 2017 and 2018, there had been a 50 per cent fall since 2008. This was mainly due to closures of coal-fired power stations at Longannet in Fife in 2016, and Cockenzie in East Lothian in 2013.

Sepa’s chief executive, Terry A’Hearn, argued that Scottish businesses needed to grow sustainably while reducing their environmental burden. “The annual pollution release inventory from regulated sites is a very visual demonstration of the progress we’ve made as a nation in the last decade,” he said.

“It also reflects the realism of a transition economy where there will be movement in individual metrics such as energy. Scotland’s globally ambitious climate change and circular economy strategies continue to drive systemic change in business practice.”

SSE promised to keep cutting its climate pollution. “As the largest power station of its kind in Scotland, Peterhead provides a critical service to supporting the Great Britain electricity system,” said a company spokesperson.

“SSE is one of the largest operators of low carbon, renewable infrastructure and met its target to cut carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2020 – three years early, and remains committed to halving it again by 2030. Renewable power, coupled with efficient gas stations, will help support the UK in its transition to net zero emissions by 2050.”

Anglo Beef Processors and North British Distilleries did not reply to requests to comment.

This story was updated at 09.20 on 20 March 2020 to include comments from SSE, and again at 10.40 to add comments from the energy minister Paul Wheelhouse, and new information on hydrofluorocarbons emitters. Photo of Peterhead power station thanks to Iain Smith, licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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