Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Who is Peter Atherton and why do we care?

Peter Atherton could be described as a prime mover at Citi-Bank in London, his portfolio includes energy investment.

Mainstream Scottish media and political opponents of the Scottish government pounced on his pronunciations that “Renewable investors risk seeing their assets stranded in a newly independent Scotland”.

Michael Moore jumped on the bandwagon calling for immediate referendum timetables, stating “It is vital that we maximise the potential of Scotland’s renewables sector by providing the stable environment in which that can happen.”

Tom Greatrex, Labour MP added: “This is an astounding warning and shows the grave flaws in the SNP’s energy policy.”

The background to this issue is that Scotland’s ministers have set a goal of 100% of Scotland’s energy needs to be met from renewables by 2020. That’s a goal, not a requirement and nothing was ever achieved by not trying. Not trying is what Unionism and Mr. Atherton appear to suggest, or at least that we shouldn’t try quite so hard.

Holyrood says the move to a green and re-industrialized economy would create investment and jobs and although ministers have described present targets as “ambitious” they believe them “achievable”.

Critics have described the target as impossible and questioned how many new positions would actually be created. Westminster has proven itself comprehensively anti-Scots and pro-nuclear when it comes to energy. The green generation “connection fees” in Scotland and London’s insistence on ongoing nuclear testify to that.

Citigroup analyst Peter Atherton has now warned that hitting the 100% target would cost around £46bn, because of the need to build more onshore and offshore wind turbines. His inference was obvious; funding might not be there – at least from Citibank. He and our mainstream media don’t seem to worry that this £46bn isn’t public money either – it’s a big scary number so “fit for use”, fit for propaganda.

Mr. Atherton based his statements on the fact that even beyond the size of the capitol investment, the green energy sector would still need another £4bn a year of public subsidy, probably by way of increased billing because he believes Scotland’s consumer base is “far too small” to support this industry. He’s ignoring exports.

Mr. Atherton’s stance is that England and Wales will have to subsidise Scotland’s green energy drive. “But Scotland seceding from the UK would clearly place this subsidy stream at grave risk,” he added. This seems another posturing on the “too poor, too wee, too stupid” stance often thrown up by the Union. It requires examination as to merit.

He also warned utilities and other investors, particularly Perth-based SSE and Scottish Power, to exercise extreme caution in committing further capital to Scotland with the bombshell statement that they “may already be over exposed to these risks.”

Mr Atherton concludes that Mr Salmond’s twin flagship policies, independence and providing 100% of energy from renewables by 2020 are incompatible. His perspective was validated for him because the referendum will create uncertainty during investment periods; therefore the potential for Scotland to hit its targets was “remote”. Independence – referendum – uncertainty, a trifecta of words that appear to be sounded too often from London to not require additional investigation. It almost sounds like a Union press release.

Professor Tony Mackay also described the 100% target as “impossible”, suggesting that 40% would be more achievable. We’re close to 40% already and there’s 8 plus years to go.

Looking to London’s Mr. Atherton we find he does not actually speak for Citibank, as he told a recent commons select committee “I am Peter Atherton from Citigroup. For the lawyers, my usual proviso is that I speak for myself and not for Citigroup”.

In examining the brief of Mr. Atherton’s day job, he’s there to maximize investment return for Citibank and its investors. His concern is only for their profit, that’s his job.

Mr. Atherton’s input on carbon capture and green energy proposals together with an energy mix and funding package were solicited by the UK government in February of this year, his response: “My answer is that I have no idea; it is way too early to tell. These are very big, complex reforms, interacting with a whole series of other, very big and complex policies”.

Citibank’s energy representative clearly stated recently that he “has no idea” how issues surrounding energy will work out on a UK basis, yet he feels qualified to comment on Scotland, based as he is in London.

Peter Atherton did go on to tell the UK government that things might be workable but what “investors have to be able to imagine is a situation where, in 2018 or 2019, the Secretary of State is standing up to the media and Parliament and saying, "It is a really good thing that your bills have just gone up by 15%, and will be going up 15% next year, the year after and the year after. And it’s a really good thing that SSE and the other utilities have just reported record profits, and will be reporting record profits for the next 10 years." He appears to then feel confident of energy funding.

Digging more deeply into Mr. Atherton’s history on issues indicates satisfaction with any situation that produces maximum returns for ideally no risk to his investors. Anything with guaranteed returns like PPI and PFI would appear to be an ideal situation for him.

In short, he wants guarantees his investors will profit and profit substantially.

Speaking on the energy mix, specifically referencing the “green deal” under consideration by the UK government, Mr. Atherton referenced “Scottish and Southern Energy last year did 105p of post-tax earnings, so I thought I’d run through my model how much profit they would be making by the end of the decade if they were to do their proportional amount of this investment-around £4 billion a year”.

“In 2015, their profits would have risen to 155p, but by 2020 they would be at 225p. Therefore, their profits are going up 15% or 20% a year at the end of the decade, just as bills are rising”.

Notably Mr. Atherton completed that section of his oratory with the statement that “The Green Deal is not a grant; it’s a loan. You are paying for the loan. Your overall energy bill may fall, but when you add the loan price back in, the cost doesn’t actually fall for the consumer”.

Based upon Peter Atherton’s figures above, the price of a green energy mix may not fall for the consumer, but the power companies more than double their profits.

The last noteworthy statement from Mr. Atherton to the committee was “The current systems struggle where you have big construction risk and big technological risk, such as with offshore wind and, even more so, with new nuclear. In our view, new nuclear is un-investable for private equity investors. Under the current mechanisms there is too much construction risk and too much power price risk. Offshore wind is in a borderline area, but onshore wind, for example, would be fine”.

Balancing Mr. Atherton’s comments about investment and viability, investments by major international corporations, such as Mitsubishi, Doosan and Repsol, as well as domestic firms, are providing jobs and growth for the future in Scotland’s world leading renewables industry. This process has not appreciably changed since the Scottish government confirmed plans for an independence referendum in the latter half of the parliamentary term. Four of the five world leading turbine manufacturers now have a significant presence in the country.

The Scottish government issued a statement saying “The analysis also fails to understand that much of the renewable energy which will be produced in Scotland will be for export.”

What does “generate 100% of Scotland’s energy from renewables” mean, when much of it will be “exported”. Scotland is energy rich, we already export energy. We will generate our basic needs from renewables if the goals are met, then export our excess capacity when available to England or other markets. If the goals are not met, we in an independent Scotland will simply have less to export, our lights will not “go out”. We will maintain a mix of renewable and fossil energy.

Scotland will phase out nuclear as those facilities age and reach the end of their life. Mr. Atherton agrees with this as he clearly states “new nuclear is un-investable”. Clearly something other than nuclear must replace our current nuclear plants. In or out of the UK/EU that simple fact doesn’t change.

Scotland is in energy surplus, England is in energy deficit. England imports energy from Scotland and forces Scotland to pay for the privilege of exporting it. Out of the Union we get market rates, inside the Union we get exploited. Ofgem has shown no eagerness to change therefore that looks like it will be an ongoing situation, absent independence.

Our nation has invested £750 million in renewable energy in the last year alone, our government at Holyrood realises that fossil fuel will continue to increase in price and pollute our planet. Wind and wave, solar and tidal energies with emerging green technology don’t increase their fuel costs over time. If we wish to prevent the children of our nation from living in perpetual fuel poverty there is only one viable way forward at present.

Our investment in renewables like our nations size in comparison to China is minute. Last year china promoted £37b investment in solar alone. In spite of Peter Atherton’s obvious fears, much of green energy is now largely mainstream and proven technology.

As stated in Wikki – Scotland’s future is truly bright on renewables “The natural resource base for renewables [in Scotland] is extraordinary by European and even global standards”.

With control of the Crown Estates much of the direct profit from these advances could go straight to our own communities rather than pad treasury coffers in London.


  1. "much of green energy is now largely mainstream and proven technology."

    I beg to differ.

    Failures of electrical and controls systems are the root cause of wind turbine repairs in 50% of cases, and operators should expect an electronic or electrical subassembly failure every 2 to 2.5 years, according to Wind Energy Update’s Offshore operations and Maintenance report 2011, released today.


    Recently, Sandy Butterfield, a former chief wind turbine engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado, was quoted as stating that the wind industry expects today's gearboxes to last 7–11 years. This markedly contrasts with the 20-year design lifetime of the wind turbines. And the implications for the industry are huge, since changing a gearbox is typically a lengthy and extremely costly exercise.

    Replacing a wind turbine gearbox involves primarily the gearbox cost itself, which typically represents around 10% of the total wind turbine cost. On top of this expense, must be added its transportation to site, crane rental and mobilisation cost, and the man-hours spent on the replacement. It means that the value can quickly reach about €200,000 – €500,000, depending on the turbine size and the wind farm's location.

    The one thing that is never mentioned is OEM.

  2. You are talking about MAINTENANCE. Not whether the technology is proven or not. The Technology IS proven. It's out there.
    Improving the technology is simply a normal aspect of engineering advancement.
    It is how we left the cave behind.

  3. Hi Hazel,

    Wind and wave technologies are not proven. They are still need huge subsidies and are neither efficient nor effective. They contribute a very small percentage of the most expensive energy generation and in winds case it is intermittent.

    You are aware that wind and wave generation will have to be backed up with conventional power stations? The cost of that has to be included in value for money calculations.This is unavoidable. Storing energy when it is windy? Not possible and a long way off. If wind and wave were so great they wouldn't need expensive subsidy from the taxpayer and energy bill payers.

    Nuclear is by far the best way to go. There is no evidence anywhere which suggests it's use has caused death on any real scale. The new generation of reactors produce very little waste. Even as things stand at the moment the amount of nuclear waste produced for each household powered by nuclear is a thimble full per year. That will reduce further.

    The SNP have questions to answer. Their green agenda just won't cut it. Everyone knows this including the SNP. The SNP are a left leaning party and Scotland has suffered enormously over the years at the hands of Labour. It would be a tragedy if the SNP followed the same doctrines as before.

    Independence outside the EU but working with them is the only way forward. We can only be independent if we are free from those who wish to push their agenda on our country.

    The people of Scotland want and need better from all our politicians. We want to live in a country where things are done for the best results which benefit the Scottish people. We should not be interested in leading the world in anything unless it benefits Scotland's people first and foremost.

    Let's get our country right. Let's be innovative and leave no stone unturned. Let's evaluate any topic or activity which is currently out there but which we could improve, make better or ditch.

    The challenge is to make Scotland a wonderful place to live with a vibrant and varied economy which delivers a lifestyle of quality, value and fairness to all who live here.

    The Unionists? They shouldn't feel that they have to put up with an Independent Scotland. They are free to leave anytime they want. Right now sounds like a good time for them to go to me.

  4. Gee - I never though our conventional stations, or nuclear for that matter, would be free of maintenance costs!

    To equate a means of energy production with two moving parts to critically pressurised steam boilers, fuel processing and supply logistics requiring huge capacity turbines to convert steam power to electricity and to imply the latter garners no maintenance costs beggars sanity.