Big Pharma Fail: Scots Reject GSK Renewables

Well, you can’t blame GlaxoSmithKline for trying. But the pharmaceutical giant just can’t seem to get it right when it comes to developing renewable energy resources for a manufacturing plant in Scotland, where we thought anything goes when it comes to green power.

Our tale begins last year with GSK’s proposal to erect two wind turbines at its operation in Montrose, an east coast town about 30 miles north of Dundee. These would be big turbines – hub heights up to 85 meters, blade tips reaching 132 meters into the sky, each capable of generating 2.5 megawatts of power.

What the wind turbines at the Montrose, Scotland, facility would have looked like (image via GlaxoSmithKline)

What the turbines at the Montrose plant would have looked like (image via GlaxoSmithKline)

In proposing the turbines, GSK said [PDF] its “ultimate aim” was for the 45-acre, 280-employee Montrose site to be “fully self-sustainable (off-grid) in terms of electricity.”

But intense local opposition led the Angus Council to say no to the proposal, largely on the basis that GSK had “failed to demonstrated that the turbines could operate within acceptable noise levels.”

GSK – which said it’s willing to go with turbines 20 meters shorter – is appealing the local council’s decision before the Scottish Director for Planning and Environmental Appeals, with a verdict expected before the end of June.

Meanwhile, there’s the tidal turbine proposal. Even if GSK were to lose out on its wind turbines, it still had its tidal turbines.

Here's where the tidal turbines were to be deployed (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s where the tidal turbines were to be deployed (image via Wikimedia Commons)

This was a proposal to develop a tidal array in the River South Esk Estuary that runs by the Montrose plant. The array would consist of 15 turbines that would total around 700 kilowatts in generating capacity. The turbines were to go on each side of a bridge over the estuary, about a mile from the GSK plant. This location was key. Yes, GSK could deploy such devices at a safer, remote location, north of Scotland, say, and feed the power to the grid – but that would miss the point, the company said:

Although (a remote location) may provide advantages in terms of a larger available resource and potentially less sensitive environmental issues it does not fulfill the primary requirement of GSK Montrose, which is to invest in the site at Montrose and to integrate the system into the manufacturing facility such that it is directly powered by renewable energy. In addition the transmission of the energy over long distances would result in increased losses through transmission efficiencies and higher maintenance requirements and complexities.

GSK won a contract from the Crown Estate to do the tidal power development, but it still needed a license.

Alas, no go. After a lengthy review, the government agency Marine Scotland late last month told GSK [PDF] that “given the sensitive nature of the location, affecting 3 Natura Sites, a marine license should not be issued.” In particular, there were fears that the turbines might adversely impact eider ducks, harbor seals and salmon.”

Still, the indefatigable company is not giving up! A spokesman told the local Montrose Review that it would submit a plan to do the tidal power with a bladeless turbine technology, beginning with one turbine and then perhaps installing up to five more, totaling 540 kW in generating capacity.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.