For decades, Scotland has been a major fossil fuel producer. That is coming to an end and renewable energy, particularly from wind energy, is the future. Many say that Scotland should learn from the UK’s past failures to capitalise on the country’s oil revenues and aim to set up a wind fund by investing in publicly owned renewable projects that benefit all Scots. Judith Duffy explains in an article on The National website.
Scotland must act now to stop renewable energy being squandered just like oil
Scotland should learn from the UK’s past failures to capitalise on the country’s oil revenues and aim to set up a wind fund by investing in publicly owned renewable projects that benefit all Scots, it has been claimed.
The call comes from a growing number of industry experts, campaigners and academics, who are highlighting the need for urgent investments in publicly-owned renewable projects to stop Scotland being left behind.
Scotland is estimated to have 60% of the UK’s onshore wind capacity, and 25% of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal resources, recognised as highly valuable given the climate emergency.
However, campaigners are highlighting fundamental problems with how the sector has developed.
Nearly half of Scotland’s offshore wind installations are in public ownership by state-controlled companies from other countries.
Projects publically owned by foreign states and regions include Denmark’s Ørsted, Sweden’s Vattenfall, China’s Red Rock and France’s EDF, as well as German state-owned installations. Just one wind turbine – a demonstration project in Levenmouth – is in Scottish-state ownership.
The rest are owned by foreign multinationals such as Scottish Power Renewables, which is Spanish owned, or UK multinationals like SSE. Other onshore renewable projects are run or proposed by wealthy landowners.
The Scottish Government has committed to setting up a national energy company by 2021, but campaigners say it must not just become another supplier, but instead invest in renewables.
Andrew Cumbers, professor of regional political economy at Glasgow University, claimed lessons should be learned from Statoil, Norway’s publicly owned oil company, which was set up in 1972 to ensure the use of oil was in the interests of all Norwegians.
He believes independence would allow Scotland to maximise the potential of renewables – key infrastructure such as the UK-wide privatised grid is controlled by Westminster. But he insisted clear progress could be made within the current legislative framework.
“We need to think about how we can make the most of the powers that the Scottish Government already has,” he added. “The thing that Norway did was set up their own state energy company that had knowledge and skills and focus on community benefit.
“In Norway they had a much more controlled approach. It could compete with the oil companies and challenge them. That’s the sort of thing that many of us are arguing should be done with renewables here.
“If Scotland was independent we would have far more capacity to do the things we should be doing in my view,” Cumber added. “I think it’s ultimately with independence that we will see a proper ability to transition to renewables. But if we are trying to tackle climate energy and are serious about meeting the targets, we need to take action now.”
Scotland should look to Denmark for inspiration, he continued, with its public energy company taking on a strategic role that will allow for a just transition away from fossil fuels, with ensured economic, societal and environmental benefits.
“That can only be achieved by the public sector,” he said. “We cannot just throw subsidy at the private sector and sit back.”
He claimed the Scottish Government should examine how to ensure a percentage of local investment – set at 30% to 40% – in all new renewable projects, an approach adopted by Denmark. “Again, that is what Norway did with oil,” he said. “So far, Scotland has really missed out.” Anna Markova of arts and activist organisation Platform London, who has researched both the oil and renewables sector in Scotland, agreed far more could be done.
She said Scotland received limited benefit from wind farms owned by other states, which had a history of directing contracts to suppliers in their home countries.
“Renewable energy resources should make Scotland an electricity exporter – not only keeping the lights on, but also generating revenue for the public,” she added. “Scotland could create a People’s Wind Fund for future generations.
“We shouldn’t privatise yet another common resource. Instead of squandering offshore wind like the oil and gas resources, Scotland could learn the lessons from Norway’s successful stewardship, grounded in public ownership.”
Last month Scottish Secretary Alister Jack received heavy criticism when it emerged that most of the turbines for a wind farm off the Fife coast were to be imported.
Just eight of the 54 turbine jackets were to be build at BiFab’s Methil yard for EDF Renewables. The French state-owned company has said that it is “committed” to generating as much money as possible in Scotland.
Concerns have also been raised that progress in creating new green energy jobs has been slow, with figures well below Scottish Government targets of 28,000 by 2020.
Ryan Morrison, Just Transition campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland, said there were essential environmental, as well as economic, reasons to focus on a rapid transition to publicly owned renewables.
“People in Scotland and the rest of the UK have been giving handouts to the oil and gas industry for decades, despite its damage to our climate and the increasingly precarious nature of employment and economic return it offers,” he said. “The ‘boom and bust’ approach of fossil fuel executives has been cushioned by public money.
“Faced with a climate emergency, that means undertaking a shift away from fossil fuels and a transformation to a green, renewable-powered Scottish economy. We must learn from the mistakes of the past by prioritising workers and communities, giving them a genuine stake in our energy market, rather than prioritising maximum financial return for shareholders.”
He agreed that Scotland’s publicly owned energy company could have a key role as long as its scope was expanded, claiming that would secure the future of renewables. “Leaving our energy to the whims of the market has fundamentally failed to tackle huge social and environmental challenges,” he added.
Alan Brown, MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and Westminster’s SNP spokesman on Transport, Infrastructure and Energy, claimed that Scotland’s powers to act were constitutionally limited.
“A public energy company for renewables is a great idea worth exploring,” he said. “But it isn’t practical while we are in the current constitutional set-up with limited borrowing powers. This means always having to choose what infrastructure to invest in.
“Not only have we missed out on a sovereign oil fund, we missed out on being at the forefront of the onshore wind technology. Had the UK Government invested directly into this, then the manufacturing bonanza would have been generated here rather than Denmark and Germany being the main leaders.
“An independent Scotland can easier choose what energy technology to promote, and importantly how it gets to the market.
“There are opportunities for tidal power, floating offshore wind turbines and tidal lagoons. It shouldn’t be left for Westminster to decide the future of these opportunities.”
But Craig Dalzell, head of research and policy at Common Weal, claimed work on securing Scottish interests in renewables should already be underway.
Last year the independence-supporting think tank published its own visions of a green new deal, which included costed proposals on replacing oil with renewable energies.
“We should have been doing this years ago,” he added. “There is no doubt that issues with our energy infrastructure, such as the grid, which is reserved, can’t be addressed without getting independence.”
Scottish Green energy spokesperson Mark Ruskell said that an independence argument based around oil was neither “credible nor responsible” in the face of the climate emergency.
“Scotland has huge renewables potential, but it is vital we harness that for the public good, not leave it to the cold dead hand of the market,” he said.
“Unfortunately at the moment, the power over energy subsidies and commissioning lies at Westminster and with a UK Government who barely pays lip service to the climate crisis.
“But there is much the Scottish Government could do now to rebuild our public sector and protect the renewables supply chain.”
The UK Government has said it is “committed” to delivering net-zero targets by 2050, with detailed plans being considered and due in coming months.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We also strongly support the development of renewable energy, including wind energy, with Scotland’s growing renewable electricity supply making an ever more significant contribution to meeting Scotland’s energy needs.