Scottish Independence is a driving force in renewable energy development

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  By Bob Duncan

A newly published study shows that Scotland leads the way in renewable energy development across the nations of the UK and should be a model for others to follow.

The findings of a two-year research project undertaken by; Cardiff University, Queen’s University Belfast, Robert Gordon University, the University of Aberdeen and Birmingham University, also indicates that independence is a driving force in the renewables industry growth.

The study examined how far the devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have pursued different strategies for renewable energy, made different use of the policy instruments available to them, and whether they have had any effect on the rates and direction of renewable energy development.

The report – Promoting Renewable Energy in the UK: what difference has devolution made? – identified the role of the Scottish government in ensuring the establishment of commercialisation and testing facilities in Scotland for renewable energy, compared to other parts of the UK.

Running from January 2011 to January 2013, it drew on more than 80 interviews with senior figures in government (at all levels), politicians and officers, energy companies and trade associations, and non-governmental organisations, supported by the analysis of policy and planning documents.

The report concluded that Scotland could be considered a leader in renewable energy development within the UK.

“… an alternative reading of the effects of devolution on renewable energy is that Scotland’s experience shows us the conditions that are required for the UK renewable energy pathway to work successfully: significant elite cohesion around the agenda and access to a wider pool of supportive resources. That there is less sign of elite cohesion around the expansion of renewables in Westminster, Cardiff or Belfast qualifies the scope for any easy ‘borrowing’ of policy lessons from Scotland.”

In a key statement, Cardiff University concluded: “The centrality of energy issues to the Scottish National Party and its independence agenda is a key factor,”

Dr Richard Cowell, Cardiff University’s School of Planning and Geography, said:

“We can point to a range of actions by the devolved governments – especially Scotland – that have shown significant support to renewable energy in the UK.”

The project team identified a number of areas in which devolved governments have been responsible for actions, policy innovations or styles of working which have proven helpful to the delivery of renewable energy in the UK.

The study highlighted previous concerns over the UK government’s reliance on conventional power generation which made renewable investment “problematic” and questioned whether the UK could meet the EU directive of 30% of electricity demand from renewables.

They concluded that the Scottish experience should act as a model for the rest of the UK.  The following were their conclusions in respect to Scotland and The SNP:

  • The Scottish Government has led in using its powers to differentiate ROC levels to give greater support to wave and tidal power;
  • The Scottish Government has devoted much greater resources relative to its population on direct funding of facilities and research and demonstration for offshore wind and wave and tidal stream energy technologies than is being done in the rest of the UK;
  • The Scottish Government’s control over major energy generation and grid consents is widely seen as advantageous as a means of exercising closer control over delivery, but its decision not to follow Westminster in creating new consent procedures may have had some short-term advantages;
  • The delivery of new grid infrastructure, to enable the timely exploitation of renewable resources in remote locations, remains problematic across the UK. The role of devolved governments is mostly in the realm of ‘softer’ actions, such as signifying commitment to such investments, or undertaking a mediating role between stakeholders within route corridors.
  • Time is itself a factor. Among the devolved governments, political commitment to large-scale renewable energy development is longest standing in Scotland, being evident in the 1999 elections, allowing debates about delivery to develop sooner than in Northern Ireland and Wales.
  • A significant dimension of this is the centrality of energy issues to the Scottish National Party and its independence agenda, but so too is cross-party support, the galvanising of a wider but still compact policy network including major energy businesses, and a persistent framing of renewable energy as a national economic agenda.

The report also highlighted the importance of reform of the grid charging system, which sees Scottish generators having to pay in order to connect to the grid whereas generators south of the border received a subsidy.

The study said that lower rates imposed on Scottish generators would make renewable energy schemes more economic.  In 2012, after pressure from the Scottish government, the Office of Gas and Electricity Management (OFGEM) announced proposals for a reform of the grid transmission charge system – although the plans do not include changes to charges in the Scottish islands which have been described as “prohibitive”.

Responding to the study, Chic Brodie MSP, a member of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, said:

“The findings of this report are significant, not only in that they show how devolution has allowed Scotland to utilise her own vast natural resources but also how the campaign towards independence is a driving force in the industry’s growth.

“The Scottish Government is already committed to producing the equivalent of 100% of our electricity needs from renewables by 2020, and this report demonstrates that this is a much more sensible approach than the UK government’s “Dash for Gas” which will end up costing the consumer six times as much.

“The report blows out of the water the ridiculous claims of the No campaign that energy bills will be more expensive in an independent Scotland.  A Scotland with clean green energy will have lower bills than the rest of the UK, who seem determined to go down the route of more gas stations and expensive nuclear power.

“An over-reliance on gas would also mean the rest of the UK could not meet their EU climate change commitments.

“An independent Scotland will be a reliable supplier of green energy that will be a huge boost to Scotland – but also the best and most reliable source for the rest of the UK to access green power and ensure that they meet their international commitments.

“The notion that the rest of the UK will be so upset by Scottish independence that they will turn to potentially unstable sources of energy flies in the face of all reason.

“All nations will act in their own best interests and that means trading with energy-rich Scotland in energy.”