September 18th 2014 | Scotland

Independence and the future of renewables: The case for a No vote

Written by Tom Greatrex MP on 11 September 2014
Meikle Carewe RES

By Labour Shadow Energy Minister Tom Greatrex 

When the referendum votes are being cast, Scotland’s renewable industry will have more at stake than most. With more than 10,000 people employed in Scotland, the pooling and sharing framework that has helped enable the expansion in renewable generation is being put at risk by the Nationalist push to leave the UK. 

The way in which renewable developments are supported – with the payments being shared across all of the UK’s consumers – is a good example of how being part of something bigger not only works, but is the most cost-effective, straightforward and proven way of progressing towards a lower carbon generation mix.

In Scotland we benefit from financial support for renewables being spread across all of the UK, as we get around a third of the payment but with less than a tenth of the customer base. All of the UK benefits from the power that is generated as a result. We also benefit because, with the increasingly imbalanced energy mix we have in Scotland, the shared energy market helps ensure that with decreasing baseload power capacity of our own, the lights don’t go out when the wind stops blowing.

The SNP know the pooling and sharing of renewables support works in our favour – which is why although they want to leave the UK, they also want to retain the UK’s shared power market. It works for us in Scotland, but SNP assertions can’t explain why the government of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would provide open-ended support for renewables to a neighbouring foreign country through a levy on the power bills of their consumers. The Scottish government’s own – much delayed – expert panel report was unable to offer a single reason why this would be the case.

Nationalists claim that England and Wales would have no choice but to import Scotland’s renewable energy in order to meet rising demand. This simply isn’t the case – it massively overstates Scotland’s current contribution to the grid. Scottish energy meets around 4% of England’s demand - less than is currently imported from elsewhere in Europe. With interconnector capacity between England and mainland Europe doubling by the end of the decade, if we do decide to leave, the remaining UK has a number of choices about where to source any additional power it needs, or to increase its own capacity instead.  It would come down to price when the power is required – and there is no guarantee that would be from Scottish based renewables.

The Nationalist case also fails to recognise the increasing extent to which we in Scotland rely on the rest of the UK as a source of imported power. We export into England when the wind blows and there is surplus renewable energy. But the wind does not stop at the border, and so these occasions tend to coincide with periods in which electricity is cheap and plentiful across the UK. By contrast, in Scotland we import power when renewable output is at its lowest, relying on thermal and nuclear baseload power generated in England and Wales. Last year, Scotland relied on imported power from the rest of the UK at some point on one in every six days.

The SNP’s argument of last resort is that the UK needs to import renewable energy from Scotland to meet targets. In evidence before the Select Committee last year, National Grid were explicitly clear that this was not the case. The rest of the UK could meet its commitments on renewables without having to import from Scotland.

So voting to leave the UK would risk leaving the support regime for renewable power in doubt, and undermine the opportunity for the power generated to be certain of finding its way to market. It is little wonder that Infinis, SSE and others operating in Scotland have highlighted these risks in market statements.

There is so much to be positive about in renewables in Scotland – the jobs, investment and technological developments are exciting and innovative. The work of devolved agencies like SDI and Scottish Enterprise have helped to transform opportunities into economic activity. That has been achieved because of the confidence there is in a pooled system of support, not in spite of it. With 700MW of new capacity coming online each year, saving more than 10,000 tonnes of CO2, much has been achieved. 54% of firms believe that they will create new jobs in the next year, so much more can be achieved precisely because of the shared resources and opportunities that come as part of the UK.

Being part of the UK helps renewables in Scotland – voting to leave puts that support in jeopardy. Pooling, sharing and working together is what the family of nations of the UK is about. For Scottish renewables, as for so much else, a No vote is a positive vote.  

Tom Greatrex MP