September 18th 2014 | Scotland

Independence and the future of renewables: The case for a Yes vote

Written by Fergus Ewing MSP on 11 September 2014
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By SNP Energy Minister Fergus Ewing

Last year was a record year for Scottish renewables, with the equivalent of 46.5% of Scotland’s gross electricity consumption coming from renewables. So far this year we are doing even better with the first quarter of the year generating over 10% more than the previous record quarter! 

The official statistics also show that Scotland is a net exporter of electricity, exporting over 26% of generation according to the latest figures. At a time when Ofgem are warning of very narrow gaps between energy supply and demand down south, Scottish electricity is helping keep the lights on across these islands – and will continue to do so post-independence.

And there are further exciting developments to come. Indeed only last month I was pleased to give the go ahead to the Scottish Government’s involvement in the £50 million MeyGen tidal power demonstration project in the Pentland Firth – which is at the cutting edge of world developments in this area, and will lead to the deployment of 269 turbines on the seabed. Slightly further north Orkney, home to the European Marine Energy Centre, must be one of the greenest islands in the world and is at the forefront of the testing and development of marine energy – a truly global leader whose work has the potential for real worldwide impact.

Of course the growth area of renewables is a very good example of the strength of Scotland’s economy. In fact, in terms of GDP per head, Scotland is ranked higher than Japan, France, and the UK. We have a thriving food and drink industry, with a turnover of  £13.9 billion. Our manufacturers export over  £15 billion a year, we have a brilliant creative sector, a world-class tourism industry and key strengths in areas such as life sciences.     

Scotland’s referendum is the greatest opportunity we have ever had to build a more prosperous, secure and fairer Scotland. No-one now seriously doubts that Scotland is wealthy enough to be an independent country.

The case for independence is based on the conviction that it is better for all of us if decisions about Scotland are taken by the people who care most about Scotland – the people who live, work and run businesses here.  A quick look at some of the key issues affecting the energy sector illustrates this, as all too often the Scottish Government has to lobby Westminster to take the right decisions for Scotland – sometimes successfully, but often requests fall on deaf ears.  Indeed all too often energy policy from Westminster actively works against Scottish interests . Of course the fact that there have been 15 Westminster Energy Ministers in 18 years doesn’t help UK Ministers understand the issues in depth.

Let me give just two examples of issues affecting the renewables sector which illustrate where Westminster’s policy and practice is to Scotland’s detriment and where the powers of independence are needed. Our islands contain huge potential for energy generation – as well as the jobs that go with them – yet despite years of lobbying and encouragement we still don’t have the substantial connections we need to release that potential.  UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey supports it, but the Westminster Treasury are a brake.  Only for the massively expensive new nuclear developments do the Treasury Ministers George Osborne and Danny Alexander put their feet firmly on the accelerator. 

And on hydro an apparent mistake by Whitehall in the rules surrounding finance for hydro generation risks significant damage to this sector. The Scottish Government has joined forces with industry to try and get it changed but again Whitehall seem at the very best lethargic about resolving the issue.  Our pleas to tackle this were first raised in June 2013, but they have not been acted on or even responded to. With control of the policy levers in Scotland it is inconceivable that the sector which generates such a popular and important source of energy should be so treated.  Surely any independent Scottish Government will want to prevent the near decimation in a few years of the hydro industry. Yet Westminster are indifferent.    

No doubt it was issues such as these – as well as the huge delays in the UK Government’s Electricity Market Reform process and their desire to plough billions into new nuclear power - which led some of the UK’s leading energy academics, from the Universities of Aberdeen, Cardiff, Robert Gordon University and Queens University Belfast  – in a report funded by the ESRC and published in December - to argue that independence is good for renewable energy.

And as we set out in Scotland’s Future, under our plans for energy regulation the Scottish regulator will work in partnership with the energy regulator in England and Wales in a model of shared regulation of the single market. The Scottish regulator will ensure that the regulation of energy delivers reliable supply, a fair outcome for consumers, the continued decarbonisation of energy generation and the conditions for the continued sustainable growth of the energy industry in Scotland.

Scotland has abundant wind, wave and tidal energy.  We have massive oil and gas.  But without the levers and choices of a normal country we cannot achieve our potential.  Scotland has all of the fuel but none of the power.  The power to change that is in your hands on September 18th.

Fergus Ewing MSP