Scottish renewable energy targets

The Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee has published a report on the Scottish Government’s renewable energy targets. This is important because the development of renewable energy technologies is central to the Scottish Government‘s energy, environmental, economic and employment policies.

The Scottish Government‘s targets are for renewable sources to generate the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s gross annual electricity consumption by 2020. A target has also been set for renewable sources to provide the equivalent of 11 per cent of Scotland’s heat demand by 2020. Within the electricity generation target, a target has been set for local and community ownership of 500 MW electricity by 2020.

The Committee‘s central finding is that the Scottish Government‘s renewable energy target for electricity generation is achievable, but only if a number of issues are addressed. While the interim target for renewable heat has been exceeded, there is a risk that the 2020 target may not be met.

One of the issues to be addressed is planning. The Committee wants better data on the number and types of renewable planning applications and regular reports. It remains to be seen if additional resources promised by the government is sufficient to plug the gaps caused by council cuts. They also want to encourage more community-generated renewable energy.

On finance the Committee was concerned, given the sums that are involved, that the banks and the wider investment community may be deterred from providing the finance necessary to green the energy sector and help meet these targets unless an attractive political and regulatory climate is in place. Since the report we have had some further announcements from the UK Government. However, there remains a big doubt that the regime will be attractive to investors. There was a predictable split on party lines over hidden subsidy for nuclear power.

On transmission system and the charging regime, the Committee welcomed the recent decisions taken to level the playing field for mainland generators in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK. However, they argue that the proposed Improved Incremental Cost Related Pricing does not go far enough and that island generators remain at a distinct disadvantage to those on the mainland, which will render many projects uneconomic. They welcome better European interconnection via the North Seas Countries’ Offshore Grid Initiative.

The Committee believes that skills shortages present a risk to the achievement of the targets and the Scottish Government must urgently address the take up of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects at school, college and university level. They also believe that local authorities have a bigger role to play in the transition to a low carbon economy.

They found no evidence that wind turbines impacted on tourism although this should be monitored. Rightly ignoring Donald Trump’s much publicised ‘evidence’.

Summing up the report the Convener of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee Murdo Fraser MSP said:

“After a wide ranging inquiry, taking extensive evidence, our Committee has concluded that the electricity target can be achieved but only if the issues outlined in this report are acted upon. Our recommendations are crucial to the success of the renewables industry in Scotland, and focus on issues such as access to finance, the planning system, infrastructure development and investment in skills. Given the influence of the UK Government in energy policy, there are a number of recommendations that will require concerted effort by the two administrations if significant progress is to be made.”

Scottish Renewables unsurprisingly welcomed the report saying, “The committee rightly concludes that renewable energy is not only crucial to reducing greenhouse gas emissions but is also good for energy security and protection against volatile energy prices.”

Communities Against Turbines Scotland called the report, “a major disappointment, not only for those who have seen through the travesty of wind power, but also for the population of Scotland. Committees of the Scottish Parliament are supposed to question and interrogate the Parliament, not behave like the First Minister’s lapdogs.”

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