The power of Scotland?

In a typically robust contribution, former energy minister Brian Wilson, tears into the Scottish Government’s energy policy in yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday.

His thesis goes:

“We are heading for what was predictable and predicted: the historic contribution of a Nationalist government to Scotland’s energy history will be to transform us from a substantial exporter of power into a massive importer in the not very distant future. This has been achieved through the classic error of energy policy – putting all the eggs in one basket. Committing Scotland to generating the equivalent of 100 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources was good for headlines but not much else, particularly when accompanied by neglect of other vital ingredients in our energy mix.”

He argues that wave and tidal power are a best a long term project and Scotland is probably not the best place for it. A view that is arguably reinforced by the decision of Siemens to site their turbine plant in Hull. Another example of Scotland not attracting the spin off jobs from renewable energy. The consequence, in his view, is that onshore wind would have to be used on “a scale not yet contemplated and probably unsaleable to public opinion”.

Brian Wilson goes on to question the chances of the rest of the UK’s willingness to maintain the current energy market post independence and in particular to subsidise onshore wind. Even if they do agree the new subsea energy cable between Hunterston and North Wales is a two way street. He concludes “In these circumstances, the probability is that it would be one-way traffic – with nuclear power from England flowing northwards to fill the shortfall we are creating for ourselves. A strange outcome, indeed, for an anti-nuclear Nationalist government to achieve through its blinkers.”

In contrast the Scottish Government points to the latest generation statistics that show renewable electricity energy delivered a record-breaking 46% of Scotland’s gross electricity consumption in 2013, they see this as important progress towards their 2020 target to meet the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity needs met from renewable electricity. Rarely short on bold assertions Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said:

“Independence will allow Scotland to pursue the opportunity to maximise the benefits from our energy wealth, including our potential for further developments in renewable energy. We can build on our existing success in this area and work to encourage the development of a wide range of renewable technologies, which will help enhance a reliable and secure energy supply and help Scotland meet its ambitious climate change targets.”

SSE, the UK’s second largest energy supplier, said in a business update that it had been undertaking work to manage the “uncertainty” and “increased legislative and regulatory risk” associated with the referendum. It concluded that “a single energy market in Great Britain would be the most likely outcome in the event of a Yes vote”. However, the statement also recognised that post-independence negotiations between the Scottish and UK governments could be “complex” and might result in changes to the existing market.

In response UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey has said a single energy market “goes against all commercial logic”.

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