A progressive environment and energy policy from the Scottish Conservatives

The Scottish Conservatives have published an environmental and energy policy paper; ‘Global Challenges – Local Leadership’. It’s not what you might expect from a Conservative paper, in fact it has a broad range of proposals that many in the environment movement and energy sector could agree with.

It’s mostly an environment paper, but it has sections on energy policy and energy efficiency. I understand that a more detailed energy paper is being prepared.

The environment sections include proposals to develop a circular economy, something that has broad support, but includes some practical ways of achieving it. There are some rather general proposals to restore the natural landscape, with a headline commitment to establish more national parks. Similarly with biodiversity, including plans to encourage regenerative farming. The transport section focuses on incentives for electric cars, a bit on active travel, if a somwhat light on public transport.

Let’s look at the energy section in a bit more detail.

They want to source at least 50% of Scotland’s energy from renewables by 2030, with individual targets for the heat, transport and electricity sectors. That’s a good target and at least a recognition that grand aspirations need milestones if they are to be delivered.

Develop the required regulatory framework and innovative governance solutions to support the growth of district heat networks. Support for district heat is crucial if we are to reduce emissions in the heat sector.

Work with key stakeholders (including the UK Government) to invest in energy storage, interconnection and demand-side response to ensure more system flexibility. A bit vague, but storage is vital if our intermittent generation is going to work without regular imports from England.

Establish a Sustainable Energy Innovation Centre to make Scotland an internationally recognised centre of excellence in innovative energy management and energy storage. A decent proposal as we have all too often given up technology leads. Of course it was the UK Conservative government that pulled the plug on Carbon Capture and Storage.

Support research and development in organisations involved in emerging renewable technologies, particularly tidal, to secure a viable route to market. Yes, but this fails to recognise the weakness in the so called energy market. Ironically, the UK Conservative’s have been one of the most interventionist government’s in recent times.

Ensure that Scotland’s public sector leads the next chapter of our energy evolution by implementing policies to maximise the use and deployment of renewable energy across the whole public sector estate. Spot on, but this needs spend to save investment that has ground to halt due to Tory austerity. It also needs councils to lead the way with municipal enterprise as in much of Europe. Probably a step too far, even for this progressive Tory policy statement!

Commit to supporting new nuclear power plants at Hunterston and Torness. It is doubtful if we actually need two nuclear power stations in Scotland, but one would certainly provide much needed base load generation. The simple fact is that no one is going to build any nuclear power stations in Scotland.

Encourage public participation in, and the sharing of economic benefit from, renewables through the introduction of a Scottish Renewable Energy Bond. Pooled ownership of renewables and of local energy systems will share the benefits more fairly among Scotland’s communities. This would be a reasonable addition to the community energy toolbox. However, real community ownership needs more than bonds.

Possibly the most radical part of the strategy is in tackling fuel poverty. The proposed increase in the energy efficiency budget line gradually to reach 10% of the Scottish Government’s capital budget allocations, is serious money. They also want to deliver a transformative change in energy efficiency across Scotland – with all properties, where practical, achieving an EPC Band ‘C’ rating by 2030.

Overall, the paper is fairly high level and doesn’t have a great deal of detail. However, most of the proposals would attract fairly broad support and by Conservative standards is more radical than we might have expected.

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