Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Scotland gets braver

While maintaining the SNP’s strong opposition to nuclear power, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has announced that Scotland's renewable electricity target for 2020 is being raised from 50% to 80% of electricity consumption, putting Scotland well in the lead in the EU.

Aided by a rapid expansion in wind power, it is already on course to exceed its interim target of 31% in 2011. And, according to the Scottish Government, much higher levels of renewables could be deployed by 2020 with little change to Scotlands current policy, planning or regulation framework. A separate study commissioned by industry body Scottish Renewables, reported similar conclusions- 123% was possible! And Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie even called for setting a 100% renewable target, ‘perhaps even before 2020’!

Scotland already has 7GW of renewables installed, under construction or consented. And Salmond claimed that, given the scale of lease agreements now in place to develop offshore wind, wave and tidal projects over the next decade, ‘it is clear that we can well exceed the existing 50% target by 2020.’ He may be right, but 80% by 2020 is stunningly ambitious. Even CAT only looked to 2030 in their ‘Zero Carbon Britain’, and that was pushing it very hard. While visionary scenarios can inspire/ motivate people to try harder, they have to be at least in principle credible. But unless there is a crash, supercharged deployment/infrastructure development programme, beyond anything so far discussed, 2030 might be a bit more realistic.

The pay-off of course is not just reduced emissions, it’s also jobs. Scotland’s offshore wind industry could create 28,000 jobs by 2020, contributing £7.1 bn to the economy, according to a report commissioned by Scottish Renewables and Scottish Enterprise. Billed as the first comprehensive study of the potential impact of offshore wind on the Scottish economy, it suggests this new industry could create as many as 48,000 jobs - 28,000 directly, supported by a further 20,000 through related industries. But that assumes proper support by government- without that, it warns, not much will happen.

Scotland does seem to be trying though, with its own versions of support schemes that are much more ambitious than those so far introduced by the Whitehall government e.g. under the Renewalbes Obligation Scotland they offer 5ROCs/MWh for wave energy projects and 3ROCs/Mwh for tidal projects compared to the 2ROCs/MWh offered by the UK wide RO schemes. And it also has a direct grant support system for marine renewables, which has provided £13m for wave and tidal projects so far. In addition there’s a £10m ‘Saltire prize’ for marine renewables. There’s 1.6GW of wave and tidal now planed in the Pentland Firth area and companies from around the world are queuing up to demonstrate their projects at the European Marine Energy Centre on the Orkneys. Moreover, the Scottish government has now allocated £70m for port infrastructure upgrades to help develop its offshore wind industry, in effect dwarfing the £60m UK-wide allocation.

To push things on further , the Scottish Government has also outlined its plans for achieving ambitious targets for reducing emissions by 42% by 2020, after a draft order to set annual emissions targets for 2010-22 was laid in Parliament. The targets proposed in the draft order take account of advice from the Committee on Climate Change and the deliberations of a cross party working group over the summer. The annual targets for 2011- 2022 start at 0.5% for 2011 and end with 3% for 2022, peaking at 9.9% in 2013 - going further than those recommended by the Committee. Scottish climate change minister, Stewart Stevenson, said: ‘Scotland has the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world and these annual targets set a clear framework for achieving our 2020 target’.

It certainly bold stuff. The SNP clearly is more adventuristic than any Westminster outfit so far, with arguably both good and bad implications. It could overreach itself and unravel. But it seems much more interventionist- and less concerned about markets. Though some see it as just bolshy and rebellious. And that would never do!

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