Scottish independence: Kill or cure for future renewable developments?

Ahead of the vote to decide Scotland's future as part of - or apart from - the United Kingdom, edie investigates what might happen to the nation's renewable sector if it does strike out as an independent country.

Grampian farmer Peter Chapman is worried that his investment in four wind turbines could be put at serious risk if Scotland votes for independence on September 18. He’s particularly concerned by the current imbalance between Scotland having 8% of the UK population while receiving 30% of the UK’s Feed-in-Tariffs – reasoning that a stand-alone Scotland would struggle to sustain such levels of future investment in renewable energy developments. 

The counter-argument, however, from pro-independence supporter Lesley Riddoch, is that the UK’s renewable track record is already shockingly awful with Britain generating just 4.2% of its total energy production from renewable sources against a European average of 14.2%, while Norway is on 51% and Sweden on 62%. 

“If anybody thinks we are motoring at the moment then we are kidding ourselves,” said Riddoch – a prominent Scottish journalist and broadcaster. Sharing the pro-independence platform with Scotland’s Environment Secretary, Richard Lochhead, her comments came during a spirited exchange with the ‘Better Together’ team of UK Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael, and Chapman, whose grain, livestock and wind turbine enterprise is based at South Redbog Farm, Strichen. 

“I obviously have a pretty big vested interest in renewables,” added Chapman. “But so do many other Aberdeenshire farmers who have invested heavily in wind turbines and other energy projects, mainly funding developments themselves rather than giving their profits to big business interests. As a diversification focus, this has been very successful for farmers but I can definitely see problems ahead if Scotland becomes independent. 

“Given that 30% of FiTs come to Scotland for use by only 8% of the UK population, there would be some challenging questions to be faced after a pro-independence result. For example, would our 8% be prepared to pay the extra cost for the green energy we are already producing? It’s also easy to say that we’ll be able to keep exporting our surplus renewable energy to England, who will in turn be happy to pay for it. Actually, that argument just doesn’t wash. England may not be happy to pay in fact, possibly preferring to import nuclear energy from France than wind energy from Scotland.” 

Further subsidies 

Carmichael added that while he sees renewable energy as a great opportunity for Scottish developers, especially for rural communities, driving future developments forward would be neither fast nor easy. 

“It will take a long time and a lot of support to develop the industry,” he said. “Especially as new technology comes along and matures. That means there is going to be a need for further subsidies, drawn from the bills of every electricity purchaser across the UK.” 

The fact that such costs were currently neutralised across the whole of the UK – to Scotland’s benefit – made it vitally important, from a renewable energy perspective, for the future to be founded on a united UK. 

Nonsense, responded Riddoch, who pointed out the UK’s poor performance at the bottom of the European league for renewable energy production. 

“The truth is we are absolutely not investing in renewables,” she said. “I can say that because our islands in Scotland have some of the finest renewable energy capacity, while the waters beyond them have some of the best resources for all sorts of tidal wave and offshore wind developments, and yet we don’t even have enough connectors to be able to export energy to the mainland. Recently, for example, I was in Orkney and the farmers there were sitting with all three bars on their heaters, just trying to use up the energy they’ve generated because they can’t feed it into their already full grid.” 

Renewable resources 

After criticising the way that electricity energy was privatised in Britain, leaving the sector at the mercy of the utility companies, she continued: “The future of renewable energy in Scotland needs to become transformational, allowing us to move from the extraordinary luck of being energy rich in fossil fuels to understanding that this resource will run out, and shifting away from our dependence of it. 

“We are ideally placed to use the capacity, skill and professionalism already available to our industry in Scotland to move at the right pace from oil to renewables but we can’t do that if the hand on the tiller remains so interested in nuclear power that the subsidies given to nuclear continue to be far more than is made available to the renewable sector. 

“I’d therefore like to see the confidence of the Scottish people, knowing that we’ve got fantastic renewable resources and backing us to do something similar to what Norway has done. That’s a country which has developed all of its energy resources to a very high degree. That’s where we in Scotland should already be and that’s where we need to get in the very near future.” 

YOUR opinion 

What do you think – would an independent Scotland be beneficial for the nation’s renewables sector? Or does a unified Britain provide a better platform to sustain future investment in green energy developments? Leave a comment below or tweet @edie to let us know your thoughts. 

Edie staff

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