Monday, 7 March 2016

Scotland's Energy In Scotland's Hands

During my time in the Scottish Socialist Party, I was tasked to create a coherent energy policy for the party. Produced in April 2015, Scotland's Energy in Scotland's Hands. was presented to the party and indeed parts were used in the 2015 General Election manifesto. It was however never discussed within the Executive Committee or any National Councils. This was due in part mainly to the consumption of the party in the constant discussions and disagreements on the alliance with RISE.

Despite this Scotland's Energy in Scotland's Hands altered to a non political party paper and produced here on my own website. I do this in the hope that some of the ideas may promote discussion in an attempt to stimulate a debate on what is for me the central issue moving forward which could potentially have a lasting effect on a plethora of economic and social issues. Below is a brief article explaining some of the main points of the paper. Full report to follow.... Allan.

It’s just not working! To begin with, it is clear that Scotland’s energy system just isn’t working. Scotland is an energy-rich nation with an abundance of oil, gas and renewable energy resources, not to mention nuclear, coal and the potential energy sources through fracking. In spite of this, over 1 in 3 households in Scotland (900,000) are living in fuel poverty and over 10% in extreme fuel poverty.

The challenge for us in Scotland and indeed throughout the world now is to create a fully-funded energy vision which can bring about real and lasting change for the benefit of all in our society. Scotland’s Energy Future in Scotland’s Hands is the product of this ambition.

Energy is a difficult policy area to comprehend, as the consequences of policy changes can be far-reaching. For any political party, this must be seriously considered before adopting any energy strategy. One case in point is the current ownership of land and seabeds 14 miles off the coast by the Crown Estate; another is the heavy subsidising of land-owners for pursuing onshore wind farms.

These policies severely inhibit our ability to utilise the resources and profits from potential energy sources. That is why this policy document calls for dramatic changes to land reform legislation to return all land and seabeds from the Crown Estate to the people of Scotland, and an 80% reduction in subsidies to land-owners for the placement of onshore wind farms.

The purpose of this paper was not to push forward the entrance to a renewable age, nor the finale of fossil fuels. Rather, it is based on an understanding that this is the most difficult time to plan and create an energy strategy – but also the most important time.

Energy encapsulates all that we do and for the next generation it will play a determining role in every facet of policy. This is why this set of proposals recognises the continued need for oil and gas over the foreseeable future as we develop our capacity for a fully renewable energy mix.

A newly formed Scottish Energy Agency would oversee the creation of a Scottish Oil and Gas Company (SOGC). The SOGC would ensure continued investment and growth, leading to a potential nationalisation of the oil industry through the purchase of small energy fields and independent exploration in the Hebridean Islands.

More significantly, the SOGC would be charged with taking control of the Grangemouth Gas Refinery. This would be achieved through a compensation package which reflects the profit made by Ineos, and is therefore small. Most importantly, it would mean Scottish gas supplies and workers in the industry would never again be held to ransom by the greed of individuals or private companies.

It is clear that while we will need to create a new way, lead with a vision, pioneering policies which resonate and mean real change, the media often calls into doubt the financial viability of left-wing policies. This report aims to put forward a fiscally sound energy alternative.

While this paper calls for returning the National Grid to public hands, for reducing transmission charges, for extending the grid to ensure remote renewable energy is more accessible, and for cutting energy bills, it does not call for the nationalisation of the major energy companies as it is not financially viable at this time.

Rather it supports a windfall tax on their profits, which would go towards bringing an end to fuel poverty. This paper also supports an alteration of their contracts to ensure planning and profit are in public hands.

While this paper's main focus is to develop and maintain acceptable energy levels and reduce prices, it is our responsibility to ensure the transition from reliance on fossil fuels to renewables does not impact the environment. In light of this, an enhanced role for SEPA and continual joint tidal planning with Marine Scotland is advisable.

Additionally, the creation of the Scottish Renewable Energy Commission (SREC) and a public renewable energy company (SRC) would ensure the continued development of renewable energy. The paper also proposes the creation of three new facilities:

A manufacturing facility in Greenock, which would design renewable energy materials to be produced in factories in Ravenscraig, Linwood and Paisley – creating urban regeneration in areas with a long history of successful manufacturing and development.

A Research & Development facility in Falkirk, which would exist as a branch of Stirling University. It would continue developments in tidal, geothermal and hydrogen renewable potential, subject to funding from the National Renewables Infrastructure Fund (NRIF).

An air maintenance/restoration facility in the North East, which would protect offshore farms and tidal power sites based predominantly in the Highlands and Islands, but also be able to access the Pentlands Firth. This facility would also allow for the breakdown of dilapidated onshore wind farms into spare parts.

The creation of these three facilities would ensure the incorporation of the renewable energy sector into the national economy, guarantee the process of manufacturing, engineering and repair, and reduce capital costs, allowing an increase in employment opportunities while keeping energy bills down. The potential for employment within the sector would be at least 15,000 new jobs with the creation of these facilities and would ensure effective transition and communication through all stages of development.

The radical reforms recommended in the paper also include decentralisation, with Regional Energy Committees taking charge of local energy grids and geothermal potential. 7,000 new small to micro hydro sites developed by Local Hydro Initiatives would ensure that local energy stays local, reducing transmission costs and lowering prices.

In its recommendations, this paper sets out a radical yet feasible plan for Scotland to meet the challenges of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy; to end fuel poverty while creating jobs; to rebuild the manufacturing industry; and to increase trade-able energy capability.

This paper also offers recommendations to decentralise the production and transmission of energy, giving more responsibility to local communities. Each public body – from the Scottish Energy Agency to Regional Community Energy Committees and Local Hydro Initiatives – would give a voice to consumers and energy employees so that the voices of the many will be heard rather than the voices of the few.

At this time more than ever, we must ensure our current energy potential is not squandered, that our natural resources are nourished, refined and ready to create an energy system that is environmentally sound, job-creating and economically stimulating – an energy policy which puts all aspects of Scotland's future into Scotland's hands.