Energy Policy

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 27th January 2005.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 9:30 am, 27th January 2005

Good morning. The first item of business this morning is a debate on motion S2M-2320, in the name of Alex Johnstone, on energy policy, and four amendments to the motion.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

To the chorus that I hear from my right, I say that I am delighted that so many of us have had the energy to come here this morning to discuss energy policy, but it is disappointing that, once again, the Executive seems to be ignoring the issue.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Have you received apologies from Allan Wilson, who, I notice, intends to speak in the debate?

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

No. That is not a matter for me.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I will proceed regardless.

As is made clear in the amendment that has been lodged by the Scottish National Party, Scotland is an energy-rich nation. In fact, we are energy exporters in a range of ways. We are oil and gas exporters and in recent years we have generated more electricity than we can use. The excess has been put out through the national grid to our neighbouring countries and it has been important to their economies, too.

We are fully aware that energy is not specifically a devolved matter, but so many of the issues that are discussed regularly in the Parliament are related to energy that it is essential for us to consider it as a uniting subject. That is why we brought forward today's debate. We must consider energy policy in the long term and ask how it is affected by the subjects that we discuss.

One of those subjects is climate change, which was debated in Executive time last week and on which the Environment and Rural Development Committee yesterday began a detailed inquiry. One thing that became obvious during last week's debate, and yesterday at the beginning of the inquiry, is that there is now a great deal on which we all agree. No longer do we dispute that global warming is happening and no longer do we dispute that the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from industry and other sources throughout the world are part of that process. What we have to debate is how we deal with the problem and how we apply the means that are at our disposal to deal with it.

We must take into account the fact that Scotland has a developed economy. The need for a readily available and affordable supply of energy is indisputable. When we consider the problems that other countries have suffered, such as the power cuts in the United States and parts of Europe in recent years, we realise that we are in a lucky position because we are not exposed to such effects. If we believe that growth is the key to our future economic stability, we must be able to supply affordable electricity. It is therefore important to consider, in the context of our broader energy requirements, the balance of how that electricity is generated.

Estimates of future consumption are repeatedly disputed. I—and, more recently, my colleague Phil Gallie—have asked questions about those estimates and the need for spinning reserve within the generating capacity in Scotland. It is therefore a surprise to discover that Jim Wallace has only recently indicated that a study will be undertaken to work out what percentage of wind energy is usable in the Scottish electricity system. It is surprising that that comes rather later than the commitment to move towards ensuring that 18 per cent of Scotland's electricity comes from renewable sources by 2010, with an ambitious target of 40 per cent by 2020. To some extent, Jim Wallace seems to have put the cart before the horse.

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green

Surely the member must agree that, in addition to wind power, there are a considerable number of renewable sources, all of which will feed into the mix to achieve the target by 2020.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Indeed. That is exactly what I was about to say.

As we have said repeatedly in the chamber, we have a serious problem, in that the policy that the Executive is pursuing is resulting in large-scale investment in the only available mature technology, which is, of course, onshore wind. We believe that the resources that are available for the development of renewable sources of electricity need to be spread more widely. The opportunities that are afforded by other environmental methods of generation, such as wave and tidal power, obviously deserve investment, but the Executive has missed the opportunity in relation to biofuels—whose development could have been accelerated in Scotland had the Executive's policy followed that of the Government south of the border—and the opportunities that are afforded by the burning of waste that cannot be recycled. Moreover, when we look at the technologies that are available, we must not forget that, as Shiona Baird has reminded me in the past, energy efficiency is also a significant part of what we need to achieve.

That range of opportunities does not alter the fact that it is absolutely essential that we have a balanced method of guaranteeing energy supply in the longer term. That means that we must consider the methods that are currently used to generate most of our electricity, including coal, gas and nuclear power.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Last time the Tories referred to nuclear generation capacity, I asked whether they had a figure for the cost of decommissioning the sites that are occupied by nuclear power stations and returning them to their original state. Is the member, having had a period of time to consider the matter, now able to give us that information?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

If the member wants that information, he should put a written question to the Executive, which itself is unable to give those details.

I turn to the alternatives to the main methods of generating electricity that are used today. Our supply of gas comes predominantly from the North sea, but in future that will not necessarily be the case. The ministers, who are now on the Government bench, have expressed concerns about the security of supply of gas in the future. Investment to guarantee a reduction in emissions from the necessary capacity generated by the coal sector means that it is likely that we cannot rely on that sector for a considerable period.

As I said, we brought forward today's debate to examine the balance of capacity and to consider how we can start a wider debate on how that balance will be achieved. At the moment, nuclear capacity provides a significant part of the energy that we use. Unless we are prepared to enter into a debate now about the future of that capacity, there are grave doubts about whether we will have the security of electricity supply that we need for our economy to be balanced in future.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

There has been a lot of debate both in the chamber and outside about where wind farms should go. Can the member state where nuclear power stations should go? Should they be on the Tay? Should they be in Fife? Where should they go? Will the member give us a clue?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

We already have sites that are in use for nuclear generation in Scotland and in many cases we have the capacity to expand on those existing sites. In addition, I am sure that the member is aware that there will be opportunities for efficiencies of scale if nuclear decommissioning and rebuilding take place on the same site. That is possible in Scotland, unlike in some other areas.

I take this opportunity to offer an apology to the two members who are named in the Conservative motion, although we have referred to them simply to provoke debate on the future of nuclear energy. John Home Robertson is a regular supporter of the issue. In recent times, he has gone to great lengths and has made great personal effort to try to establish a cross-party group on the civil nuclear industry. In that venture, he can be assured of constructive support from the Conservatives. Allan Wilson, who will make the opening speech for the Executive, was named in the motion perhaps less enthusiastically and more with mischief in mind. He has been extensively quoted in the press recently on the security of gas supply and on the future of nuclear capacity in Scotland. In fact, he wrote:

"When the issue does arise in Scotland, I hope that there will be some maturity of debate. Nobody living near or working at Hunterston thinks of nuclear power as something which must be opposed on principle. Nobody who cares about global warming can lightly dismiss the current source of more than half of Scotland's electricity."

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

Is the generating capacity to which the member referred used or needed in Scotland?

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

We must avoid becoming little Scotlanders in this debate. It is essential that Scotland takes its place as a power exporter, if for no other reason than to develop our renewables sector. Our development of renewables will inevitably result in our being exporters of power.

The balance between renewable energy and base-load generating capacity is the key to long-term stability. If we burn gas instead, we will be exposed to risks of security of supply. If we burn coal, we will be put under increasing pressure over our CO2 emissions, given the levels of road and air transport that are still essential for the Scottish economy. For that reason, we must have this debate.

The Executive amendment draws some sympathy from me, but it is unfortunate that it is not prepared to go as far as Allan Wilson's statements in the press. The amendment states Allan Wilson's policy, but his position has been watered down so severely as a result of the partnership agreement with the Liberal Democrats that the amendment refuses even to begin to address the decisions that need to be made about the future of nuclear capacity in Scotland. I beg Allan Wilson to have the courage to say in the chamber what he has said outside it. He must join in the debate.

Nuclear power has a long-term future in supplying electricity to the Scottish economy. That is why Conservatives believe that it is essential that we begin a debate on the subject now. We may lose today's debate, but we will not stand idly by while a technology that has been developed and run so efficiently in Scotland is lost simply because the decision to proceed with the next generation of nuclear power stations is avoided by ministers whose hands are tied behind their backs by their junior partners, who have never made a decision in their lives. I beg members to support the motion in my name, in spite of the amendments against it.

I move,

That the Parliament is concerned that the Scottish Executive's renewable energy policy is unduly biased in favour of wind power to the detriment of other renewable technologies, which has led to widespread local opposition to wind farm developments throughout the country and to higher costs for electricity; furthermore agrees with Allan Wilson MSP, Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, that the concerns of security of supply and the need for emission reductions mean that it is time for an open-minded debate into the future of nuclear energy in Scotland; supports John Home Robertson MSP's proposal for a Cross Party Group on the civil nuclear industry, and calls on the Executive to work in partnership with the UK Government to create a long-term plan for Scotland's energy needs which balances renewable production with nuclear energy.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Several members who I expect would want to speak in the debate have yet to press their request-to-speak buttons. I ask them to do so now, as that will let me do my sums.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour 9:44 am, 27th January 2005

I apologise to the Presiding Officer and all members in the chamber, especially colleagues on the Tory benches, for our tardy arrival.

I hope that this important debate will be conducted in a mature fashion, as I have indeed publicly called for it to be. The current electricity generation mix underpins a vibrant economy and provides both jobs and security of supply. Those two objectives are, I am sure, shared by all members, irrespective of their particular views on nuclear energy. However, nuclear energy is an important part of that equation, because it provides around what amounts to—for the purposes of the debate, let us not go into too much detail—some 40 per cent of our electricity supply. I want to make it clear that our position on nuclear power is as stated in the Executive's programme for government. That means that we will not support new nuclear power stations while waste management issues remain unresolved.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

Does the minister appreciate the concern in the renewables energy industry about the fact that the minister with responsibility for promoting renewable energy has publicly stated that he supports nuclear energy? How can he reassure Scotland's renewables sector that he will not adopt a half-hearted approach to promoting renewables?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I see already that my plea for a mature debate has fallen on deaf ears. With great regularity—I met people from Pilot, which represents our oil and gas industry, in London only yesterday—I meet representatives of the energy sector, including those who are involved in renewable energy generation. Nobody has expressed those views to me because those views are not held within the sector. We need a mature debate—

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green

Will the minister answer a mature question then?

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green

Will the minister consider the nuclear waste management issue to be resolved when the decision on how waste should be managed is made or when the waste facility is actually constructed?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

As the member will know, the Government established the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, which has the job of advising the Government on how best to dispose of legacy nuclear waste. That advice will be an important step along the road to determining how existing and future waste should be disposed of. Neither Shiona Baird nor anyone else in the chamber—with the possible exception of the nationalists—can be satisfied with the current situation, whereby our nuclear waste is simply shipped to England for storage. We all agree that the current state of affairs is unsatisfactory. However, I can assure Alex Johnstone and others that, in resolving the nuclear waste issue, we are determined to ensure that Scotland's electricity supply industry retains the mix that is best suited to our circumstances and economy.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I assure the minister that the prospect of shipping nuclear waste to England does not give any satisfaction to the nationalists either.

On the need to retain an energy mix, I ask the minister about the commitment that he gave in a parliamentary debate on 6 October, when he said that he would set up a forum to investigate, through greater dialogue among the different partners, how the balance of energy in relation to renewable technology might be developed. Will he give us an update on the conclusions that the forum has reached and say whether it has proposed any concrete changes to the planning regime or any strategic guidance on the location of wind farms, which is an issue of concern to a great number of people throughout the country?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I welcome Mr Swinney's mature contribution to the debate. The forum met for the first time at the tail-end of last year and is in the process of examining its remit. In a minute, I will come on to the energy study that we commissioned at the end of last year to examine, among other things, Scotland's current and future energy use and the appropriate mix of the different forms of energy supply. I hope that its conclusions will put us in a position to produce more detailed locational guidance on the contribution that onshore wind should make to the mix.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I have already given way on three occasions. I would like to make some progress, but I would be happy to give way on other issues.

As I have just explained to John Swinney, to establish a Scottish baseline we have commissioned a study of energy supply, flow and demand throughout Scotland. If we are to meet future challenges, we need information about how energy is produced and used here in Scotland, instead of relying on extrapolation from United Kingdom data. The study will be published this summer and its findings should provide a valuable source of data to inform future decisions by the Executive on the most appropriate energy mix.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I will give way to Phil Gallie, as he indicated first that he wanted to intervene.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Given the concerns that have been expressed today about nuclear waste and, in the past, about nuclear decommissioning, will the minister join me in congratulating all at the Hunterston A site on the way in which they have gone about the task of decommissioning?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Very much so. I also congratulate staff at all sites in the rest of Scotland and the UK where decommissioning work is under way. That work is leading-edge technology that we in the UK have refined and developed to the extent that it is sought after across the globe.

Nuclear power accounts for 40 per cent of Scotland's electricity. If we did not have nuclear power, that energy would have to be generated from other sources, which would include fossil fuels. That could significantly increase carbon emissions, although the exact amount cannot be calculated without making assumptions about the mix of the replacement sources. It is important that the study that we have entered into considers a balanced mix of energy generation sources.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I believe that the study is being carried out by AEA Technology, which is based at Glengarnock. What is the time horizon for the study? If it does not look 20, 30 or 40 years ahead, it will be of limited utility in planning our energy needs for the future.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

The study will be required to look as far into the future as is feasible, taking into account the circumstances that must be predicted when we consider electricity generating sources. It will be ready in the summer, so there is a very short timescale for its production. We expect that it will help us to shape the future of energy policy in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

As members know, a number of our base-load generating stations will come off stream in the very near future. The real issue for Scotland is to put together an energy policy that takes account of that prospective change and of the two primary concerns of the Scottish people: security of supply and combating climate change.

Our response to climate change is focused not only on how energy is supplied. The UK Government's energy white paper also recognised that managing demand—energy efficiency—has a vital part to play in addressing future energy needs. Energy efficiency must be at the forefront of all our efforts; in a low-carbon future, it is every bit as important as the move towards renewable energy generation.

The Executive has a range of initiatives in place to improve energy efficiency in the public, private and domestic sectors. Last year, we announced £20 million to improve energy efficiency in the public sector. In addition, the Executive works with the Carbon Trust and the Energy Saving Trust, to which it provides £10 million a year in funding. In the immediate future and the period covered by the study that AEA Technology is undertaking, the option that is cleanest for the environment and most cost effective for the economy is for us to save the energy that we do not use. We must ensure that opportunities for saving energy are optimised.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

We are tight for time.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Does the minister agree with the target set by the performance and innovation unit that is attached to Westminster, which suggested that by 2020 we could reduce energy demand in the domestic sector by 40 per cent—a huge saving that is possible and achievable?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Alongside the energy study that we are developing with AEA Technology, which will consider the situation in 2010, 2020 and 2050, we are developing an energy efficiency strategy for Scotland, as I told the Enterprise and Culture Committee comparatively recently. That strategy will define our objectives and strengthen what is already a joined-up approach to demand-side management in Scotland.

I have not had enough time to discuss in great detail the vital role that we envisage for the range of renewable generation sources: marine, wind, biomass and hydrogen cell technology. I am sure that my Cabinet colleague Ross Finnie will refer to all those sources of renewable energy in his closing speech. In the short time that remains to me, I have much pleasure in commending to members the Executive amendment to Alex Johnstone's motion.

I move amendment S2M-2320.4, to leave out from "is concerned" to end and insert:

"welcomes the Scottish Executive's study into present and future energy supply and demand in Scotland; supports the Executive's position of not supporting the further development of nuclear power stations while waste management issues remain unresolved; supports the Executive's continuing commitment to the development of renewable energy in Scotland, including wind, wave, tidal, solar and biomass power, as a key element of a balanced energy supply portfolio; supports the Executive's commitment to achieving 40% renewable electricity generation by 2020, and welcomes the Executive's proposal in the Review of the Climate Change Programme to create an Energy Efficiency Strategy for Scotland."

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 9:57 am, 27th January 2005

It gives me pleasure to speak to the SNP's amendment and to respond to the Tory party's bizarre motion. I am not sure whether it helps or hinders the political careers of Allan Wilson and John Home Robertson to be commended in a Tory party motion. Perhaps that illustrates the convergence between the policies of the Labour party and the Conservatives these days.

In the blue corner, we have the flat earth society—the dinosaurs who are stuck in a past age. The Conservatives appear now to oppose wind energy in Scotland full stop. Only last week, Alex Johnstone's publicity in the Scottish press was calling for national guidelines for wind farms, which is a sensible proposal—many of us are calling for those.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I notice that the member's robust colleague Christine Grahame, who is at the forefront of campaigns against wind farm development, is not present on the SNP benches today. The SNP's position is one of complete hypocrisy and opportunism.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The member is talking nonsense. The Conservatives have lodged a motion that makes no mention of the call for the Scottish Executive to issue national guidelines. The Tory party is exploiting genuine concerns expressed by many in Scotland who are worried about a proliferation of wind turbines in their communities without their having a real say on the matter. There is a genuine issue, which the Government must address. That is why the Enterprise and Culture Committee called for national guidelines and why this week Highland Council has expressed sheer frustration about the lack of such guidelines.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I hope that I am not frustrating the pre-written press release that will already have gone out to The Press and Journal , but the member will recall that two weeks ago today I put a question to the minister about national guidelines and he gave me a detailed answer on the subject. Richard Lochhead has missed the boat.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The Conservatives have moved from a position of calling for national guidelines to a motion that says that they are opposed to wind farms and support nuclear power. They are hardening their position all the time to exploit the genuine concerns that are expressed by many communities around Scotland.

It is a pity that Alex Johnstone did not attend the meeting a couple of evenings ago of the cross-party renewable energy group, as he would have heard from some of the communities that have established community-owned wind farms about the tremendous benefits that they have gained. At that meeting, we heard from the Fintry renewable energy enterprise group, which has wind turbines that are owned and run by the people of Fintry. People there will have cheap energy and will be able to tackle fuel poverty in their community and to secure their income streams. They are getting the benefits that can arise from collective ownership when the wind turbines are owned by the local community. The community now wants to become carbon neutral. If Mr Johnstone lived in that community, he would be out with his sandwich board to protest against the establishment of local wind turbines.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

I presume that Mr Lochhead, having attended the cross-party renewable energy group meeting, is not seriously suggesting that the whole energy strategy for the country should be based on community energy groups. The Fintry energy group has three wind turbines.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am trying to explain to the Conservatives why they should not oppose wind energy. It is blatantly obvious from the motion that that is their position.

The cross-party group heard from the Castlemilk and Carmunnock community urban wind farm initiative. That fascinating initiative intends to exploit the tourism potential of the wind turbines in the community, to establish a visitors centre and to get an income stream for the community. We also heard from Gigha Renewable Energy Ltd, which hopes to make £75,000 profit every year from the wind turbines. That profit will go back into the local community. The community also hopes to supply two thirds of its own electricity needs.

Wind energy must be part of an energy mix. As other members have said, we must meet our international obligations. Currently, only four European Union countries have a worse per capita record than Scotland does on greenhouse gas emissions. That is an appalling record, so we must take some hard decisions. Wind energy may currently be the only commercially viable renewable sector, but we must ensure that others come on stream. There must be more Government support for marine renewables. Biomass and hydrogen must also be developed. Other countries are racing ahead of Scotland on hydrogen. BP has this week established its second hydrogen fuelling station in Singapore. The private sector gets no encouragement from the Scottish Executive to carry out similar initiatives in Scotland. That is very unfortunate, because it means that we are falling further and further behind.

I will now turn to the red and yellow corner. Once again, we are getting mixed messages about nuclear power and future support for nuclear technology from Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Allan Wilson, the minister responsible for promoting renewable energy in Scotland, has gone public with his support for nuclear energy, despite the fact that his amendment gives the impression that the Executive is sceptical about the issue. I do not see how the renewables sector in Scotland can have trust in the minister. Allan Wilson is not an average back-bench Labour MSP; he is the minister with responsibility for promoting renewables in Scotland. He should be throwing all his weight, his effort and his enthusiasm into promoting that sector, not the nuclear industry. The widespread consensus in Scotland is that nuclear power is costly and dangerous. International opinion is also moving against nuclear power: Belgium, Sweden and Germany are all phasing it out. Even the Kyoto protocol does not classify nuclear energy under its clean development mechanism.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Will the member expand, for the benefit of the Parliament, on his thesis that nuclear power is dangerous?

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I am sure that the minister is well aware of the widespread concerns about how we dispose of nuclear waste in Scotland. We do not want toxic dumps to be created in Scotland.

The Scottish National Party and many others in Scotland will oppose vigorously any proposal to establish nuclear power stations on Scottish soil.

It is not only the minister who is putting obstacles in the way of the renewable energy sector's efforts to become Scotland's main supplier of energy. There is also a ridiculous proposal from the UK Government to impose on Scottish renewables projects a charging scheme for access to the national grid. That will discriminate against Scottish projects and will pull the rug from under their feet. A proposal was on the table to charge Scottish projects £24 per kilowatt to access the grid, whereas renewables or other projects south of the border would be subsidised to the tune of £6 a kilowatt. The minister must give a commitment today that he will fight the proposals tooth and nail so that we can realise our renewables potential in Scotland.

It is bizarre that the Executive and the Tories are talking about supporting nuclear power when Scotland has the biggest potential among all European countries to become the leader in renewable energy. It has 25 per cent of the wind power potential.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

I am sorry, but the member is in his last minute.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I apologise for not being able to give way.

We must ensure that this time we do not miss the jackpot. We have already had an energy jackpot from oil and gas, but London has taken all the revenues—it even keeps some of the leading civil service jobs that deal with the North sea industry, rather than basing them where they belong, in Aberdeen. This time around, we must ensure that the Government and all of Scotland are on board so that we can claim the energy jackpot, which this time will be the renewable energy jackpot.

The oil and gas sector is not a lost cause in terms of revenues. This Parliament should have control over energy policy, just as Parliaments in other small countries have. I contrast Scotland with Norway. Norway has benefited from its oil resources and it has become a rich society as well as a rich country. The United Kingdom Offshore Operators Association will today say that it projects that it will give £6 billion to the London coffers in 2005. Let us try to get that money up here to Scotland. Let us transfer responsibility for energy policy and the revenues to this Parliament so that we can change Scotland for the better and meet our international obligations on cutting carbon emissions. I ask members to support the SNP amendment.

I move amendment S2M-2320.2, to leave out from "is concerned" to end and insert:

"believes that Scotland is well placed to be Europe's energy powerhouse given our massive energy resources; believes that onshore and offshore wind energy is an important element in a balanced renewables policy but that the development of other renewables must be accelerated; shares the frustration expressed by many others, including Highland Council and the Parliament's Enterprise and Culture Committee, who are calling for a national strategic framework for wind farm developments; calls on the Scottish Executive to ensure that the UK Government does not introduce any charging scheme for access to the grid that discriminates against renewables in Scotland; believes that no new nuclear power stations should be built in Scotland, and calls for the Scottish Parliament to have control over energy policy and oil and gas revenues."

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green 10:05 am, 27th January 2005

I declare an interest as the family firm of which I am a sleeping partner has submitted an application for one wind turbine on land that I own.

Perhaps the most important point that came out of last week's debate on climate change was the overwhelming consensus among all parties that climate change poses a threat to Scotland and to the world and that non-fossil-fuel energy sources must be put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Greens have been campaigning tirelessly on climate change for many years. It is encouraging to know that we are no longer alone.

It is obvious that our traditional dependence on coal and oil cannot go on, so what are the alternatives? We in the Green party are clear about the energy future that we would like to see develop over the coming years. The bottom line must be sustainability. Mark Ruskell spoke about that in the debate last week and Alex Johnstone said:

"it would be wrong to ... pass heavy environmental costs on to"—[Official Report, 20 January 2005; c 13679.]

future generations. In the light of those comments it is disappointing, but not surprising, that the Tories would use climate change as a cynical excuse for new nuclear power. The Tories call for an open-minded debate on the issue, but we have been debating and assessing nuclear power for several decades.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Does the member not take some pride in the fact that the low levels of emissions from electricity generation in Scotland in the 1990s put us at the top of the European clean-air league? Was that not based on our high proportion of nuclear energy?

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green

Phil Gallie is missing all the points that I will now raise.

Our opposition to nuclear energy is based on science and economics. An open mind would find out that no one has yet worked out what to do with nuclear waste—managing it over the next 40 years will set the taxpayer back some £83 billion. An open mind would see the problems of nuclear proliferation, the terrorist threat and the inconvenient fact that uranium is fast running out. An open mind would see that nuclear power is not the carbon-free silver bullet that some misguided individuals would have us believe. Over the full nuclear life-cycle, it is almost as carbon intensive as some fossil fuels. Only a closed mind would suggest that we can seriously address climate change by wasting public cash on expensive, dirty and unsustainable nuclear power.

I am happy to say that the genuine alternatives on our doorstep and off our coastline mean that we can invest in real solutions with an open mind. The only truly sustainable energy sources are renewable. They include onshore and offshore wind, marine, solar and biomass. Only with a stable mix of those technologies will we be able to meet the definition of sustainability. The renewables sector is currently dominated by onshore wind as that is the only technology that is mature enough to make a significant contribution to our energy supply. The Greens are keen for other technologies such as offshore wind, wave and tidal energy to play their part and fulfil their massive potential.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

Does Shiona Baird agree that there is capacity to make the generation of energy from fossil fuels more sustainable by using part-renewable or non-carbon-intensive mixes? Should that not be encouraged by the Executive through research and development money?

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green

I agree that we need to look at those options in the interim, but our long-term vision must be to generate energy from fully renewable sources.

The wave energy industry estimates that £500 million would kick-start the sector and make Scottish companies competitive worldwide. Remember that nuclear costs are all in the billions and that £500 million is the lowest estimate for the M74 extension of only 5 miles. Surely members agree that investment in marine renewables would make far more economic sense in the long term. After all, there are alternatives to road building.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Can we put the member's comments in context? Where will the base-load requirement come from in her plans? What about the consistent control of the base-load?

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Ms Baird has three minutes left.

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green

I will cite research by Robert Gross of Imperial College London, which used Department of Trade and Industry figures. Members should listen carefully, because the figures are astounding. They indicate a practicable potential for renewables to supply nearly 230 TWh per year by 2025—more than two thirds of our total current energy demand. Even more astounding, renewables have the technical potential to generate 4,483 TWh per year. The figures do not even take into account the reduction in demand that energy efficiency savings would bring. The figures are amazing.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

I am grateful to the member for giving way, because I know that her time is short.

I agree that the production capacity of renewables is as the member suggests. However, if intermittency problems cannot be overcome, what use is that potential?

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green

That matter has been addressed; intermittency is not an issue.

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green

Members should ask the people who are involved in generation. Tidal, hydro and biomass energy can all be brought in.

I must move on.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

You have a maximum of two minutes, I am afraid.

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green

We are throwing money down the drain and pouring carbon into the atmosphere because we are not addressing energy efficiency. Surely saving energy makes sound economic sense. It is disappointing that the Tory motion does not mention energy efficiency. It is also depressing that the Tories misrepresent the Enterprise and Culture Committee's inquiry into renewable energy in Scotland, which concluded that more onshore wind is needed and that other renewable resources need to be fast tracked.

I repeat the call for more energy policy powers to be devolved. Although we can take responsibility for some aspects of energy, including energy efficiency and the siting of renewables facilities, overall control remains at Whitehall. We can debate nuclear power until the cows come home, but the decision is not up to us. Our nascent wave energy industry depends on whether the DTI cares enough about Scotland. We should look after our energy future. I urge members to support the amendment in my name.

I move amendment S2M-2320.3, to leave out from "is concerned" to end and insert:

"welcomes the political consensus that climate change is a reality and that alternatives to fossil fuel energy sources must be developed in order to curtail emissions of greenhouse gases; strongly believes that Scotland's energy future requires a wide range of environmentally-sustainable energy sources; agrees with the Enterprise and Culture Committee's Inquiry into renewable energy that Scotland needs to develop urgently all forms of renewable energy including marine, on and off-shore wind and solar sources; believes that a much greater focus on energy efficiency across all sectors must be central to any energy policy; notes the International Atomic Energy Agency's view that nuclear power will be unable to halt climate change and considers that the case for nuclear power in Scotland's long-term energy future remains completely unconvincing, and calls for more powers over energy policy to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament."

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP 10:13 am, 27th January 2005

My initial reaction to the Tory motion was incredulity—that is the only word that I can use to describe it. How on earth can the Tories champion nuclear power and nuclear power stations? Their party spent the 1980s and 1990s saying that it was the party of efficiency. The Tories said that companies that could not compete in the marketplace should go to the wall and that companies must become efficient and productive. The Tories said that private companies should receive no state subsidies and privatised most of the utilities. However, here they are in 2004, arguing—

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP

Thank you. I had a quiet new year.

The Tories, who would privatise their grannies given half a chance, had a really difficult time considering how to privatise—[Interruption.] British Energy is a private company, but British Nuclear Fuels is not and the two companies are tied together.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Is the member's granny state owned or is she private? My granny was always private.

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP

Luckily, my granny was born during a Labour Government, so she was not privatised. Thank God for history.

If British Energy had really been a private company, it would have gone bust in September 2002. A main reason for that was the cost of dealing with nuclear waste, which was spread across three organisations, including the private company British Energy. The company had to write to the minister to say, "We are in deep trouble. We do not have enough money to cover our liabilities. Unless you help us with our cash-flow problem, we will go bankrupt." That happened six months after the company had given £48 million to its shareholders. I do not remember that the Tories complained about that; it was all right to subsidise a private company such as British Energy, which was generous to its shareholders but to nobody else. Tory ideology went out of the window on the issue of nuclear power. Because the consequences of the bankruptcy of a company that was running nuclear power stations would have been horrendous—as we know from examples throughout eastern Europe—the Government was forced to step in and give British Energy money. The company received an initial sum of £600 million, but that was not enough to bail it out, so it received a further £200 million later in the year.

What has become of Tory ideology on efficiency and productivity? If a company cannot sell its electricity at prices that enable it to cover its liability costs, it is hardly running an efficient system of energy generation.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I have no particular answer to the member's question about ideologies, because we are a pragmatic party that manages situations as they are. However, I am concerned that in her speech so far she seems to be more concerned about money than she is about Scottish workers' jobs in the long term. We want to ensure stability of supply, to keep our economy growing and to keep our workers in jobs—that is our primary motivation.

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP

I hope that that argument will be applied across the board when the Parliament discusses other industries that are facing difficulties. The Tories agreed with the UK Electricity (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2003, which enables the Government to underwrite British Energy's nuclear fuel liabilities by between £150 million and £200 million per year—so Scottish workers' jobs are being subsidised. The 2003 act is an act after my own heart, because it changed the law to allow the Government to subsidise any part of the industry as it sees fit, including British Energy, which is a private company.

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP

I must finish. I had only six minutes, if I was lucky.

The 2003 act also gives ministers powers to renationalise British Energy if they think that that is appropriate. That approach should be applied across the utilities sector and I congratulate the Labour Government on passing legislation that confers such powers on ministers.

If the UK Government is prepared to subsidise nuclear power and to underwrite and renationalise the nuclear industry, what is the Executive's problem with renewables? Today's Metro—

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Renewables are being subsidised.

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP

By how much? I cannot give way to the member, because I do not have enough time. Oil, gas and nuclear energy are not the future of energy generation, as speeches that have been made in the past day have indicated. Renewables are the future; they are the only alternative. The Executive set a target of 40 per cent of electricity generation from renewables, but its approach is like that of a bride and groom who invite divorce solicitors to the wedding reception: they have taken the vow, but they are preparing for a big fight over the future maintenance payments. Some £6 billion has been invested in nuclear power—although that is a Westminster issue, the Executive has negotiating powers in relation to the matter—but the Executive is investing only £150 million of public money over 10 years in research into renewables, which is a pittance.

Who will pay for the upgrading of the national grid so that renewables can feed in and the 40 per cent target can be met? Where will the investment come from? We are told that the electricity companies will pay, but we will see whether that comes about. The only answer is to have Government control and a national energy framework. That is the only way in which we will reach the target of 40 per cent of energy from renewable sources. If public investment was on a par with investment in the nuclear industry—which must be decommissioned—we would move into the future in the lead, not on the coat tails of Denmark and other European countries. That is the vision that the Parliament needs, instead of the pitiful vision that we are given every time we debate the issue.

I move amendment S2M-2320.1, to leave out from "and to higher" to end and insert:

"; calls on the Executive to state categorically that no new nuclear power stations will be built in Scotland, bring forward the closure dates of all existing nuclear power stations in Scotland, initiate an immediate programme of investment in all aspects of renewable energy and create a publicly-owned, publicly-resourced renewable energy industry."

Photo of Mr Andrew Arbuckle Mr Andrew Arbuckle Liberal Democrat 10:20 am, 27th January 2005

There is no doubt that the Conservative motion has more to do with political mischief than it has to do with addressing Scotland's energy needs, which is a pity. Last week, during the debate on climate change, Alex Johnstone proposed a nuclear power policy. This morning, he suggested in response to an intervention that the Conservatives have ideas about the places where new nuclear power stations would be developed, although none of them was close to his home in Stonehaven—not in Alex's back yard.

I am surprised that, as a former farmer, Alex Johnstone has forgotten the first rule of farming, which is that a farmer should always try to leave the land in a better condition than it was in when they inherited it. However, that cannot be done with nuclear power. There is no doubt that nuclear energy provides a surge of power during a station's lifetime but leaves behind a dreadful glowing legacy for our children and grandchildren. However, Alex Johnstone forgot to mention nuclear waste.

The DTI has estimated that it will cost the country up to £47 billion to get rid of the radioactive waste that has been created. Alex Johnstone and his colleagues would like to add to that nuclear waste heap. For countries that are enthusiastic about nuclear power, the popular method of dealing with nuclear waste is to dump it on other countries, invariably poorer ones. It might have been better for the Conservatives to wait until next year, when the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management will report with its recommendations, rather than jump into the bubbling cauldron of nuclear waste.

The motion comes in a week when it has emerged that the German Government has decided to phase out nuclear energy as a source of power. If a major nation such as Germany can make that decision, surely smaller ones such as Scotland do not have to go down the nuclear road.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

This is also a week in which China has announced that it will build nuclear reactors at an unprecedented rate. China has the most efficient and fastest-growing economy in the world. Why is China going for nuclear generation?

Photo of Mr Andrew Arbuckle Mr Andrew Arbuckle Liberal Democrat

I am not sure whether Mr Gallie recommends that we follow the Chinese route but, personally, I do not. If Mr Gallie had better knowledge of that nation's economy, he would not recommend that either.

The Tory attack on the Executive's renewable energy policy is sad, because Scotland has tremendous natural features that allow us to benefit from wind, wave and tidal power. Scotland could do with more sun, but the solar panels on my house in north Fife paid their way within four years. In fact, it was not until the depths of the first winter after they had been installed that I discovered that my local plumber had failed to provide back-up to my solar panels—all the heating in my house had been coming from that renewable source. An estimated 50,000 houses in the UK already use solar power to provide heat. It is an example of power without waste and without harmful residues—that is renewable energy.

Local communities have criticised wind turbines, which is why, when projects are realised, it is important that the people who live in the area not only are involved but can benefit. As Richard Lochhead suggested, communities as far apart as Gigha and Castlemilk are already in on the idea and are set to benefit financially as a result. We have an opportunity to have more wind turbines for houses and rural businesses in remote areas.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Does the member acknowledge that there are hot spots in Scotland, for example in Perth and Kinross, where multiple applications for renewable energy developments have been made? Does he agree that we need to reform the planning system to enable those applications to be assessed against one another rather than simply forming a long queue in the planning system?

Photo of Mr Andrew Arbuckle Mr Andrew Arbuckle Liberal Democrat

As a local councillor, I agree that there are problems with the planning system in dealing with such applications. My answer is to get local communities involved in projects so that they benefit from them.

We do not have to destroy our natural landscape to develop renewable power sources. If the work is carried out sympathetically, it can form an attractive part of our scenery. A Danish friend told me that the many turbines in his country have had no adverse effect on the tourism industry there. It is worth pointing out that the Danish wind energy industry employs about 16,000 people.

We need courage to make progress with renewable energy projects in Scotland. More than 50 years ago, Tom Johnston, the Secretary of State for Scotland, had to fight hard to get hydro schemes under way but, nowadays, water dams contribute to the country's power needs and form part of the landscape. If we have courage, other countries will look to Scotland as an example of how a small country can harness natural resources to help fill its energy bill, not fill its bunkers with contaminated waste.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative 10:26 am, 27th January 2005

I congratulate Mr Arbuckle on his maiden speech; I was pleased with the content, because it placed the Liberal Democrats firmly in the camp of the Scottish Socialist Party, the Greens and the nationalists, as the parties that are not willing to seriously address the country's future energy needs.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Not in the first minute, but I will come back to the member.

I have no difficulty with renewable energy, many forms of which have been discussed, but I have a serious difficulty with large-scale wind farms being concentrated in small areas, such as the M74 corridor. The astounding point about Shiona Baird's argument is that the amount of quarrying and environmental upheaval that would be required to construct the proposed wind farms in that corridor would be greater than that caused by constructing the M74. People are incredulous because the Greens are standing by and allowing the mass industrialisation of our countryside on an unprecedented level. Mr Arbuckle talked about farms remaining the same, but they will not, because hundreds of tonnes of concrete and ballast go into the ground when wind turbines are built and remain when the turbines are taken down.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Will the member say exactly where in the south of Scotland he advocates the dumping of our nuclear waste?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Nuclear dumping, as the member calls it, is decided at a United Kingdom level and I have no difficulty with a United Kingdom energy policy. I want a nuclear power station in my area on the large licensed site there. Rather than displaying opportunism, Mike Rumbles should come to my area and ask whether people want large-scale wind farms or real jobs through the nuclear industry. People would answer clearly that they want the nuclear industry.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I commend the efforts of workers in the nuclear industry.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I will come back to the member.

I wonder whether Mr Ruskell is familiar with the nuklear21 publication that states:

"Who wants a new nuclear power station on their doorstep? We do! say Chapelcross ... workers and communities".

Those people know that, over the years, the nuclear industry has delivered millions of pounds as well as sustainable jobs to the area. Those people want the nuclear industry. That does not mean that I do not support the positive proposal for a biomass plant on the same site, provided that it does not infringe on the licensed site and prevent further nuclear development.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I should speak to the real Green member, not Alex Neil; let us hear what Mr Ruskell has to say.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

This is a clear example of the Tories trying to appear responsible, through the words of Alex Johnstone, then, when they get back into their regions and their constituencies, whipping up hysteria and talking about thousands of turbines marching across the countryside. I ask the Tories whether they could just as well be talking about asylum seekers.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Mr Ruskell is exactly the sort of person that Bishop Montefiore was referring to in the Catholic weekly, The Tablet —with which I am sure many members are familiar—when he wrote:

"The real reason why the Government has not taken up the nuclear option is because it lacks public acceptance, due to scare stories in the media and the stonewalling opposition of powerful environmental organisations. Most, if not all, of the objections do not stand up to objective assessment."

The bishop believes that so strongly that he has left Friends of the Earth, which has tried to gag him when he has said it. He is not the only one. Professor David King and James Lovelock are changing their minds because they see the reality, which is that if we are to have sustainable energy, we will have to have new nuclear power stations. Those people who have opposed new nuclear power stations or who have come out with the kind of opportunist nonsense that we hear from the Scottish National Party will regret it because their credibility will be undermined. When the public realise that the energy debate is not about aesthetics but about whether people have electricity in their homes, they will understand the need for nuclear development.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

The point in the Executive amendment that I do not accept is where it indicates that we have to wait for the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management to report. Because of the length of time that is required for new nuclear development, we should be dual tracking it. We should not be stonewalling.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You are in your last minute. You must finish now, Mr Mundell.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I have no difficulty in standing up for the nuclear industry. I have done so even when it was not popular. I am pleased to say that the tide is turning. People have seen through the Liberals, the Greens, the Scottish Socialists and the SNP, and they understand that new nuclear development is the only way forward for a sustainable energy policy for the United Kingdom.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour 10:32 am, 27th January 2005

I join David Mundell in congratulating Andrew Arbuckle on his first speech in the Parliament. I will simply say that Andrew Arbuckle has a lot to learn about the nuclear industry. He can see Torness power station across the Firth of Forth from Fife, and I invite him to come and see what the industry really does.

We are having a bit of a parliamentary groundhog day here, but some things are worth repeating, and this could hardly be more important. Briefly, there is now compelling evidence of climate change arising from environmental pollution in general and carbon dioxide emissions in particular, and there is an overwhelming case for implementing the Kyoto treaty to reduce the risk of catastrophic change to the climate of the planet. There is universal acceptance of those points. We must reduce CO2, which means reducing our dependence on oil, gas and coal, and increasing energy efficiency by all possible means. Given the fact that half of Scotland's electricity generation plant will reach the end of its designed life in the coming decade, and given the long lead time to plan, construct and commission new generating stations, we should be considering all the options now if we want to avoid a real risk of shortages, blackouts and power cuts in just a few years' time. That is a serious point.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

John Home Robertson is obviously referring to nuclear power. I ask him the question that I asked David Mundell, who refused to answer. Where in Scotland would the nuclear waste be dumped?

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

That is not as clever a question as Mike Rumbles thinks it is. There is a United Kingdom nuclear industry. There is an overwhelming case for a national repository—a store not a dump—for nuclear waste. That is under consideration. It may be in England or it may be in Scotland, but it will be located wherever it is scientifically most appropriate. It is not whether it will be done; it is when it will be done. It has got to be done, because we have inherited waste that must be managed.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I am sorry. I must move on.

That is where we are. My contention is that we need a sensible and informed debate immediately about all the serious options, including the Executive's objectives on energy efficiency measures and on renewables accounting for 40 per cent of our energy. That is an ambitious target. I do not know whether it can be achieved, but it is worth striving towards. Our base-load electricity requirements—the remaining 60 per cent—could be generated using nuclear power and perhaps clean coal technology.

With great respect to Alex Johnstone, it is not sensible to start the debate by seeking to rubbish one of the options on entirely opportunistic grounds. I do not like to be churlish when the Tory motion makes flattering references to me and Allan Wilson, but I am afraid that the Tories are taking liberties, and we cannot let them get away with it. I am happy to welcome Tory support for the powerful environmental case for nuclear power to replace polluting fossil fuel power stations, but the motion is something else altogether. Alex Johnstone did not say very much about the motion when he spoke, but it seems to be calling for nuclear power as an alternative to renewables. That is wrong. We need both nuclear and renewables, and I am happy to support the Executive amendment, in the certain knowledge that the United Kingdom will construct a safe, secure repository for nuclear waste, just as the Swedes have done and just as the Finns are doing. It is not a question of whether it is done but when it is done. When it is done, it can be made that bit bigger to accommodate the much-reduced volume of waste that will come from modern, more efficient nuclear power stations.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

How are we doing for time? I am sorry. I cannot.

I apologise if I caused some offence last week when I suggested that it was silly for some environmentalists to perpetuate the anti-nuclear taboo regardless of the fact that nuclear power stations are cutting Britain's emissions of carbon dioxide by 50 million tonnes a year. Perhaps I can balance the case today by saying that it is just as silly for Tories to undermine the case for wind power, which could save a significant quantity of CO2 emissions too. Four hundred years ago, Cervantes wrote about the foolishness of Don Quixote tilting at windmills. No doubt there were people in the Netherlands who objected to unsightly windmills draining their polders. We should never underestimate the ability of the Scottish Tories to repeat the mistakes of the past.

There are times in the life of nations when responsible Governments have to take difficult decisions for the greater good of society. I am well aware that there are legitimate objections to the siting and the scale of wind turbines in the Scottish landscape. The Crystal Rig wind farm straddles the boundary of my constituency in the Lammermuir hills, and I know that there are many people who do not like it. Reasonable concerns and objections must be considered fairly. Local and national planners should select sites carefully. However, at the end of the day, if we are going to get anywhere near to achieving the objective of 40 per cent of our power from renewables, we will need many renewable energy developments, including wind farms.

I have referred to the broad consensus on the need to address global warming, but on the fringes of that consensus there are signs of some hypocrisy, and I suggest that Tory MSPs—and perhaps some others—are being at best disingenuous when they claim to be in favour of renewables, but back objections to onshore and offshore wind farms. Likewise, how can nationalists be taken seriously on the subject of CO2 emissions when they are pledging to oppose the renewal of nuclear power plant in Scotland? Apart from sacrificing hundreds of jobs in Scotland, that could quite inevitably lead to more dependence on fossil fuels and more CO2 emissions. That is worse than opportunism: it is fiddling while the planet burns.

I regret the fact that the motion has highlighted party-political differences. I hope that the proposed cross-party group on the civil nuclear industry will promote informed and thoughtful discussion on a subject that is of unparalleled importance. However, if the nationalists want to campaign against nuclear power, come and do it at Torness. Make my day.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 10:39 am, 27th January 2005

I intend to make John Home Robertson's day, because his day has come. Many people have campaigned for Scotland to be an energy powerhouse because it has enormous potential to produce renewable energy. Those people have also taken the view that we should look to a balanced energy policy, with a supply portfolio that plays to our strengths. We have inherited UK decisions to have a nuclear industry—I will come to that in a minute—but to lead us in the direction that John Home Robertson is suggesting is not only nonsense, it is selling short those who have been forced to work in those large industries and who, if we had the vision, could be gainfully employed in many other industries around the country.

First, the motion suggests that people have been turned against wind farms by the Government's policy and that renewable technology has been given a bad name. If members examine how the Government has gone about its renewables policy they can see that it has not taken renewables to the heart of that policy, because it does not have the powers to create an energy policy. The Government has gone for the easy option of inviting large firms in to achieve a target that has been set from the top. In the Highlands, the real objection is that most wind farms are not owned by local people. We are lucky that in Tiree, Gigha and other places, small communities are taking the lead, but it is entirely possible that community industry could extend to large schemes in Lewis and other places, which would have local support if they were in local hands.

The potential for onshore wind could be matched by that for renewables offshore. However, the Government has set a target for renewables that does not place them at the centre of energy generation. The target is to produce 40 per cent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020, but the majority of our electricity—the other 60 per cent—also has to be produced. If the Government were serious, it would have said that it wanted the majority of our power to be produced by renewables. That could be the centrepiece of its policy, but it has not made it so.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I am always interested in ambitious targets. As Rob Gibson will be well aware, the target of 40 per cent was set after extensive consultation with all sectors—not just energy producers, but communities, energy groups and environmentalists. He has plucked another figure out of the air. We know the basis of our figure. What is the basis of his?

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

The basis of our target is that if we had been in power as long as the minister has, we would have been ahead of the game. Labour has been in power since 1997 and the coalition since 1999—

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

No, thank you.

The Government has not put renewables at the heart of the industry.

The countries that are ahead in wind power—Denmark, Germany, Spain, the USA, Japan and India—are all producing the towers and equipment that are putting them to the fore. Where is Scotland, with one of the best wind energy resources? It is nowhere in that picture. We have to import the equipment.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

No, thank you. I do not have the time.

People in Caithness have asked me to say to members that their area has been asked to take an extra large part of the burden of producing renewable energy. They say that the Highlands is already producing more renewable energy by percentage than the Government's target for the whole country. Caithness is providing its share, but is Perthshire? Is Renfrewshire? Is East Lothian? Are other parts of the country?

Of course, the rational point is that wind is more prevalent in some places than others, but the Highlands would accept more onshore and offshore wind power generation if they had their hands on the profits. However, the Government has set up a system that milks a resource and allows the money to be filched and taken elsewhere. It would be good for Scotland if wind energy were taxed and the profits used for the development of offshore marine energy, because far too many wind farms are owned outside our country and the profits taken away, just like we lost the profits from Scotland's oil.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Does the member accept that the system of renewables obligation certificates, which milks money out of the consumer and passes it round the system, is the very subsidy system that he describes?

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

We are talking about the Labour-Liberal Democrat approach, which is wrong.

The problem with the nuclear argument is that it has always been tied to the production of nuclear weapons. Of course, Labour and the Tories between them both wish to do that. The product of Chapelcross is tritium, which is part of that process. That is what has employed people there. They could contribute to the peaceful use of natural resources that are not polluting.

Our country has an opportunity to exploit its resources to a far greater degree, but we do not have a Government that puts that at the heart of the process. When the voters see the means of production put into the hands of local people, they will gladly take up the challenge of producing enough energy here. In the meantime, we have not been convinced by the Tory motion, which favours nuclear energy, and we are not convinced that the Government takes renewable energy seriously. Support the SNP amendment.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour 10:45 am, 27th January 2005

First and foremost, I declare that I am no great supporter of nuclear power. Indeed, in my student days I actively campaigned against the building of Torness power station. I agree whole-heartedly that we cannot build any further nuclear power plants until the serious issue of waste is resolved. However, it is not only the issue of civil nuclear waste that remains unresolved. I remind the chamber—as I have done previously—that the final disposal of the seven decommissioned nuclear submarines that are anchored at Rosyth naval dockyard in my constituency remains unresolved.

We must be clear that the immediate closure of all nuclear power stations in Scotland—which Frances Curran seems to suggest in her amendment and which other speakers have hinted at—implies the rationing of electricity. The current capacity of alternative generation in Scotland could not possibly meet our energy needs. I remind the chamber that, a year ago last summer, Torness power station was down for 17 weeks. If it had not been for Longannet power station in my constituency running three turbines constantly, Scotland's energy needs would not have been met. If Torness had been closed for that period during winter, we would have faced the prospect of power cuts. People should acknowledge the important contribution that nuclear power makes to our energy needs.

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green

Is Scott Barrie suggesting that we would close down nuclear power tomorrow? Surely the most sensible option is to work towards the decommissioning of the nuclear power stations, while having a target for renewable generation to supply our needs. It is not just about a cut-off point. We must take a sensible approach.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

Given that we are supposed to be having a debate, it is useful to examine the motion and amendments that we are discussing. I thought that Frances Curran was calling for the immediate closure of our nuclear capacity and I wanted to point out what that would mean for electricity generation in contemporary Scotland.

I fully accept that coal-fired generation is one of the principal causes of the greenhouse effect. We must clearly cut down the CO2 emissions caused by the burning of coal and gas, but I do not believe that fossil fuels have no contribution to make to future energy generation. The debate on our energy needs must acknowledge the importance of supply continuity. The dash for gas has meant that we are a net importer of natural gas. Increasingly, the supplies of that fuel come from some of the most politically unstable parts of the world. Even if we ignore the environmental consequences of gas-fuelled generation, we are not guaranteed an uninterrupted supply of gas.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

No, I have already taken one.

Shiona Baird totally ignored Christine May's salient point that although she had illustrated the potential of the renewables sector, she failed to inform us how she could guarantee uninterrupted supply. Nothing will better focus minds on future energy than if we end up reaching for the switch, only to find that our electricity is not there.

Longannet power station today and Kincardine power station before it have made valuable contributions to Scotland's energy needs.

However, Longannet continues to be a major polluter and contributor to Scotland's toxic emissions. That does not mean that coal is a fuel of only the 19th and 20th centuries. I appreciate that we will never return to coal as our only or principal or major source of generation, but it has a future. We need seriously to consider clean coal technology, which John Home Robertson mentioned. Scotland has some of the lowest-sulphur-content coal. Our indigenous coal industry, together with new technology in coal-burning stations, can contribute to our energy generation. Yes, we will still have CO2 and NO2 emissions, but the level of those pollutants could be reduced dramatically.

While we are on the subject of Longannet, I raise the issue of the burning of sewage sludge. Members might be aware that 40 per cent of the sewage processed at Daldowie in Glasgow is reduced to pellet form and transported to Longannet, where it is burned. Given the changes in European directives, there is doubt as to whether that will continue and the sewage might have to be either spread on land or disposed of in landfill. If we do not see the whole picture, there will be serious unforeseen consequences. The issues that members have raised about what we do with spent nuclear fuel are the issues that we would face if we had to do something about the sewage from Daldowie.

It is important that we think about energy in its widest context, rather than cherry picking issues according to the point that we are trying to make. For too long, debates about the energy needs of the UK and Scotland have been completely distorted by people saying what they are against, rather than saying what they are for. Even those who support the renewables sector are often those who campaign hardest against proposed developments in their own back yard. I am glad that we are at least beginning to have the debate and I would welcome an open debate so that we can seriously consider the alternatives for how Scotland could meet its future energy needs. If we do not consider all the alternatives we are in danger of stumbling into something, with unforeseen consequences.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 10:52 am, 27th January 2005

The main reason why energy policy is high on the political agenda is climate change. It is generally accepted that climate change is happening because of the effects of human activity on the planet's natural carbon cycle. To slow down, halt or reverse those effects, we must curtail the activities that release the so-called greenhouse gases into the environment. We are concentrating chiefly on carbon.

Although nuclear power stations operate without emitting carbon, they create large volumes of dangerous radioactive waste—a problem to which no safe and satisfactory solution has been found. Climate change will not give the nuclear industry a way back unless and until such a solution has been found.

The need to ensure security of supply has been seized on as an argument for commissioning new nuclear power stations, but I argue that base load can be met from hydro, clean coal or gas technology with carbon sequestration, and eventually from predictable renewable sources such as tide or wind and technology such as hydrogen cells that can store electricity and even out the intermittency of other renewable sources.

The converse of supply is of course demand. Energy efficiency is usually mentioned in any debate on energy, but often only briefly. That belies the fundamental importance of eliminating the huge squandering of resources through energy waste with the concomitant release of greenhouse gases for no benefit.

Electricity is relatively cheap and business, industry and people with a reasonable income use it unthinkingly. We use it so unthinkingly that if we eliminated waste we would be halfway to meeting our greenhouse gas emission targets. I particularly welcome the Executive's commitment to creating an energy efficiency strategy for Scotland, to build on and formalise what is already happening. There is a double incentive to save energy. Although electricity is relatively cheap, we can save a lot of money by using less. The Scottish Executive investment fund of about £20 million for public sector energy efficiency is expected to produce savings of more than £70 million to the public purse over five years and £30 million a year thereafter. In the domestic sector, homeowners could save 30 per cent of their electricity bills and 70 per cent of their water heating bills by using solar cells. Domestic wind turbines could produce a 15 per cent reduction in electricity bills.

The energy debate tends to focus on electricity generation. I was struck by the observation one of the expert witnesses made at the Environment and Rural Development Committee round-table discussion yesterday: we turn energy into electricity, move it vast distances, losing about 70 per cent of it along the way, and turn the residue back into energy or heat. That is a strong argument for our giving much more priority to local district heating schemes and extending fiscal incentives such as renewables obligation certificates to cover heat as well as power.

Eliminating fuel poverty is a Government priority and is one justification for all the effort that has gone into keeping electricity prices as low as possible. However, I argue that tackling poor housing is a much better way of tackling fuel poverty. Well-built, well-insulated houses are warm, dry homes that cost very little to keep at a reasonable temperature. Government initiatives are in place to help vulnerable people install insulation and central heating and to give advice to the general public on how to improve the energy efficiency of their houses and install solar heating and other ways of exploiting renewable resources. I would like to see much more spent on continuing and expanding those programmes.

Social surveys have shown a strong acknowledgement that we are squandering the planet's resources, but a weak sense of personal responsibility. The only way to affect permanently the human activity that fuels climate change is to win hearts and minds. Governments do not do anything; they create the fiscal and legal frameworks within which individuals, employers or employees do things.

I urge members to support the Executive amendment, which acknowledges that there is not one way forward but many, and to reject the apparent attraction of nuclear energy as the big single answer, which it is not.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 10:56 am, 27th January 2005

Energy policy is reserved, but the Scottish Executive has responsibility for renewable energy policy and has in effect already created a de facto Scottish energy policy through the introduction of the renewables obligation (Scotland) scheme.

There is a Tory motion before us. I come from a former mining community and I will always remember the energy policy of the Tories, which was to destroy coal as a fuel and give us blackouts and the three-day week, which was devastating to businesses and the economy. That is the legacy of the Tories and I never want to return to such a situation.

Rob Gibson accused the Government of not taking energy policy and climate change seriously. The Government has set out a range of measures that will provide support to the renewables industry of around £1 billion every year by 2010. The Government is firmly focused on reducing CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

In a moment.

We all agree that it is vital constantly to review and develop energy policy. Despite the improvements that have been made over the past five years, today's policy will not meet tomorrow's challenges. We need to address the threat of climate change, despite the fact that UK emissions of carbon dioxide make up only about 2 per cent of the global total. As others have said, a concerted international effort is needed; it is not just about what we do here in Scotland. Scotland has its place on the global scene and I welcome immensely the real efforts that the Scottish Executive is making to ensure that we punch our weight on the world stage. We must deal with the implications of reduced UK oil, gas and coal production, which will make us a net energy importer rather than an energy exporter.

We need over the next 20 years or so to replace or update much of our energy infrastructure. With those challenges come new opportunities to shift Scotland decisively towards becoming a low-carbon economy; to develop, apply and export leading-edge technology, creating new businesses and jobs; and to lead the way in Europe and internationally in developing environmentally sustainable, reliable and competitive energy markets that will support economic growth in every part of the world.

Energy is fundamental to almost everything we do. We expect it to be available whenever we want it and we expect it to be affordable, safe and environmentally sustainable. Only when something goes wrong do we realise how much modern industrialised countries depend on extremely complicated energy systems. We have an opportunity this year not just to contribute in a big way to the Scottish energy debate, but to impact significantly on one of the countries that is most neglectful in relation to the energy challenges that the world faces.

Scotland acknowledges that energy security is one of the major challenges facing the UK. The G8 summit in Gleneagles will give the Scottish Executive, along with the rest of the UK, the opportunity to affect climate change and global energy policy by bringing the United States of America closer to the rest of the world on climate change. That is likely to be a key aim of the G8 strategy under the UK presidency of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. We have said, over and over again, that the Americans have a core role to play in the shaping of energy policy. However, what is done by other major nations, such as China and India, is also important. If President Bush hesitates yet again to demonstrate the political will to engage, I hope that our Prime Minister will reflect on how he might use his leadership of the European Union. Scotland has its place in that discussion. For the second half of this year, the presidency of the EU will be held by the UK and there will be a focus on developing a powerful, investment-driven relationship with China on energy, security and climate change, which will benefit Scotland too. The Prime Minister knows the economic clout that the EU has and, if he can persuade President Chirac of France and Chancellor Schroeder of Germany, he should use that clout.

The Chinese Government increasingly understands that it is between a rock and a hard place on climate change. It must maintain its rate of economic growth if it is to avoid social turmoil. To keep that rate of growth, it must expand its electricity supply. To do that securely, it must burn a lot of coal. If it burns a lot of coal, however, the climate will change and the Chinese environment is particularly vulnerable to a changing climate. An unstable climate will quickly lead to social turmoil in China.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I agree with what Helen Eadie says about China and coal. However, does she recognise that China has recently announced a massive increase in the development of nuclear power in the next 20 years?

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I recognise that, but at the same time I question it. I am open-minded on the nuclear debate. However, I can say that, faced with certain trouble today or likely trouble tomorrow, the Chinese Government—like every other Government—will deal with today's problem first and hope that something turns up for tomorrow. That matters for the rest of the world because China is already planning to build more than 500 coal-fired power stations between now and 2030. If they are built with current technology, there is no prospect that we will stabilise carbon dioxide concentrations at a safe level. A strong EU-China partnership on rapidly deploying advanced coal gasification and carbon sequestration technologies, wind power and other forms of renewable energy, and on harmonising high technical standards for vehicles and appliances, would alter the political landscape on climate change substantially.

Anything that China can do, India can do. Such a strong and potentially trade-promoting relationship between Europe and two of the most powerful growth engines of the global economy would certainly catch the attention of the US business community. Only Americans will eventually persuade America to do more on climate and the prospect of lost markets will carry more weight in America than even the best science.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 11:03 am, 27th January 2005

I begin by making a couple of points on the work of the European and External Relations Committee, which are relevant to this debate. Scott Barrie talked about Longannet; I inform him that the committee has decided to seek information on the difficulties that are faced by Scottish Power in relation to its eminently sensible approach to burning sewage sludge at Longannet. On Tuesday, the committee will receive information that will help us to identify whether the Scottish Executive or the Scottish Parliament could do more to assist in seeking derogations in that area.

On Helen Eadie's point about the G8 summit, I can say that the European and External Relations Committee has decided to embark on an inquiry to establish the preparedness of the Scottish Executive for the G8 summit and the UK presidency of the European Union, recognising that 2005 presents the UK Government with a unique opportunity to make major progress on vital areas of policy, particularly development aid and climate change. We also intend to establish whether the Scottish Executive is playing its full part in the preparations. The committee will report on those issues in due course.

It was a pleasure to hear Andrew Arbuckle's first speech and I wish him well in his contribution to our deliberations. He said that the Conservative motion did not mention nuclear waste; indeed, although the Conservative motion mentions quite a lot of things, it omits a number of others. It makes absolutely no mention of the tremendous energy resource that Scotland has had in the past 30 years in the shape of North sea oil. Perhaps the Conservatives are too embarrassed to mention that because that oil made a substantial contribution to propping up their discredited Governments of the 1980s and 1990s and to filling the black hole of their failed economic policies. Regardless of their dreadful record, North sea oil has since 1997 put £38 billion into the Treasury of the Labour Government.

I will pose questions about investment in the methods of generating power in our country. Why do we not have something to show for the tremendous value of revenue that has come from North sea oil? Why have we been unable to take a leaf out of Norway's book? Norway has salted away the revenues from North sea oil into a fund that is now valued at £76 billion and is able to fund revenue expenditure in that country. What if we had a similar amount of money to invest in new technology to replace some of the capacity that we have for energy generation that has passed its sell-by date and is no longer compatible with our climate-change obligations? The Government makes a great deal of the £50 million that is being invested in new renewable capacity in terms of development, but every form of electricity generation requires a great deal more investment than that to make it a practical reality.

The debate has prompted the revelation by the Government of an important element in what the Scottish Executive is doing. In its report last year, the Enterprise and Culture Committee called on the Executive to formulate a coherent energy policy for Scotland. In his introductory remarks, the minister made it clear that the Government is intent on forming that energy policy. I welcome that development of the Executive's position because there will be different circumstances north and south of the border. We already have a much greater propensity to generate renewable energy than exists south of the border, which must be reflected in the policy that is developed. We also have particular and greater challenges in relation to fuel poverty and energy efficiency so I hope that those, too, will be reflected in the Executive's energy policy.

I have raised on many occasions the core point that I want the Executive to address and about which I hope Mr Finnie can say more in his concluding remarks. It is important that the Government recognise the problem that exists in pursuing renewable energy as a central part of its energy strategy, which is that there is greater need for strategic guidance on the framework for renewable energy in Scotland. There are people in the Strathbraan and Strathmore areas in my constituency who feel that they are under siege by wind farm applications. I consider it highly unlikely that all of the huge number of applications will get the go-ahead, but reassurance from me is not sufficient replacement for a strategic guidance framework that would reassure people on the point that Mr Ruskell made about congestion of applications in certain parts of the country.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am sorry—I do not have time.

As far as I can see, there is absolutely nothing in the Government's policy that relates to congestion of applications.

I appreciate what the minister said in his opening remarks and in response to my intervention on the question of the Scottish renewables forum's study. However, while that study is being undertaken and the forum is deliberating, we need to know what decisions will be made on the applications for major wind farm developments that are currently with ministers. The problems of congestion and process need to be resolved. The feedback from all sorts of organisations—Friends of the Earth, WWF, RSPB Scotland—shows that, like the Enterprise and Culture Committee, they want the Government to come up with a better strategic planning framework. I hope that the minister can confirm that that is being developed.

Much has been said about the great white hope that is nuclear technology. Let us not forget that that industry is massively subsidised by the public purse. We must recognise that it has dangers. It would be folly for us to take an early step in that direction.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 11:09 am, 27th January 2005

There are some aspects of the Tory motion with which I agree. I, too, commend the political leadership that has been shown by the Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Allan Wilson, in his pursuit of a mature debate on the future of nuclear energy in Scotland. To those who held up their hands in horror at his views, I point out that Allan Wilson has promoted that argument for many years. It was his view before he was appointed to the Scottish Executive, so nobody should have been surprised that he supported his constituents in the nuclear industry. Likewise, I support my colleague John Home Robertson's desire to establish a cross-party group to examine many of the issues in much greater detail.

I disagree with the motion's initial premise, which is:

"that the Scottish Executive's renewable energy policy is unduly biased in favour of wind power to the detriment of other renewable technologies".

An issue arises over how the power companies have reacted to the Executive's challenging targets on energy generation from renewable sources, in that they have been over-reliant on onshore wind power, which has produced a plethora of planning applications for wind farms, particularly in areas that are accessible for connection to the national grid. Some proposed locations, such as Ae forest in my constituency, are highly inappropriate. I do not oppose wind farms per se; they will have a part to play provided that they are situated in suitable locations and have most of the local community's support. I accept that some nimbys will always want nothing in their back yards at any cost, but what matters is what the majority of a community believes.

Many reasons are possible for the flurry of onshore wind farm applications. The obvious reason—to which Shiona Baird referred—is that wind technology is far further advanced than other renewable technologies are, so it is quicker and easier to develop. Of course, there could be more devious reasons. Stirring up of public reaction to vast numbers of applications might persuade public and political opinion to support other forms of energy generation, such as other renewables or nuclear power. If the outcry is sufficient against proliferation of large-scale wind turbines, Governments might be persuaded to subsidise other alternatives more. Perhaps we cannot blame the power companies if they have that at the back of their minds.

I had the good fortune to discuss with Allan Wilson's predecessor, Lewis Macdonald, my concerns about the number of wind farm applications in Dumfries and Galloway. I was relieved to learn that councils can take a cumulative view of such applications. I believe that after that discussion, the Executive wrote to councils to ensure that they knew that they could do that.

The Executive supports research and development in tidal and wave power and in marine and solar technology. It is committed to achieving a diverse spread of renewable energy sources. For example, I recently wrote to the energy minister to support a potentially very large biomass power generation plant in my constituency—David Mundell referred to that. I received an extremely supportive and helpful reply that left me in no doubt about the minister's commitment to developing other forms of renewable power generation. Moreover, he said that he expected the forthcoming forum for renewable energy development in Scotland report to address the different subsidies for biomass crops north and south of the border, to which Alex Johnstone referred.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I welcome what I think is the first mention in the debate of biomass as a reliable source of renewable electricity generation. Does the member agree that it meets the twin aims of being renewable and providing base-load supply?

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I am happy to agree with the minister. Biomass also has great potential in areas such as Dumfries and Galloway, which has a concentration of forestry and great potential for growth in biomass crops. That is one future for us. I say that despite being one of several Scottish Labour Party members who support a balanced UK power generation policy that includes second-generation nuclear power. I accept that waste disposal is an issue, but once we have the scientific evidence about the potential for disposal not only of existing waste, but of the waste that second-generation nuclear power will produce—which will be in much smaller amounts, as John Home Robertson said—we must not run away from the fact that differences of opinion exist not only between parties, but within parties. The argument will be difficult, but we must have it.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

No. I am sorry; I am nearly in my last minute.

I question to an extent the Tory party's motivation in lodging the motion for the debate fewer than 100 days before the likely date for the next UK general election. It is notable that two speakers so far happen to be candidates for that election. I suspect the possibility of some political motivation in lodging the motion at this time.

However, I am grateful for the clarification of the SNP and Liberal Democrat positions on nuclear power and wind energy. I am sure that some of my constituents in areas such as Annan will be very interested to hear David Mundell and the Labour candidate Councillor Sean Marshall—who works at Chapelcross power station—point out those views to their potential constituents. I am sure that, when he is the Labour member of Parliament for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, Sean Marshall will argue for future nuclear generation persuasively and with deep knowledge from his previous career. He will be an excellent successor to Russell Brown.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 11:15 am, 27th January 2005

As I have only four minutes for my speech, I will take no interventions.

Energy debates are typically characterised by protagonists who represent the good, the bad and the ugly. The good—or should that be the unco guid in Burns week?—are the Greens and large swathes of the SNP and the Executive, who believe that the answers to our power requirements are blowing in the wind or washing in with the tide. The bad and the ugly are those of us who are hell-bent on lining the oil companies' pockets or destroying the planet with a mix of global warming and pollution.

My views about onshore wind farms are well known. I was pleased to play a part in the campaign to block the proposed wind farm at Clatto hill in north-east Fife. Wind farms are costly, inefficient and usually visually polluting. Offshore wind farms are even more costly, but at least they are less inefficient and less visually polluting.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

No.

Offshore wind farms have a place in the eventual renewable energy mix. Hydro, solar and biomass power will also play parts as the world tries to wean itself off oil and gas. I am not as pessimistic as some, who say that oil will start to run out in the next two decades. The Athabasca tar sands of Canada probably have as much oil as does Saudi Arabia. However, it is true that the end of the age of cheap oil is in sight.

In the UK, gas is also running out. The price of imported Norwegian gas, for example, will be the deciding factor in how long the ethylene cracker at Mossmorran in Fife survives.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

No.

In the medium term, the case for traditional nuclear power is overwhelming. According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, the cost of nuclear power is less than half that of wind power. The uranium that is used in our nuclear power stations is at least 97 per cent renewable. Nuclear power's environmental and health impact is one tenth that of coal.

Even sectors of the Greens are having to rethink their antipathy to nuclear power. Dr James Lovelock, the renowned high priest of the self-regulatory Gaian theory, has recently called for a massive expansion of nuclear power to counteract the effect of greenhouse gas emissions. The UK nuclear industry's contribution to our energy needs saves the pumping of about 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. That is the equivalent of five car-free days a month. How else do the Greens expect that to be achieved?

John Swinney talked about North sea oil. The European Commission's MARINA II study concluded that North sea oil and gas operations contribute more man-made radioactivity to the seas of northern Europe than does anything that emanates from the nuclear industry.

What about nuclear power's safety record? In the past 35 years, nuclear generation has caused no quantifiable deaths in the UK. How many have died in our mines and North sea oil rigs in the same time? I was in Finland when the Chernobyl disaster happened. Chernobyl accounted for the immediate deaths of 31 people. It is estimated that the number of deaths throughout Europe from cancer that was possibly related to Chernobyl was in the low thousands. That is a sobering and concerning figure, but it is comparable to the number of miners' deaths in the old Soviet Union alone in the same period. During that time, two people were killed in a nuclear plant in Japan. That is it. What about Three Mile Island back in 1979? That incident attracted lurid press headlines and many speeches by Ralph Nader, but nobody was killed or hurt. As far as we can see, all that was damaged was the industry's reputation.

Roll-out of a programme of new nuclear power stations will have little immediate effect as the age of cheap oil draws to a close, so we will surely need renewables to help to bridge the gap. As we have heard, Scotland is ideally placed for sources such as tidal and hydro power and for strategically placed offshore wind farms, which might use existing oil platforms.

Renewables should always be part of a sensible energy mix. As Allan Wilson said, efficiency in the sector has a vital role to play. We should not kid ourselves: the only long-term answer to the coming energy crisis is new investment in the cleanest, cheapest and safest power supply around. If we in the Conservatives are labelled bad and ugly for saying that, so be it. When people such as James Lovelock—who is no less than an honorary visiting fellow of Green College—say the same thing, surely it is better to be bad, ugly and right than unco guid and plain wrong.

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP 11:19 am, 27th January 2005

The essence of the debate is the statement by the Scottish Executive in 2002, which said:

"Scotland has the capacity to be self-sufficient in electricity from renewable energy and have plenty left over for the rest of the UK."—[Official Report, 14 March 2002; c 10237.]

I am not sure which minister said that, but it was a mission statement with which nobody in Parliament, except perhaps the Tories, would disagree. We could be self-sufficient in renewable energy. It is possible; we have wind power—23 per cent of the resource in Europe—hydroelectricity, wave power, biomass and all the other technologies. The question that the Scottish Parliament needs to address in the next decade or more is how that can be achieved. That is where the future lies. The future is not in gas, oil or nuclear power, despite Phil Gallie's defence of China. Nowhere else in the world are people rapidly moving to build nuclear power stations. We have to believe in renewable energy.

The problem is that, although a mission statement has been made by the Executive that is currently in power, and although renewable energy is a devolved issue, there is a question mark over whether the commitment exists to hit that target. To Scott Barrie, who distorted the matter, I say that the SSP's amendment does not call for nuclear power stations to close tomorrow. He knows, because he can read it, that the amendment says that we should bring forward the decommissioning and closure dates for nuclear power stations.

It is a fact that 50 per cent of the energy that is generated in Scotland is produced by nuclear power stations, although much of it is exported to England. The Executive is committed to achieving 40 per cent energy production from renewable sources by 2020. What is the problem with bringing forward the decommissioning dates on the basis that the renewables target will be met? The problem is that nobody believes that we are going to meet that target of 40 per cent. I am not sure that even the Scottish Executive believes it, although we hear about it in press releases every now and again.

Why will we not meet that target? What will it take to meet it? It will require investment, it will require the strategic framework that John Swinney talked about and it will require control over where wind farms are sited and the pace at which we develop wave-power technology. Because private companies believe that onshore wind farms are the best way forward, that has become—by default, because the matter has been left in the hands of the market—the main source of renewable energy in Scotland. Should it be the main source of renewable energy? What about wave-power technology? What about offshore wind farms? Unless there is a political commitment to developing that technology, the market and the private companies will decide what kind of renewable energy we get. If that happens, the Executive and the Scottish Parliament, on behalf of the Scottish people, will have very little say in how we reach the target of 40 per cent.

Alex Johnstone talked about keeping people in jobs. It is projected that 24,000 new jobs will be created in Scotland as a result of the move towards the renewables target. There also exists the potential to export the energy. The European Union already imports 50 per cent of its energy, and that figure will rise to 70 per cent over the next 20 or 30 years. However, we would not be importing the technology for renewable energy; it would be based in Scotland. There would also be huge potential for us to export that technology, if we were far enough ahead of the field. I am surprised that the Tories have not cottoned on to the fact that renewables technology could be a huge boost to the economy, as countries such as Denmark have found.

The national grid is central to the debate on renewables. We will not be able to bring renewable energy on stream without updating the national grid. Recently, the electricity market in Scotland has been opened up to many more electricity companies. The question is who will invest in updating the national grid? The minister nodded his head when I asked whether it was going to be the electricity companies. Which companies? Will it be those that are buying the electricity or those that need the connections—the private companies that are involved in the production of renewable energy? Do we have an estimate of how much that is going to cost? If the work is to be funded by private companies, where will the cost be handed on? How far down the line will that cost go? Will it be passed on to Scotland or to England? Will there be one price for everyone, as a result of that huge investment throughout the country, or will there be different prices depending on how far down the grid the electricity has to travel? That is a key question but, so far, we have not had any satisfactory answer from the Executive.

The nuclear power stations are coming to the end of their lives, which is why we are having the debate. The 50 per cent of our energy that they produce is under threat as those power stations come to the end of their lives and they break down—although the one that broke down was only halfway through its life. How are we going to meet the renewables target? Let us have the vision of the Executive's 2002 statement instead of mealy-mouthed apologies for the fact that we are not going to meet the target.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green 11:26 am, 27th January 2005

This has been a good debate about nuclear power and the role that it could play in the future. I welcome the fact that a cross-party group on nuclear energy has recently been established. The Greens will play a full, if sceptical, part in that cross-party group.

The key point that the Tories are making is that we can somehow tackle climate change through nuclear power. That view is not shared by the International Atomic Energy Authority; therefore, it must be viewed critically and unpicked a little. It is true that nuclear power produces less carbon than some fossils fuels that we continue to use, such as coal. Nevertheless, over time, the level of emissions that come from the whole life cycle of nuclear fuel—from mining and use of uranium to the waste that is associated with it—will rise. Uranium is a finite resource that will run out in the next 60 years, during which crucial time the level of CO2 emissions from our attempts to source an increasingly scarce fuel will increase as we try to tackle climate change. Therefore, nuclear power is simply not a practical alternative to renewable energy in the context of trying to reduce CO2 emissions.

Nuclear power is not cost-effective, either. Shiona Baird cited the figure of £83 billion that Nirex says will be needed to deal with the waste from nuclear power stations over the next 40 years—that is just what will be needed to deal with the existing waste. Are we honestly saying to the 136 countries that have signed up to the Kyoto treaty that they should go down the nuclear power route because it is a cheap and cost-effective option that uses appropriate technology and which will not bankrupt their economies? Clearly, it will not be cost-effective and will not be a real option for countries from Antigua to the Yemen that are trying to reduce CO2 emissions and that are investing in technologies that will reduce their contribution to climate change.

As the Executive has acknowledged, the key issue is waste. The minister was unable earlier to answer our question about when the waste issue will be resolved. Will it be when the minister has identified a strategy, which could be soon? Will it be when the depository is in place? Nirex estimates that it will take 25 to 40 years for us to get a waste depository in place. If we are serious about tackling climate change, we must start taking action now. We cannot wait for 20 to 40-year programmes to take effect; we must start investing now in renewable technologies that can reduce our emissions and which are not dependent on finite fuels such as uranium.

I will suggest what should be in the Executive's energy policy. Nora Radcliffe talked about energy efficiency, which is the Cinderella in any UK energy policy at the moment. The performance and innovation unit suggests that we can reduce domestic energy consumption by 40 per cent by 2020. In this country, we waste a vast amount of money through energy inefficiency—£5 billion every year. We could build the Scottish Parliament 12 times over every year with the money that is lost to our economy through wasted energy.

I welcome the fact that the Executive is making the right noises about energy efficiency, but we need a ramped-up strategy that goes for the PIU target. The Executive should look to what the German Government is doing with renewables. The German minister who is responsible for the environment has a programme to build one million solar roofs similar to the one that Mr Arbuckle has. That is the kind of micro renewable energy efficiency strategy that we need to make a dent of more than a couple of per cent in our energy needs.

Base load is clearly a difficult and technical issue. In the medium-term future, we are going to need a real mixture of renewables. We know that hydro power can provide some of the base load, but at the moment it is generating only 11 per cent of our power. No doubt there is a limit to how much we can expand hydro power in Scotland.

However, there are predictable technologies. The Tories will deny this, but the tides are predictable for hundreds of years in advance. To a certain extent, waves are also predictable. However, at the moment we do not have the cost-effective technology to harness those predictable resources. That is where we need Government investment, but £50 million pales into insignificance when it is compared to the £83 billion that we are spending on dealing with waste. We need to consider investing serious amounts of money. We should listen to the industry, which is saying that we need to invest £500 million. That is not a lot of money when we consider that it will make renewables more cost effective.

We have also had a debate about wind farm planning and some communities have genuine concerns about specific applications and proposals. The minister needs to address the cumulative issue because that is the real issue, not the hysteria that is generated by the Tories at constituency level and which Mr Brocklebank feeds off.

The real issues are congestion in the planning system, the need to assess applications against one another and the need to ensure that we can, on behalf of developers and communities, progress the right wind farm applications in the right places.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour 11:32 am, 27th January 2005

As I gathered up my papers to come to the chamber, I thought how tattered they were getting, because they have been produced so many times for debates on energy. That is not a bad thing, as this is an important debate to have, and I and other members of my group welcome the opportunity to debate energy policy once again. Unlike the SNP's tired old clichés, we have new ideas and thinking to bring to the debate and my colleagues have shown that this morning.

I heard from my colleagues and the minister a well-argued defence of a well-researched, well-thought-out and well-supported Executive energy policy. It is well supported by communities, think tanks and other groups and by many of the companies that my Tory colleagues support. They know that it presents the best opportunity for sustaining jobs and developing a policy that will create jobs and improve Scotland's contribution to the proposals on climate change.

Scott Barrie was one of those who spoke about his past difficulty with nuclear power and about the problems that exist. However, he then promoted solutions. As John Home Robertson says, there is little point in discussing problems and then promoting one solution while rubbishing some of the others.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP

Does the member not find it hypocritical of some of the members of her party to be so stringently against nuclear power but so much in favour of Trident nuclear submarines at Faslane? They seem to be on both sides at the one time.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

No, I do not.

We need to retain a mix that gives us a greater element of renewables, while maintaining and creating jobs and helping to achieve our climate change goals. The minister indicated that although there are problems with the current planning system, it is sufficiently robust to deal with the challenges, and the forum that he has established is considering the possibility of the Executive issuing locational guidance, as the Enterprise and Culture Committee asked for. I am sure that Mr Finnie will deal with that when he winds up.

We have heard relatively little about the other side of the coin, or energy efficiency, and what the Executive is doing on that. The do a little, change a lot scheme announced last week shows what domestic customers can do to reduce overall energy use. We also need to consider what is being invested to help the public sector to make its buildings and processes more efficient, or to develop biofuels so that industry can use more energy-efficient and cheaper forms of fuel.

Helen Eadie properly set the debate in its global and national context and indicated where Scotland can make a significant contribution to the aims of the UK Government. We will be able to demonstrate how Scotland is playing its part during the G8 summit later this year.

One issue that I found difficult to hear dealt with adequately is intermittency. The potential of renewable energy generating sources to provide a volume of energy cannot be gainsaid.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

I will come back to Mr Gibson in a moment.

The difficulty is in dealing with the intermittency argument. I might have some sympathy with what Frances Curran said, but she did not mention how the SSP's energy policy would deal with the issue.

In a maiden speech on which I congratulate him, Andrew Arbuckle showed that he has a lot to learn about the need for balance in our energy provision. I am sure that we will clash on the matter more than once.

What are my views? Members have heard me talk about biomass and the need for support for it, and I acknowledge what the Executive is doing. On CO2 sequestration and storage, the Environment and Rural Development Committee heard yesterday from Scottish Power that there is the potential for the entire CO2 output of a coal-fired power station to be pumped back underground, perhaps increasing the volume of oil that can be produced.

I urge members to support the Executive's amendment today and not to be blown off course by a demand for nuclear power now. Let us have the debate.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 11:38 am, 27th January 2005

Scotland is a nation blessed with massive energy resources. First, we had coal, which fulfilled our energy needs for hundreds of years. In fact, the coal reserve at Canonbie in Dumfriesshire is reputedly even bigger than the Selby coal field down south and it potentially has low-sulphur coal.

Despite all the propaganda, 34 billion barrels of oil have been produced during the past 30 years, but another 28 billion barrels are left in the North sea and could be available during the next 30 years. As John Swinney pointed out, the great tragedy is that despite having contributed £150 billion in oil revenue to the UK Treasury, Scotland has barely seen a penny of that money and certainly very little has been reinvested in our infrastructure during the past 30 years.

When it comes to gas, about 50 per cent of the UK's total gas reserves are in Scottish waters. Although the UK will become a net importer of gas this year or next, we still have a substantial gas reserve. In addition, on renewable energies, the EU has declared Scotland the wind capital of Europe. Certainly, from listening to Alex Johnstone, I can believe that.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I am delighted to hear Alex Neil telling us that Scotland has the potential to be the wind capital of Europe. Will he explain to members the interesting policy announcement that his colleague Rob Gibson made, in which he advocated a wind tax and criticised the existence of subsistence through the renewables obligation certificates that are given to renewable energy providers? It was an interesting statement. If we are to be the renewables capital of Europe, I think that Mr Neil needs to clarify Mr Gibson's statement.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

That is a disingenuous misinterpretation of what Mr Gibson said, which was that if we had our own treasury in Scotland, the profit from wind, like the profit from oil and gas, would be circulated back into the Scottish economy instead of going to subsidise London and south-east England.

In some ways, this debate is six months early, because the study to which Allan Wilson referred is the one that should inform the debate and the Executive's and the Parliament's decision making. The study that is being undertaken by AEA Technology—a company, by the way, that is withdrawing from the nuclear industry—will point out when and where we might face an energy gap in Scotland. The energy gap will probably occur between around 2025 and 2030. Once we get that study and get an indication from present trends of whether there will be an energy gap and, if so, its scale, we will have to decide. I take the point that the decisions have to be made sooner rather than later. No matter which option or mix we go for, we will have to start the process in the next few years, because we will have to go through planning, getting the capital investment and getting any new capacity up and running. We cannot wait for a decade or more.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I agree with much of what Alex Neil said about the wealth of Scotland's assets and I agree also about the importance of the report on future development. However, it is unfortunate that he and his party seem to have closed their minds to the nuclear issue. Does he not feel shame about that, given Scotland's record on nuclear generation? Is not it the case that the SNP are faint-hearts rather than bravehearts?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

The SNP's policy decision on nuclear power is based, like its other policy decisions, on objective analysis. The analysis of nuclear power is, first, that it is dangerous. There is no answer to the problem of nuclear waste. As Mark Ruskell pointed out, it will probably be 30 or 40 years before we have a national depository. It is disgraceful that we in Scotland have to land our waste on people south of the border. In my view, every country that produces nuclear waste should have to recycle its own waste.

The waste argument is not the only one, because, secondly, nuclear energy is uneconomic. If the money that it took to bail out British Energy had been invested instead in renewables or the other technologies that Christine May mentioned, we would be much further ahead of the game than we are.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No, the member is in his last minute.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I would love to take an intervention—come, come, come—but I am in my last minute and I do not think that I am allowed to take one.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I cannot give you any more time.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

You have six seconds left, Mr Neil—use them well.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Okay. On that basis, I ask members to support the SNP amendment, which is the only sensible one in the Business Bulletin today.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 11:44 am, 27th January 2005

The debate has been interesting and I, too, congratulate Andrew Arbuckle on making his maiden speech in the midst of the debate. I note with interest that, even in his maiden speech, Andrew Arbuckle was able to take and deal with interventions, which was in stark contrast to Mr Brocklebank, who lectured us yet again, which added to a difficult week for him. I understand that he was asked to give a speech at a Burns supper, but failed to do so. He then gave us a lecture during the debate instead of a speech, in which he might have taken interventions.

By and large, the debate has been good and it has raised a number of issues about which we are all concerned. In the Executive's contribution to the debate, my colleague Allan Wilson was right to put the issue in the context of our imperative need to address and answer the challenge of climate change. It is within that context that the Executive is taking a broad-based approach to energy and energy supply. Allan Wilson was also right to tackle the issue to which Mark Ruskell and many other members referred, which is that the question is not just about energy generation but about tackling energy efficiency, which can contribute equally to how we tackle the whole energy issue.

Many members raised interesting questions about the prospects for renewables. On wind, I think that there was a misunderstanding about the number of applications. John Swinney has rightly and persistently asked about addressing the strategic issue not just within local authorities but on a broader base. On individual applications, which Elaine Murray and others raised, we are disappointed about the current situation, because national planning policy guideline 6 entitles a local authority to take a strategic view of how it wants to allocate applications within its area. Current planning law entitles local authorities to take a view on the cumulative effect of applications. It is not good enough to say that if an application for a particular piece of ground is suitable, it will be granted. John Swinney and others made interesting points about that. Local authorities are not utilising the planning powers and the guidance to their full. As my colleague Allan Wilson said, we are considering the issue of whether applications are being viewed more strategically Scotland-wide in the context of our energy policy.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The minister is going some way towards addressing the issue that concerns me. However, the specific applications in my constituency will be resolved predominantly by the Scottish Executive rather than by the local authority. Therefore, the minister's point about the entitlement under planning law to take a cumulative view might apply to the Executive, but it does not apply to the local authorities. Members of the public would appreciate a clearer statement of how the ability to take a cumulative view applies, and I hope that that will come from the study to which the minister referred. Finally, what will happen to applications while the review is being undertaken?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Regrettably, we have to deal with the law as it stands. We cannot intervene. The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 is in place. We have written to local authorities to try to explain to them the powers that they have. We understand the pressures on local authorities. On John Swinney's point about the Executive needing to take a broader view to ensure that, irrespective of where applications go, they are dealt with in a more ordered way, there are powers that help local authorities and we are trying to point that out to them.

There is no question but that the drive for wind energy comes from the mature state of that technology and its cost base. However, the Executive is not actively promoting only a single response to renewable energy. We are extremely concerned to see the development of wave, tidal, biomass, solar and hydrogen energy; indeed, we even want extensions to our existing hydro energy.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I am grateful to Mr Finnie for giving way. He did not mention hydro, but I hope that hydro will be part of the portfolio.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Well, in that case, will the minister answer this question? Why is the Executive promoting new rating rules from 1 April this year that will result in a 400 per cent increase in the rates bills paid by some small-scale hydro schemes? How does that help the renewables industry?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

It is interesting that Mr Fraser's intervention was based on my not having mentioned hydro when I had. However, I will try to deal with his question.

There will be no economic impact on small hydro schemes, because they will still come under the ROCs scheme. Small developments can apply for ROCs as well, so there are still incentives for small-scale schemes to take place.

The major issue, about which we became overly obsessed, is the nuclear debate. David Mundell told us "to seriously address" the issue. Leaving aside the rather grotesque split infinitive in that injunction, I believe that it is a major issue for us to consider. However, I put one point to Mr Mundell: it is not good enough simply to say that he has evidence of how nuclear power might be addressed efficiently. If he is concerned about sustainable development, he must also be prepared to address waste. He cannot simply ignore it, and it is not good enough to say that he has spoken to the workers and asked them whether they want to keep working in the industry.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The minister's amendment suggests that any decision on nuclear power will be taken only on the basis of waste management issues. Will he confirm that economics and other dangers must also be taken into account before any decision is taken?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

That is fairly self-evident. What we are saying is that the Executive's energy policy is ambitious, balanced and realistic. We are supporting the development of a range of renewable technologies. Our 40 per cent targets will make a significant contribution and they are based on evidence from a long period of consultation. Our proposed energy efficiency strategy will have a significant impact on reducing carbon emissions.

I am in no doubt about the importance of advancing and developing renewable technologies and of promoting increased energy efficiency. I believe that, in both areas, we have set attainable targets, and I believe that the policies that we have put in place and the investment that we are making in new technology will help us to achieve that. I commend our amendment to the Parliament. It is a balanced and fair approach to renewable energy.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 11:52 am, 27th January 2005

This has been a good debate, with measured and well-informed contributions from all sides of the chamber. I congratulate Andrew Arbuckle on his maiden speech, which was delivered in excellent fashion, and I am sure that he will be an adornment to the chamber. On the substance of his speech, all I can say is that he is keeping up the tradition of his predecessor, Mr Raffan, with a strange detachment from reality.

The Scottish Executive claims to have a strategy for our future energy needs. In reality, it is little more than headlines about meeting renewable energy targets. Members will be aware that I have raised in the chamber on numerous occasions my concern about the overdevelopment of onshore wind farms. According to the Scottish Wind Assessment Project, there are nearly 400 either current or proposed planning applications for wind turbines. Rural communities in areas such as Perthshire feel under threat from wind farm developers. I cannot believe that it is in the long-term interests of our vital tourism industry to be seeking to overdevelop onshore wind capacity.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Will Murdo Fraser clarify the Tories' policy? Is it what Mr Johnstone said, which is that they accept some wind farms, or is what Mr Brocklebank said, which is that they do not accept any wind farms?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

If Mr Neil had been listening, he would have heard that we accept the need for onshore wind farms, but in a very limited number of situations. There is an overemphasis on onshore wind at the moment.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I will not give way at the moment; I need to make progress.

The fundamental problem is the lack of national strategic guidance about the siting of wind farms. The Enterprise and Culture Committee's report on the matter was unanimous. It said that such guidance is essential, as local councils up and down the land are crying out for assistance. The Executive has now said that it will consider the matter and review the planning guidance, but not until 2006. Therefore, we need a moratorium on locally opposed wind farms until the new planning guidance is in place. Otherwise, the 400 applications that I referred to will be determined on the basis of the current planning guidance, which it is accepted is inadequate. That cannot be in anyone's interests.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

We know what Mr Fraser is opposed to. He wants a moratorium. Will he tell us in what circumstances he would approve a wind farm and in what circumstances he would support a wind farm, and which parts of the country he thinks should have them?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Our proposal is that we should have a moratorium where there is substantial local opposition—a concept that is accepted in planning law—to a specific proposal. Where there is substantial local opposition, I will oppose a wind farm.

While presiding over a free-for-all for onshore wind, the Executive is woefully inadequate when it comes to encouraging other types of renewable energy. There is great potential for small-scale hydro schemes in Scotland, yet Executive policy discriminates against such producers. Small hydro generators that sell power to neighbouring properties or to third parties within their own estates are not entitled to ROCs, because the power is supplied through what is known as an exempt supplier system. The Executive must consider that. In addition, as I pointed out to Ross Finnie, the impact of new rules that will come in from 1 April this year will mean huge increases of up to 400 per cent in rates bills for small hydro generators. Why? Because they will be assessed on the ROCs that they have received. The Executive's own policy is damaging the growth of the renewable sector. Whatever happened to joined-up Government?

Another example of the failure of Executive policy, which other members have raised, concerns the burning of waste-derived fuel at Longannet power station. I appreciate that it is rather too near lunch time to go into the detail of all that, but waste is a renewable resource. By burning it, burning of coal is displaced, and that has to be good for emissions and the environment. If the waste were not burned, it would have to go to landfill, yet the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has just stopped the burning of waste-derived fuel at Longannet by taking court action against Scottish Power and Scottish Water. We have the bizarre concept of two public agencies employing Queen's counsel at the taxpayers' expense to fight it out in a court action in the Court of Session, and both of them report to the same minister—Mr Finnie. For goodness' sake, can we not get a grip on that and try to pursue a coherent renewables policy, instead of allowing two agencies to fight it out?

If Executive policy on renewables is flawed, SNP policy is foolish. The SNP wants to increase the percentage of electricity generated in Scotland from renewable sources by 2010 from the Scottish Executive's target of 18 per cent to 25 per cent, but that increase can come only from additional wind capacity. It was interesting to see Alex Salmond on Tuesday talking up wind generation, as Richard Lochhead has done today. At the same time, SNP representatives in areas such as Perthshire and the Borders are going round telling local communities that they oppose this or that wind farm development. The SNP cannot have it both ways.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

If the SNP supports an increase in wind power, it needs to be open about that and tell us and local communities on which sites it intends to develop wind farms. The message to people in Perthshire and elsewhere is clear: "Vote SNP. There will be a wind farm coming to a hill near you very soon." If Mr Stevenson wants to tell us which wind farms he will support, I will give way to him.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I think that the member should consider whether the SNP is entirely consistent. We support wind farms—as I do in my constituency—in appropriate locations, and we oppose them in inappropriate locations. We need national guidelines that give consistency.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I look forward to SNP representatives in Perthshire and the Borders telling us which applications for which hills they are going to support. I await that with interest.

We have used the debate to raise also the question of the future of nuclear energy in Scotland—a question that hardly anyone but the Conservatives has dared to raise in recent years. We are starting to see a consensus develop. As David Mundell said, people such as Professor David Simpson, Sir Alec Broers and even the green guru, Professor James Lovelock, now believe that it is essential that we start expanding our nuclear capacity.

We recognise the problems with nuclear power, in particular the question of waste, but it is only by having a debate about the issues that we will start to find solutions. It is instructive that, in countries such as Finland, public opinion has been won over by the Government leading on the issue. That is what we must do.

"does it make sense, at the very time when climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gases have shot up the political agenda, to be planning the elimination of nuclear power?"

Those are not my words, but the words of the Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Allan Wilson, writing in the Sunday Herald on 26 December. I could not agree more.

It is not just Allan Wilson on the Executive benches who thinks like that, thank goodness. I pay tribute to John Home Robertson's long support for the nuclear industry, and I wish him well with his new cross-party group on the civil nuclear industry. I hope that that helps the debate to move along. We should not be like the sheep in "Animal Farm" chanting, "Nuclear bad, renewables good." We need a well-informed debate about the issues.

Current Executive policy on renewable energy is driving a massive expansion in onshore wind, to the detriment of new technologies. Furthermore, Executive policies are prejudicing existing renewable production through small-scale hydro schemes and the burning of waste-derived fuel. It is time for us to stop swamping our countryside with wind turbines and to take a more measured and responsible approach. Above all, it is time for us to start considering seriously the nuclear option before time runs out. Thank goodness that we have visionary figures such as Allan Wilson and John Home Robertson on the Executive benches, who are prepared to raise the issues, and thank goodness that we have an effective and responsible Opposition in the Scottish Conservatives, who are prepared to allow those issues to be debated.