Last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth launched “The Government Economic Strategy”, which reaffirms the Scottish Government’s prime purpose of pursuing sustainable economic growth.
Economic conditions have changed since we launched our first economic strategy in 2007. Although we face many challenges, we are also presented with new opportunities that, we believe, offer considerable potential to Scotland.
A key opportunity, which our strategy establishes as a new strategic priority for Scotland, is the transition to a low-carbon economy. By promoting the low-carbon transition, we can reindustrialise Scotland as a renewable energy powerhouse and a centre for low-carbon technologies, while securing a high-quality environment and sustainable legacy for future generations. Through its contribution to building a more dynamic and faster growing economy, we will increase prosperity, be better placed to tackle Scotland’s health and social challenges and better able to establish a fairer and more equal society.
Scotland is rich in economic potential. Our natural resources give us an unparalleled competitive advantage. Our people are creative, ambitious and resilient; our entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers are world leaders.
The low-carbon sector could maintain 130,000 jobs by 2020—we already have 70,000 people working in that sector, so we can in effect double the number by 2020—and be a focus for new private sector capital investment. That is in addition to the 200,000 jobs in the oil and gas sector and the exciting opportunities that exist in the field, particularly in subsea work and decommissioning.
I will give way to Mr Harvie later on when I have made more progress.
We cannot let those opportunities pass us by.
One of the greatest opportunities for Scotland is in renewable energy. Offshore wind alone could reach 10GW of generating capacity. It could bring in £30 billion of inward investment and deliver 28,000 jobs. It could also reach £14 billion in electricity sales by 2050.
Those are glittering prizes and staggering figures, but they are just one element of the renewables revolution. We have ambitious targets, such as the target to meet 100 per cent of our demand for electricity from renewable energy by 2020; to produce from renewables what we consume. That is achievable. However, it is not easy, so we cannot be complacent.
The “2020 Route Map for Renewable Energy in Scotland” reflects the challenges and opportunities of that new target. It goes further than any previous plan for renewable energy in Scotland and sets out a comprehensive path towards achieving our ambition to be the green energy powerhouse of Europe.
The national renewables infrastructure plan, which has identified locations throughout Scotland that offer the greatest potential for private developers, outlines how more green jobs could be created through the development of regional manufacturing zones built around key port locations. The £70 million national renewables infrastructure fund will help to lever in private sector investment to develop the necessary infrastructure to support that.
A low-carbon economy that promotes the sustainable use of resources will make us more resilient to unpredictable commodity prices and volatile fuel prices and offer greater protection to those who are most at risk from rising costs. Next month we will publish the first annual progress report on our energy efficiency action plan, setting out significant achievements that have been made during the past year. For example, almost 300,000 Scots benefited from our energy saving Scotland local advice network, including 6,800 households that received help to upgrade to new efficient boilers. Almost 30,000 insulation measures were installed under our universal home insulation scheme.
I am pleased to announce today that, as further support for Scottish householders, we will launch the solid-wall insulation loan scheme in Orkney and Fife this autumn. That is a £550,000 pilot scheme to offer owner-occupiers interest-free loans of up to £15,000.
Does the minister recognise that there are concerns in some parts of the country, not about the universal home insulation scheme per se, but about the ability of smaller local businesses that have expertise in the area to compete with large contractors in securing those contracts?
We always want such schemes to operate as effectively as possible and are happy to engage with any local businesses or their representatives. I engage regularly with bodies that work in the field and represent various trades and I will be happy to continue to do so. If Mr Macdonald has any particular suggestions to make or individuals he believes that I could usefully meet, I will be more than happy to take up those suggestions and work with him on that.
Opportunities exist across the Scottish economy for business and industry. In an independent study, Scottish businesses were estimated to stand to save £1,800 million by reducing waste and making more efficient use of materials. That money saved could grow businesses and help to create jobs. Scotland’s zero waste plan has shifted our focus to the resource potential of the waste that we produce. Food waste, in particular, is a resource that could benefit Scotland. If we were able to use anaerobic digestion to process the current level of our food waste and produce a gas fuel, I am told that we could produce enough electricity to power Dundee. Greater resource productivity is a driver of competitive advantage, just like greater labour productivity, and the Government’s economic strategy reflects the importance of resource efficiency as a key driver of growth in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
I turn to skills. To take the opportunities that I have described, we must have the right people with the right skills and expertise. Skills Development Scotland has published the national plan for the energy sector that sets out actions to shape future work programmes and prioritise how we invest resources. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council has also provided financial support for the recently established energy skills partnership, providing a collaborative approach across Scottish colleges.
An additional £1 million has been made available for Skills Development Scotland to create up to 500 modern apprenticeships in 2011-12, specifically to support Scotland’s energy and low-carbon industries. The low carbon skills fund provides financial support to employers who upskill and reskill their employees in low-carbon technologies, already benefiting more than 800 Scottish workers. Those actions are helping to create a solid skills foundation and supporting inward investment.
There can be no doubt that Scotland is committed to making the transition to a low-carbon economy. Our target in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 sets out actions that will far exceed our own time in the Parliament. Earlier this month, my colleague Stewart Stevenson announced a batch of annual targets for the period 2023 to 2027. That underlines Scotland’s long-term commitment to the low-carbon agenda and sends a clear signal to investors.
Many international speakers, panellists and delegates will respond to that signal when they arrive in Edinburgh next week to take part in Scotland’s second international low-carbon investment conference, which the Scottish Government is proud to support. It will build on last year’s success, which drew in investors, financiers and key business figures from the renewables sector. This year’s event will also focus on investment in smart cities, clean technologies and energy and resource efficiency.
Scotland’s demonstration of its position as the destination for low-carbon investment makes clear what we mean about the transition to a low-carbon economy. It is about making ourselves more competitive now and protecting our environment for future generations, combating fuel poverty now and making the economy more resilient to future energy price shocks, and about Scotland leading the world now and showing the way towards a sustainable future.
That the Parliament recognises the Scottish Government’s determination to achieve and deliver sustainable economic growth by promoting the transition to a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy across all sectors; acknowledges the potential for up to 10 GW of electricity from offshore wind in Scotland and that the potential for still more large-scale development of offshore wind, wave and tidal energy over the coming decades represents the biggest opportunity for sustainable economic growth in Scotland for a generation; notes the vision and purpose underlying the 2020 Routemap for Renewable Energy in Scotland, the enterprise agencies’ National Renewables Infrastructure Plan and associated National Renewables Infrastructure Fund and the Energy Skills Investment Plan; supports the Scottish Government in setting the right policy and funding framework to reinforce Scotland’s position as a destination for global low-carbon investment; agrees that its ambitious approach to climate change is critical in providing long-term certainty for business and investors, and recognises the Scottish Government’s commitment to resource efficiency through the Energy Efficiency Action Plan for Scotland and the Zero Waste Plan, which is already expanding waste reprocessing capacity and cutting carbon emissions.?
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.
We welcome the debate on a low-carbon economy and the opportunity to address some of the issues that arise in seeking a low-carbon future for Scotland. The minister talked about how the transition to a low-carbon economy can support sustainable economic growth. We agree that it can, but we also recognise that the achievement of both economic and environmental benefits at the same time is not inevitable and that every reduction in carbon dependence will not necessarily contribute to an increase in economic growth.
Labour’s concern in the debate is how to achieve a win-win outcome of more job creation and fewer carbon emissions, which will require Government not just to proclaim the potential benefits, although that is important, but to identify the barriers to progress and the actions that are required to overcome them.
Scotland is fortunate in this respect: we have academic and scientific strengths not just in energy engineering and technologies, but in the wider challenge of understanding climate change and what has to be done to slow it down and mitigate its effects. For example, the Royal Society of Edinburgh produced a major report during the last parliamentary session that informed the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s inquiry into Scotland’s energy future, which in turn influenced the development of Scottish Government policy.
This year, the RSE has published a detailed report “Facing up to climate change: breaking the barriers to a low-carbon Scotland”, which again highlights many of the practical issues that we need to address if we are to turn rhetoric into reality. The report stated that its
“single most important finding is that change is held back by the lack of coherence and integration of policy at different levels of governance.”
That conclusion should dispel any complacency on the part of ministers who aspire to give a lead in delivering precisely that coherence and integration of policy that the inquiry found to be lacking. All the route maps in the world will fail to deliver if the destination is not clearly agreed in the first place. That said, we acknowledge and support efforts to increase coherence across different levels of Government, and we encourage ministers to continue to build on those efforts.
Labour led the first Scottish Government to develop a green jobs strategy some six years ago and established the policy framework that has seen wind power, in particular, and other new forms of technology become a large and growing part of Scotland’s energy mix. We are proud of our record in Government and we will support initiatives that build on our approach.
In this year’s election, we called for a green new deal to support the installation of low-carbon energy sources, such as solar panels, in up to 10,000 homes. We argued that that would create jobs and training opportunities as well as carbon savings and cost benefits to consumers. We welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has taken forward action in that area to allow local councils and housing associations to take advantage of feed-in tariffs, and it has established a team to plan for further actions that will qualify for support under the renewable heat incentive. We would like ministers to go further in all those areas to allow the greatest possible benefit to social housing providers and tenants from the available forms of support and to spread the good practice of local councils that are already acting to support low-carbon energy initiatives.
We would like action to support the retrofitting of energy efficiency measures in Scotland’s homes as a way of tackling fuel poverty and cutting carbon emissions, but it is also important that every opportunity is taken to improve the energy efficiency of new housing stock, in both the owner-occupied and rented sectors.
One of the most disappointing aspects of yesterday’s budget and spending review, which Rhoda Grant highlighted a few minutes ago, is the decision to cut funding for new affordable housing supply by 50 per cent over the next two years, from £268 million to £133 million. That squeeze on housing providers can only set back the achievement of our low-carbon objectives.
The Royal Society of Edinburgh expressed concern in its report about insulation standards already being squeezed as money has got tighter over the last 12 months. Those budget cuts will only make the situation worse.
District heating and combined heat and power schemes can save energy that is currently being produced and wasted. The savings, in both carbon and cost, can be substantial, as the experience of the Aberdeen Heat and Power Company has shown. In this year’s election, Labour argued for more such schemes, and we know that the costs of district heating schemes can be cut by more than half if they are provided as part of a new development rather than retrofitted. This is another area in which we believe that Government can do more. Investment in new housing should be accompanied by investment in the transition to a low-carbon economy. To be fair, the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s critique is not of failings at any one level of Government, so much as of failure to join up the policies and actions of public authorities at different levels.
The current electricity market reform proposals are a case in point. The United Kingdom Government’s proposals for a carbon floor price for coal are potentially in conflict with the development of carbon capture and storage as part of Scotland’s transition to a low-carbon economy. UK Ministers would no doubt argue that raising the carbon price of coal sharply will incentivise new technologies. However, there are significant risks that pricing coal out of the market will actually prevent the development of CCS for coal-burning power stations and that the supply of electricity from conventional power stations will be reduced sharply before other technologies are ready to fill the gap.
Does the member note that there are now seven operational carbon capture power stations in China and two in the United States, whereas across the whole of Europe there is none? Does that not reflect a failure of policy that stretches rather further back than the election in May 2010?
No, I do not accept that there has been a failure of policy on carbon capture and storage. I do not yet make that accusation against the current UK Government, but I highlight the risk that it runs with the carbon floor price if it is not very careful.
We have always argued that it is wrong for Government at this stage in the development of new technologies to rule out any low-carbon source of energy supply. We have made that criticism of the Scottish Government’s approach and we are equally entitled to raise that concern about the UK Government’s approach. I hope that the Scottish ministers will join us in seeking answers to the questions that must be put to UK ministers about the impact of the carbon floor price on carbon capture and storage.
The RSE made recommendations, which are supported by others, on the infrastructure and management of the electricity grid in Scotland. The RSE states that the optimal exploitation of renewables in Scotland chimes with the priorities of the European Union, the UK Government, the Scottish Government and National Grid, but that there is a need for a coherent and agreed plan.
We support that, but we also believe that the Scottish Government has primary responsibility for enabling the upgrade of the grid within Scotland, not least the Beauly to Denny line. Far too much time has already been lost in providing that critical piece of infrastructure. The export grids that ministers are fond of highlighting require the Beauly to Denny line to be in place first, and the Scottish Government therefore has a responsibility for that.
There are also issues around the joining up of policy in Scotland. I again refer to the RSE report, which highlighted concerns about the balance of transport policy. For example, the report praised the policy of concessionary bus fares for improving travel options, reducing car journeys and supporting rural bus services, but it expressed worries about whether the national rail priority of cutting intercity times was in conflict with the commuter needs of the main city regions. The report suggested that there is a need for clearer leadership and greater consistency in those and other areas, where other public bodies may be in the front line but the Scottish Government could clearly have a role to play.
All of those issues are part of the low-carbon debate. Although energy and waste are important, a low-carbon Scotland will be achieved only if there is a joining-up of policy across Government and between different levels of government. We believe that a lot has been done in Scotland since devolution, but there is a lot still to do. We need action to deliver against commitments and targets that all parties can support, and in that spirit I move amendment S4M-00902.3, to leave out from “acknowledges” to end and insert:
“recognises also that delivery of that objective will require effective implementation of a range of policies by government at every level, and believes that these should include retrofitting of domestic energy efficiency measures, more resources to tackle fuel poverty and limit price impacts on consumers, as well as action on grid infrastructure, support for a diverse energy mix and measures to give local communities a stake in the future low-carbon economy.”
Many who are veterans of these debates will be aware that my view on the green agenda is one not so much of enthusiastic support but more of reluctant acceptance. I make that qualification to make it clear to as many as possible that while the Conservatives move along the road we do so perhaps concerning ourselves more with the implications of the detail and ensuring that we do not make any mistakes based on overenthusiasm.
That is why, when we talk about the transition to a low-carbon economy, we in the Conservative Party genuinely believe that there is an opportunity to rejuvenate the economy of Scotland to build new industries. In fact, we genuinely believe that there need not be a clash between the needs of greening the economy and the fundamental economic growth that is so important.
We supported the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 when it passed through the Parliament, although we expressed our concerns as it passed. Nonetheless, in response to reports that it may cost up to £8 billion to achieve the targets, I repeat the warning that Conservatives have given in this chamber before: that we need to ensure that we are not reducing emissions by wrecking the economy. That is where we stand and it is the position that we will continue to take.
The motion before us is hard to disagree with. It is a comprehensive motion that covers the complete agenda of what is necessary to achieve our objectives. Even the proposals in the Labour amendment are not fundamentally disagreeable and, consequently, may find support on this side of the chamber.
The key elements that we have chosen to highlight in our amendment are the impact of offshore renewable installations, which my colleague Jamie McGrigor will deal with in more detail later, and the element that I included and which I want to speak about at some length: nuclear power and where it stands in Scotland’s future. That will come as no surprise to anyone, as it is an issue that many of my colleagues and I have raised before.
When we look at Scotland’s future energy needs as we green the economy, it is essential that we understand that there are a number of key elements in energy requirement. There is the need to ensure that when we flick the switch the lights come on. It is not as simple as it sounds. It means that when people go to their work in the morning they have to be sure that there is power to run the factory or whatever. It also means that, if someone is in a home that depends on electricity for its heating and lighting, they must not be left without. That energy must be available and affordable.
That is a key element of where we are today. We already know that electricity prices are higher in real terms than they have been at any time in the past. We know that the demand exists, yet we have a Government that is determined to put its eggs in not one but two key baskets: renewable energy and carbon capture and storage.
Did the member notice that Siemens has announced that it is withdrawing entirely from the nuclear industry? In doing so, it laid out clearly the fact that it could not continue to develop nuclear power stations without considerable public subventions and that it does not see that as sustainable in the long term. Does the member agree with that assessment?
It has never been the Conservatives’ position that we should have new nuclear power stations at any cost. What I am talking about today is the cost of energy and the cost of achieving the objectives that we in this Parliament have set for ourselves.
Renewables are dependent on support mechanisms—feed-in tariffs or renewables obligation certificates—so that source of energy is significantly more expensive than some of the alternatives.
Carbon capture and storage has all the advantages of coal-fired or gas power stations, which we know of, but it has the additional cost of dealing with the waste product. In this environment, if we are to have affordable and available electricity supplies in the longer term, and if we are to cut the impact of carbon emissions on our economy, we must take the opportunity that is afforded us by our nuclear power stations to generate low-carbon—carbon-free in the eyes of many—electricity and use that to achieve the objectives that we have set out.
I cannot, I am afraid. I am working my way towards a finish.
It is clear from statements that have been made by the minister that he accepts the principle that lifetime extension of our existing power stations is a major part of decarbonising electricity generation in Scotland in the longer term. Yet, lifetime extension alone will not achieve that objective. Our 2050 targets can be reached only if we have nuclear-generated electricity available to us at that time, and that will not come from our existing power stations with lifetime extensions. That is why I have made it clear in my amendment that it is vital that the Government take the lessons that it has learned, continue its willingness to consider lifetime extension of our existing power stations as a viable option and use its experience and understanding to deliver a ground-breaking level of leadership that will take us forward and permit the operating companies to consider the replacement of our two nuclear power stations with facilities that will be cleaner, safer and more efficient, and which will deliver a carbon-free electricity system for Scotland in the long term.
I move amendment S4M-00902.1, to insert at end:
“; recognises the Scottish Government’s responsibility in the positioning of offshore wind turbines and wave and tidal machinery with respect to the safety and sustainability of marine species, both migratory and non-migratory, and the marine environment, and the potential impact on cetaceans; further notes that, by accepting the importance of lifetime extension, the Scottish Government has now acknowledged the vital role that nuclear power stations play in achieving Scotland’s carbon emission targets, but believes that, for this to carried through to 2050, the Scottish Government must now bring forward a plan for the inclusion of new nuclear generating capacity to replace Hunterston B and Torness at the end of their working lives.”
I am proud to be a member of this Parliament and proud of the fact that the previous Parliament approved the most ambitious climate change legislation that exists. I am surprised that the legislation ended up being passed unanimously, having heard what Alex Johnstone said just now. In recent times, we have heard David Cameron pontificating about the Conservatives’ green agenda—so green that the Conservatives changed their party logo to a tree. However, if atomic Alex Johnstone gets his way, maybe his preferred leadership candidate can change the logo of the party in Scotland—whatever its name may be—to either a belching chimney or a nuclear power station.
Much has already been done in Scotland to create a low-carbon economy, but much more needs to be done. I am glad that the Government is doing all that it can in that regard. I am proud to represent a constituency in the energy capital of Europe. Already, in my constituency and throughout Aberdeen, much has been done to create a low-carbon environment. Lewis Macdonald mentioned Aberdeen Heat and Power Company; I am pleased that politicians of all hues in Aberdeen have backed that company. The key for me is not just the saving in carbon emissions, but the saving in costs to the people who pay the bills.
We have heard about the volatility of fuel prices. As a result of the schemes that exist in Aberdeen thus far, residents’ fuel bills have been cut by up to 50 per cent, which is pretty spectacular stuff. Beyond that, the emissions from buildings have been cut by 56 per cent. Much more needs to be done on combined heat and power, however, and I am proud that the Government recently gave £1 million to Aberdeen Heat and Power Company to extend the services that it provides. Combined heat and power is one of the things we need to see across Scotland. There have been failures in certain areas and ministers have been talking to experts in areas where it succeeded.
Aberdeen Heat and Power Company received £1 million from the Government recently and is also seeking moneys from elsewhere, including the private sector. In itself, that can create the required investment. I pay tribute to those who work at Aberdeen Heat and Power Company—in particular, Janice Lyons, who has been in the vanguard of this work and who deserves tribute. The work that she has done has led to the organisation’s receiving the outstanding achievement in housing award at the UK housing awards 2008, and the sustainability award in the innovation and progress category of the Guardian newspaper public sector awards in the same year. That shows how good Aberdeen Heat and Power Company is.
I also thank the previous Government for having the foresight to locate the Scottish European Green Energy Centre in the University of Aberdeen. I am sorry if I am being too parochial, but that is the way it is. That organisation’s existence has led to a number of achievements, not least of which is the securing of €40 million for the development of the European offshore wind deployment centre. That is extremely important for the city and the shire and the sooner it is in place, the better. It is a partnership between the public and private sectors. I pay tribute to Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, Vattenfall Wind Power UK and Technip for bringing it forward.
In Aberdeen city and shire, we have developed a huge amount of skills to be used in the renewable energy sector. I hope we will be able to ensure we can develop further skills to be at the forefront of this new industry. I fully agree with the motion in the name of the minister and I urge everyone to support it.
I want to concentrate on energy from a constituency point of view. There are wider agendas in achieving a low-carbon Scotland, including a step change in housing insulation and a serious drive towards a green transport strategy.
I want to ask what should be included in a definition of green energy, and to ask that question in the context of Forth Ports Ltd’s plans for Leith docks. At a recent meeting with the chief executive of Forth Ports, I was told that the company—which has recently been taken over by Arcus—was abandoning its housing plans for the Leith docks area in order to develop a renewable energy hub based on offshore wind and large-scale biomass, the latter as Forth Energy in partnership with Scottish and Southern Energy. For Forth Ports, these two go hand in hand, but I want to challenge the green credentials of large-scale biomass while welcoming the prospect of Leith docks as a site for the manufacture and assembly of wind turbines, as envisaged in Scottish Enterprise’s national renewables infrastructure plan. There have been massive campaigns in Leith over the past year or more against the proposed large-scale biomass plant at Leith docks. This action has been spearheaded by the formidable and admirable no Leith biomass group.
I have submitted detailed objections that cover the many specifically local implications as well as the wider climate change consequences. Given the subject of our debate, I want to concentrate on the latter, although visual, traffic and local environmental concerns are all covered in my submission, which is on my website and the Scottish Government’s website—I thank the Scottish Government for that.
Greener Leith is a key organisation that opposes the proposal, and its website refers to many important reports that question the green credentials of large-scale biomass. For example, it refers to a new report that has been produced by a coalition of European non-governmental organisations, which raises a host of environmental concerns about the growth and use of biomass for electricity generation, and includes a startling graph that shows that a biomass plant that uses a typical European-managed forest would result in increased carbon emissions for the first two and a half centuries. Perhaps that is not too surprising if we consider that burning wood emits more carbon in the short run than burning coal. The scenario could be even worse if unsustainable plantations are used, and stopping that would be impossible in the future, despite the current guarantees from Forth Energy.
On its website, Greener Leith highlights a key quote from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which has said:
“In particular, we are concerned that the methodology deployed to calculate the lifetime green house gas savings” of the scheme—that is, the Leith biomass plant proposal—
“includes an assumption of zero emissions from land within the growing cycle of the fuels ... This is likely to be incorrect and therefore leads to a potentially significant underestimate of green house gas emissions from the fuel. The calculation of green house gas savings from transport may also be underestimated.”
Forth Energy has consistently promoted the idea that burning wood fuel and replenishing crops after harvest limits the levels of carbon that are released into the atmosphere, but an increasing number of environmental organisations have stated that that position is too simplistic. The long-term effects of biomass combustion on the atmosphere and on climate change depend on the type of feedstock that is used, how sustainable the source is, and the alternative energy sources that are displaced by investment in such plants. It is remarkable that Forth Energy continues to categorise biomass energy as carbon neutral, as a large body of evidence has been produced by groups such as Friends of the Earth to demonstrate that biomass is not anywhere near as efficient as alternative clean energy sources, which represent far more effective use of Government funding and deliver instant carbon reduction. Biomass would not only displace traditional fossil fuel sources; it would affect the ability of wind and tidal power to distribute clean carbon-neutral energy throughout Scotland.
The moving planet march that will take place in Edinburgh this weekend will aim to highlight the fact that moving from fossil fuels to clean energy sources is essential in tackling climate change and poverty. As outlined in Friends of the Earth’s recent briefing on the event, that means that policy must be directed to ensuring investment in appropriate sustainable technologies.
What are Mr Chisholm’s feelings about small-scale biomass, such as the biomass boiler that is being used to deal with the energy needs of the new Marischal college project in Aberdeen, which has received European funding?
I was going to come on to that issue, although I may not have time to cover everything that I wanted to cover. Small-scale biomass—particularly for combined heat and power—is exactly what we need, rather than large-scale biomass. I was going to refer to an earlier Friends of the Earth publication entitled “Energy from Biomass: Straw Man or Future Fuel?” which made that particular point. It supported small-scale biomass plants and highlighted the issue of transportation of biomass material. That is, of course, a major concern for the proposed Leith plant, because the wood would be brought in from thousands of miles away. We must take all such factors into account. I am seriously concerned that the plant that has been proposed for Leith docks is not small scale, that the proposal would involve intensive harvesting overseas and long-distance transport, and that no concrete plans have been provided to date on how the heat by-product of combustion would be effectively distributed to the wider city.
I realise that there is a live application, but I do not see why the Government should not have a policy against large-scale biomass. It has a policy against nuclear power stations that does not rule out submission of individual applications. The Government should therefore have a policy against large-scale biomass. If it will not go that far, it should at least have a moratorium, pending further research on its climate change implications.
I welcome the motion in the name of Fergus Ewing and the opportunity to speak in this debate.
I am pleased that the Scottish Government has placed a low-carbon economy at the heart of its economic strategy and I believe that this is how we should be moving forward as a nation. The Scottish Government has previously spelled out the need for harnessing renewables. That has been followed up by practical action in the form of the national renewables fund, with the commitment of £70 million.
At this point, it would be remiss of me not to put on record my acknowledgement of the substantial contribution that was made by Jim Mather when he had ministerial responsibility for enterprise and energy in the previous session of Parliament, particularly in terms of what he did to highlight the job opportunities that are presented by the development of a low-carbon economy in Scotland.
All of us—individuals, energy companies and the Government, in terms of its procurement policies—can do more to secure a low-carbon economy. Therefore, I am heartened that this Government has carried on the good work that it started when it published its discussion paper, “Towards a Low Carbon Economy for Scotland”, in March 2010.
The Scottish Government has shown its commitment to meeting targets that are associated with the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. Equally, the development of a low-carbon economic strategy will aim to make Scotland more capable of resisting the volatility that is associated with ever-increasing energy prices.
The future is clearly tending towards a low-carbon economy, and that is even more apparent when we consider the aim to have almost complete decarbonisation of road transport by 2050.
Promotion of long-term sustainable growth is vital to taking our country forward. A low-carbon economy is part of that sustainable and growing future. Of course, the future of Scotland’s energy needs should not and does not include nuclear energy as part of the energy mix.
This is an opportune debate with regard to Scotland having a role on the global stage, given that we have a quarter of Europe's offshore and energy wind potential. In that regard, I note the aims that the Scottish Government has set out in “A Low Carbon Economic Strategy for Scotland”, which states that 60,000 jobs could well be created by 2020, including 26,000 jobs in the technologies that are associated with low carbon.
The prospects for Scotland’s low-carbon economy are healthy, particularly in the context of the global low-carbon economy’s being forecast to grow to £4.3 trillion in four years' time.
As I stated previously in the chamber, Scotland is severely constrained under the current devolved settlement. That is even more apparent with regard to the topical issue of transmission charges. The present charging system discriminates against the Scottish interest. That is apparent when we consider the heavy price that must be paid to connect to the UK national grid.
Energy, including renewables, is one of the growth sectors that have been identified and links up with the new strategic priority of a transition to a low-carbon economy.
I welcome the pledge to introduce a single point of information for businesses on Government financial support. An online one-stop finance information service is a development that will signpost a better investment approach for Scotland’s business sector and companies that might wish to locate in Scotland. Hopefully, that will ensure that companies will focus on growing market sectors of the economy, such as the low-carbon economy.
In addition, a key component of ensuring that Scotland has a global reach is to ensure that we develop a sense of renewal in respect of Scotland's infrastructure. Associated with that development is the substantive aim of making Scotland a leading centre of low-carbon investment.
I know that the Scottish Government is committed to developing the climate challenge fund, and that funding of £10.3 million is in place for 2011-12. That will no doubt ensure that Scotland develops an international profile in terms of the low-carbon economy.
It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to caution the Government not to rush to meet its targets by approving waste-to-energy plants, such as the proposed pyrolysis plant in Coatbridge. Those developments must be treated with caution, and any approvals should be subjected to severe scrutiny to ensure that we do not follow the wrong pattern on the wrong investment in the wrong developments in Scotland.
Today’s debate is timely, and I look forward to the progression of many of the issues that we are discussing this afternoon in the coming months and years. We can develop a programme that delivers a low-carbon society and brings real benefits for the people, especially those on low incomes. Scotland can play a major role in developing low-carbon technologies, and it can become a powerhouse for future energy production in Europe. I support Fergus Ewing’s motion.
I associate myself with the amendments from Lewis Macdonald and my colleague Alex Johnstone.
I say to Stewart Stevenson and Fergus Ewing that after reading the Government motion, we lodged an amendment because we thought that it might be nice to have a debate. The motion that we have before us is a song sheet that is uncharacteristically modest. Parliament is being asked only that it
“recognises the Scottish Government’s determination”.
I would have thought that we might more appropriately have been invited to genuflect before, to shout “Hallelujah!” three times each morning in support of, or to bask in the divine glory of the Scottish Government’s determination.
I hear Mr Stewart. Many of us are already becoming weary of the ability of new members on the Government side of the chamber to find fresh ways to lay themselves prostrate before ministers. [Laughter.] Mr Stewart, the greater peacock of the two former Aberdeen councillors who have now joined us in the chamber, is certainly finding fresh ways to achieve that.
The problem—which Lewis Macdonald’s amendment also highlights—is not that members on all sides of the chamber do not support everything that the Government seeks to do or understand the opportunities that exist in the renewables sector, but the lack of appreciation that those are still, in many respects, opportunities that need to be developed. Although we have a route map, many of us are still not satisfied that the targets that we have set—which are chest-thumpingly ambitious and which have earned respect and admiration throughout the world—are ones that we are able to meet.
Is Jackson Carlaw aware that the UK Government has endorsed our target of meeting 100 per cent of our own energy needs by 2020? Does he accept that the serious challenge in meeting those ambitions is to get the right answers on electricity market reform, on project transmit and on providing a robust grid connection? Without those answers, it is unlikely that we will be able to meet our targets—and the answers rest entirely with the UK Government.
As does much else besides. The minister makes my point for me: although there is opportunity, there is not yet certainty.
I find it extraordinary how, throughout the previous session of Parliament and in the first days of the current session, SNP members have railed against nuclear power. I heard one eager new SNP member saying to his front bench colleague, “Can I just sum up this debate? Nuclear bad, renewable good”.
However, even as SNP members were doing that, the First Minister was in London meeting senior executives from EDF Energy to explain to them that the Government—as Fergus Ewing subsequently confirmed in the chamber—is perfectly relaxed about the lifetime extension of Scotland’s existing nuclear capacity.
As the Conservatives argued in the previous session of Parliament, and as one of our amendments to a motion—which ministers voted against—specifically stated, the SNP must recognise, despite all its hostility, that nuclear power will be part of Scotland’s carbon-free power grid, not only in the current decade but in the next, and quite possibly in the decade after that. We must have from the SNP a little less of the anti-nuclear rhetoric and a recognition—which we on the Conservative side of the chamber have—that nuclear power has a part to play in the future of power generation in Scotland while we develop the opportunities—
We heard from Mr Stevenson that Siemens is withdrawing from the nuclear market. Countries around the world—including Austria and Germany—are moving away from nuclear power and trying to use alternative technologies. Is the UK somewhat different from all those other places?
Mr Stewart needs to question the First Minister, who—as I said—met senior executives of EDF and said that he was perfectly relaxed about the lifetime extension of nuclear power stations, for which Conservatives have argued and against which SNP members have argued. Some members shake their heads; they need to consult the record of the previous debate on the subject, in which SNP members repeatedly made such remarks.
We need to develop the opportunities in renewables, but we need to do that secure in the knowledge that we are prepared to accept that nuclear power still has a long-term role to play in securing our power while we develop and make the transition to the new technologies.
A moment ago, Mr Stevenson intervened on Lewis Macdonald to say that policy had failed on the development of carbon capture. The United States has proceeded with the new thorium nuclear capacity, which is an even more low-carbon technology. Is our failure to do the same a policy failure?
Stewart Stevenson rose—
I am in the last seconds of my speech.
I draw attention to the last part of the motion, which says:
“already expanding waste reprocessing capacity”.
Those of us who heard Mr Lochhead last week are concerned. The Government says that it does not favour mass waste incineration, but more mass waste incinerators are set to be approved during the parliamentary session than were approved in the 10,000 years of history before it.
The Scottish National Party might stand and say, “Green, green, green,” but it hides behind others, whether they are reporters or councils. As Malcolm Chisholm said, the Government needs to say clearly that mass waste incineration has no role in Scotland’s zero waste policy. Many of us are concerned that mass waste incinerators are proceeding unchecked and against the will of the people of Scotland.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s motion on the low-carbon economy. The Government’s ambitious and challenging purpose and targets will make Scotland a world leader in renewable technology and in climate-change targets. The targets of generating 100 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 are demanding, but they are necessary in order to achieve and deliver sustainable economic growth that creates thousands of well-paid jobs in manufacturing and service industries.
The £70 million national renewables infrastructure fund shows the Scottish Government’s commitment to renewable energy. It has helped to gain investment from the private sector and will help to deliver 28,000 jobs in the next decade.
The introduction of four enterprise areas that focus on low-carbon manufacturing opportunities will help to attract new investment in green energy and increase Scotland’s low-carbon market share, which was worth £8.8 billion in 2008-09 and is forecast to rise to £12 billion by 2015.
In my Kirkcaldy constituency, Briggs Marine Environmental Services in Burntisland is serving phases 1 and 2 of offshore wind farms, which are worth millions of pounds to the company and the local economy each year. The company is in a position to extend its contracts when phase 3 goes ahead, under which some 700 turbines are planned for the Firth of Forth alone.
At Fife energy park, Burntisland Fabrications—BiFab—has just completed the new Oyster 800 wave generation prototype for Aquamarine Power. In July this year, the First Minister unveiled that fantastic piece of engineering. In 2013, BiFab will start the construction of bases for phase 3 deepwater offshore wind turbines. Also situated at the energy park is the new hydrogen experimental unit, which will involve work with the University of St Andrews on developing hydrogen cells for commercial use.
Only a few weeks ago, Kennedy Renewables started work on Fife’s first commercial wind farm—Little Raith wind farm. When that is completed, it will have the capacity to provide 24.75MW, which is enough to provide electricity for 14,500 homes. Over its lifespan, it will benefit local communities by some £1.23 million. Just on Tuesday, Fife Council granted planning permission for a second wind farm with the same capacity at Earlseat. That project will fund 125 modern apprenticeships in renewable energy, in partnership with Adam Smith College in Kirkcaldy. In an area of high youth unemployment, that commitment deserves praise and will help to meet the sector’s skills shortage.
Longannet power station is pushing forward with carbon-capture technology. If successful, the technology will remove 25 per cent of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions from our carbon footprint. Only last week, there was an article in The Scotsman about Pelamis Wave Power with the headline
“Renewables firm on crest of a wave”.
The company, which is based in Leith, is looking for investment as a result of the success of its prototype off the coast of Orkney to help it scale up its manufacturing to commercial levels and to provide Scotland’s first commercial wave farm. Three energy suppliers—E.ON, Scottish Power and Vattenfall—are actively developing plans for marine farms using Pelamis machines.
Dundee and Aberdeen are also well placed in the renewables sector, which shows that the east coast of Scotland is taking advantage of more than 40 years of experience in North Sea oil and gas. That will help to boost local economies and Scotland’s exporting of low-carbon technologies to countries such as China, Spain, India and Romania, making that worth an estimated £845 million to the Scottish economy. We should consider the potential to produce electricity from large-scale and small-scale hydro installations, which can add a further 200MW to our capacity.
The low-carbon economy is not just about renewables. We have to promote low-carbon and active travel. The push for more freight to go by rail will be helped by the Scottish Government’s future transport fund and Scottish green bus fund. When it comes to energy conservation, the £50 million warm homes fund will deliver energy efficient homes in areas that are worst affected by fuel poverty. The success of the climate challenge fund has helped Greener Kirkcaldy to reduce hundreds of fuel bills among the poorest households in Kirkcaldy in the past two years. Almost 30,000 homes throughout Scotland have benefited from the Scottish Government’s home insulation scheme, making them energy efficient and fit for purpose. In that context, however, I am concerned about recent attempts by energy companies to endanger our improvements with unacceptable winter price hikes.
Another crucial pillar in the low-carbon economy is Scotland’s zero waste plan, which aims to achieve the best overall outcome for Scotland’s environment in waste management, waste prevention, reuse, recycling and recovery. That will happen only if local authorities, businesses and individuals provide leadership and play a key role in their areas of influence, supported by measures that the Scottish Government has put in place.
Co-operation and effective environmental policy in Scotland are crucial, but we need the power to push forward our renewable energy policies. If the UK Government would agree to release the £200 million fossil fuel levy, which belongs to Scotland, Scottish regions could benefit through support for development of renewables, additional match funding and private investment. Control over the Crown estate is vital to ensure that offshore renewables benefit local communities, and to create economic growth in a low-carbon economy.
Presiding Officer, I hope that you will forgive me if I have to leave in the middle of my speech, but I took a nosebleed when I came into the chamber—no George Osborne jokes, please.
Most of us recognise the seriousness of climate change and the urgency with which we must act. We want our children and grandchildren to live happily without fear of environmental decline. I appreciate the work of Scottish Governments past and present and the previous UK Labour Government in recognising and then setting in place the foundations to take forward the greening of our society and economy. However, as with all policies, green or otherwise, how we achieve things and the devil in the detail matter as much as the lofty ambitions that are set out in Government publications, such as those that we saw yesterday.
After the spending review announcement, I would like the minister to give some clarifications. Just how much has been allocated to renewables? The Government says that it will provide £200 million over the next three years to support the sector, but what is that money to do, who is it for and who can access it? I hope that the minister will clarify those points in summing up.
I have two main issues to raise. First, I want a green economy, but we must ensure that the benefits and burdens of creating a low-carbon economy are shared across Scotland and that we have real fairness and equality, not a facade of fairness, equality and distribution. Secondly, I would like to raise concerns about community inclusion or, to be more accurate, community exclusion, which is resulting in communities across Scotland that were once pro renewables becoming vocal opponents, particularly of onshore wind energy schemes. Up and down the country, more and more people are left feeling that their concerns have been ignored by local government and national Government and that the interests of big business are being prioritised over those of communities.
The draft budget emphasises the levering of private investment into the renewables sector. The private sector will have a significant role to play. However, when referring to the Crown estate yesterday, Mr Swinney said that he wished to see the Scottish Parliament
“take on responsibility for the Crown estate, so that the resources that are generated in Scotland can stay in Scotland for the benefit of our communities”.—[Official Report, 21 September 2011; c 1919.]
I hope that he will take that approach with renewables, too.
Mr Swinney has allocated £70 million to a national renewables infrastructure plan. Is that part of the £200 million or is it additional money? It is apparently designed to attract the private sector. Again, where is the detail? How does he intend to achieve that and, fundamentally, is that approach the right one?
Over the next few decades, hundreds of millions—probably even billions—of pounds will be made from renewables, yet we subsidise multinationals and private equity firms to make those millions. The profits are often sent off to the boardrooms of Europe—Madrid, Amsterdam or wherever—while offering relatively few crumbs in community benefit to local people. In relation to onshore wind, press reports this week informed us:
“Two thirds of wind turbines in Britain are owned by foreign firms—netting them millions of pounds in taxpayer-funded subsidies.”
When I look at the ownership of wind farms in Scotland, I do not quite see, as Mr Swinney would say, resources being
“generated in Scotland” staying
“in Scotland for the benefit of our communities”.
There is a commitment to increase community renewables to a target of 500MW by 2020. That is admirable but, with the emphasis on seeking private sector investment for major schemes rather than local, public schemes, how exactly is that to be achieved?
With the right political choices, there could be huge opportunities for household, co-operative, local authority and public estate schemes. Pursuing community, publicly owned schemes would help to provide revenue streams for cash-strapped local authorities, housing associations and social enterprises in the third sector and for the national health service. In fact, the possibilities are endless. We could and should assist social enterprises and public sector organisations into the energy and renewables sector. In photovoltaics, for example, they could provide the equipment, the tenant or resident would get the cheap electricity, and the excess cash generated through the feed-in tariff would fund further development or indeed other activities. We have a chance to share the benefits of renewables throughout Scotland, but I fear that we may be witnessing a missed opportunity.
As far as public estates are concerned, there are renewables opportunities in the forestry estate and the estate of Scottish Water. “Building a Hydro Nation” sets out a grand vision for Scottish Water to develop a renewables capacity, yet only yesterday in the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee we heard Scottish Water tell us that it does not have the funds to do that. In fact, we saw in the budget a cut to Scottish Water’s promised loans to deliver just its core activities.
On onshore wind, I make a genuine appeal to Scottish ministers. The overconcentration of multiple wind farm applications in specific geographical locations is causing great concern. From the border between Lanarkshire and West Lothian through to Edinburgh, there are approximately 15 different wind energy developments, with more than 300 turbines planned. In some localities, such as Harburn, residents feel under siege. The people I am talking about are not nimbys. They are good people, who will take their fair share of anything, but they feel that there is a genuine unfairness with the current approach, which resembles a free-for-all.
I met the minister last week on that very issue. I have spoken to members of all parties and know that many of them share my concern. We urgently need a national spatial plan that prevents the overconcentration of wind farms and spreads the burden and the benefit. I ask members who feel that the issue may not affect them to look at Scottish Natural Heritage’s website and its wind farm map for Scotland, because this is coming to an area near them.
I support a low-carbon economy, but there are a great deal of difficulties that we have to overcome.
In yesterday’s debate on the spending review, there was, understandably, much discussion about the need to encourage economic growth in Scotland and the Government’s record in doing that.
Sustainable economic growth has been the Scottish Government’s core purpose since the Scottish National Party came to power in 2007. Scotland’s economy needs to be sustainable not only in the sense of being environmentally responsible but in terms of creating a sector that will be with us for the very long term. Renewable energy offers Scotland the opportunity to achieve both those goals.
The SNP has set an ambitious but achievable target of generating the equivalent of 100 per cent of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020. We are well on the way to achieving that and I am sure that the minister was as pleased as I was yesterday evening when we heard from Ray Hunter of Renewable Energy Systems that our targets are totally achievable. It is unfortunate that Jackson Carlaw is not in the chamber to hear that. About 58 per cent of current consumption will be met from renewable sources once the projects that have received consent or are under construction are added to those already completed. That plan for such a major role for the renewables sector is not only essential if we are to meet our world-leading carbon emissions reduction targets; it is essential for the future of Scotland’s economy.
To answer Jackson Carlaw’s point about nuclear energy, I cannot remember a time when this Government has not said that existing nuclear power plants have a role to play in the medium term until we can move to more renewables.
Scotland enjoys 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal energy potential and 10 per cent of its wave energy potential. In the years and decades ahead we have the opportunity to generate and export substantial amounts of renewable energy, providing jobs and opportunities for thousands of people in Scotland.
The national renewables infrastructure plan has already identified the key role that the north-east will play in the offshore renewables industry, building on the hard-won offshore skills and experiences that have been built up in the region by the oil industry over several decades. The national renewables infrastructure plan will be backed up by £70 million and there will be a significant return on investment for the Scottish economy. Neil Findlay cannot stand up and say that there is a budget line for only £5 million and then mention the £70 million in his speech. He needs to go back and study the budget document a bit more closely.
The return on investment for the Scottish economy will help to establish Scotland as the international centre of excellence in renewable energy. My colleagues from Aberdeen have already mentioned the combined heat and power plants and the significant amount of energy that the Aberdeen renewable energy group test bed for wind turbines will generate for the people of Aberdeen.
However, despite several years of work by the Scottish Government and others, there remain significant and unnecessary obstacles to Scotland fully seizing the opportunity that the renewable energy industry offers us. Most significant of those is the continuing ludicrous system of transmission charging, which would see energy developments in and around Aberdeen facing charges of almost £20 per kilowatt while an identical development in the south of England would be heavily subsidised for every kilowatt. That system of pricing is archaic and long overdue for reform. It takes no account of the need to reduce carbon emissions and to move to a low-carbon economy. Until it is finally replaced, it will fundamentally undermine the UK Government’s claim that it is serious about tackling climate change.
As one of my colleagues said, as long as the fossil fuel levy, which, legally, can only be spent in Scotland on renewables projects, remains locked away in the Treasury bank account instead of being put to work in Scotland, the UK Government’s warm words on climate change will always ring just slightly hollow in the chamber and in the rest of Scotland. That £200 million would make a significant difference to the Scottish Government’s efforts to encourage the development of a low-carbon economy, and the Treasury’s continued intransigence is disappointing to say the least.
Ultimately, Scotland will also need action at a European level. The construction of a North Sea supergrid will open up electricity markets for energy companies in Scotland to provide clean, renewable electricity. That project is critical to Scotland’s low-carbon future and is another reason why Scotland needs a strong, independent voice arguing for our interests in Europe.
I know that the Scottish Government’s determination to move to a low-carbon economy will be taken as a positive sign by the many people in Scotland and beyond who welcomed the leadership that we showed in setting our climate change targets. Measures such as the carbon accounting that now accompanies the Scottish budget are vital to ensuring that progress continues to be made in reducing carbon emissions.
We have come a significant distance in our efforts to address climate change, and I am confident that, under the leadership of this Administration, we will continue to go further. On such an important issue, there is simply no other option. I support the Government motion.
Like others, I welcome the debate, which follows on from a helpful debate on energy that we had shortly before the summer recess.
Before he disappears from the chamber, I thank Fergus Ewing for his announcement about the solid-wall insulation pilot in Orkney. Given the levels of fuel poverty in my constituency, that will certainly be a welcome development, although Lewis Macdonald made an interesting and pertinent point about the ability of local installers to access such programmes and how that affects the development of wider benefits from such investment.
I would not suggest for a minute that the Government has not placed low-carbon issues at the forefront of its agenda. As Lewis Macdonald indicated, it is following a pattern that was established by the Executive that preceded it. On many occasions during the previous session of Parliament, John Swinney put on record his recognition of the fact that he was building on a fairly solid platform.
Maureen Watt was right to identify the useful role that targets can play. It is true that we have set ambitious targets that will not be achieved by assertion alone but, over the past eight to 10 years, we have seen evidence that targets play an important role in stretching industry and setting a clear pathway.
I welcome the debate and the motion, whose range and breadth Jackson Carlaw was a little ungenerous in criticising. The fact that it is wider ranging than the motion that we debated in June, particularly as regards energy efficiency, is to be welcomed. During that debate, a number of us were rather critical of the Government for downplaying the role of energy efficiency. The Association for the Conservation of Energy rightly expressed the view that, although the target of generating 100 per cent of Scotland’s energy from renewables by 2020 is achievable, improvements in demand reduction would inevitably make our renewables target easier to achieve. That is self-evident. As the lowest cost of energy is for the energy unit that is not used, there are multiple benefits to focusing a little more attention on energy efficiency as part of our move towards a low-carbon economy.
In its briefing for the debate, Friends of the Earth makes a relevant point about the job-creation opportunities that exist in energy efficiency as opposed to the sexier end of renewables development. It points to the fact that energy conservation is estimated to generate 370 jobs per terawatt hour. That is quite a striking figure in the context of the job and wealth-creation opportunities that the Government says the transition to the low-carbon economy presents.
The job and wealth creation that comes from energy efficiency and renewables, as well as from transport and waste, which others have referred to, is very evident. I see that day and daily in my constituency in Orkney. David Torrance mentioned Aquamarine Power’s procurement of its device at BiFab in his constituency. The amount of money that Aquamarine Power and other developers have invested in Orkney as part of the deployment and testing of their devices has been nothing short of incredible. Leask Marine has been able to invest in a vessel to support not just Aquamarine Power but other developers in due course. The benefits stretch through the supply chain to those with no apparent immediate or real connection to the renewables industry. Whether in the accommodation sector or the restaurant sector, for example, the spill-out benefit—the multiplier effect—should not be underestimated.
Challenges exist. I have referred to individual developers who are taking forward individual devices, but it is not difficult to imagine the pressure on the supply chain to deliver as we scale up, not only in my constituency but across the board.
The points that have been made on transmission were well made and I have every sympathy with them. However, I take issue a little with the First Minister’s criticism earlier of the extension of project transmit, not least because the industry expressed concerns about truncating the process. Not allowing the issues to be fully developed would have been likely to lead to the wrong decision, albeit one made by the deadline. The grid issues are central. The sums that would need to be invested are, in many respects, eye watering. However, when we look at what happened with the gas grid development in Europe over the past decade and more, it becomes clear what we need to do and how achievable it is.
Although the point about economic growth is salient, not least for selling some of the hard decisions and behavioural changes that we need to make, there is another point that goes beyond that. The efficient use of resources, energy security and the contribution to a healthier environment get downplayed a little too much. The Royal Society of Edinburgh makes that point in its briefing.
My concern with the motion is that it does not address some of the concerns with the renewable heat target, which has been set at 11 per cent. There is a growing view that 14 per cent may be a more realistic target.
The motion also downplays skills, which are close to the heart of many who have been involved in such debates over the years. Some of us attended a recent event in the Parliament on the future of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics—STEM—subjects, and there are challenges with bringing the pipeline of skilled professionals through to populate all parts of the low-carbon economy.
David Torrance made some good points about the importance of transport and that, too, is rather downplayed in the Government’s motion.
However, I am attracted to Lewis Macdonald’s amendment particularly because of the prominence that it gives to the stake for local communities, which is close to my heart. Neil Findlay touched on finance initiatives in relation to that, and Friends of the Earth makes similar suggestions. Although I recognise that the Scottish Government has gone some way in that regard, it is not only about job and wealth creation as a whole but about the way in which local communities gain a sense of ownership over the issues.
The motion talks about
“providing long-term certainty for business and investors”.
We all agree with that. There is enough technical risk in the low-carbon economy without layering political risk over the top of it. However, I observe that the constitutional uncertainty to which a number of SNP back benchers referred is unlikely to give that business certainty. Therefore, I encourage SNP members to downplay that, talk up what we can do in collaboration more and talk less about what we do in separation.
Everyone in the Parliament knows that Scotland has the potential to be a major player in the low-carbon economy. We have already heard about various aspects of how Scotland can contribute while having a massive economic advantage. I will not go over all the points that have been raised, but I will touch on a couple of the issues.
It is relevant to highlight the launch of the Scottish Government’s new economic strategy and to welcome the commitment that it shows by setting the low-carbon economy as a new strategic priority. It sends out a powerful message not only to Scotland but to the wider world that the country is open for business. A number of large-scale investments have already brought high-quality jobs to Scotland in recent months. Page 51 of the strategy sets the criteria that I find optimistic. It reflects on that new priority and says that we have
“the opportunity to place Scotland in an advantageous position within the global economy and ensure that the benefits of this transformational change are shared across the economy and all our communities.”
With that in mind, I will discuss the transmission charging regime. My colleague Aileen McLeod questioned the First Minister on that earlier this afternoon and my colleague Maureen Watt touched on it in her speech. We all know that it has been a long-running saga. One of the reasons why the upgrading of the infrastructure is so important is that we need to ensure that our communities, irrespective of where they are, have the opportunity to benefit from the electricity that they generate and put on to the grid. I understand the argument for the system that we currently have and the points about the costs of transporting energy from a rural part of Scotland to somewhere in the central belt, but it is not fair. The current regime is a barrier to renewable energy generation in Scotland.
My second point is about the more localised matter of the national renewables infrastructure fund, what it can do and how it can best be used to provide sustainable economic growth. Last week, in the debate on the economic strategy, I proposed tying the NRIF in with one of the new enterprise zones. I used the example of Inverclyde, because it has been an enterprise zone in the past. Some would suggest that it should not be in the running again, and some criticise the whole idea altogether—we heard some sceptical comments about enterprise zones from the Labour members during question time. However, I am happy to reiterate what I said last week. The last time that Inverclyde had enterprise zone status, the Tories were in power at Westminster and Labour was in power in Inverclyde Council. It was not a success. In fact, it was a 10-year opportunity wasted.
We now have the urban regeneration company Riverside Inverclyde, which is working hard to turn round years of declining population and hope. As with everywhere else, there are massive challenges facing Riverside Inverclyde because of the economic situation. I would therefore be grateful if the minister would consider designating Inverclyde an enterprise zone, while linking it with the national renewables infrastructure fund. Inverclyde’s location and industrial expertise put it in a strong position to become an economic player in the renewables sector.
The workforce will come back to Inverclyde. Many of its people are dispersed across Scotland, the rest of the UK and the rest of the world. However, the skills base still exists and many people would like the opportunity to get back to work and contribute to society. Making Inverclyde an enterprise zone would be a good chance for them to do that. It is not inconceivable that the creation of a new enterprise zone with a focus on low-carbon manufacturing opportunities aligned with investment from the NRIF would provide Inverclyde or a similar area in the west of Scotland with a sustainable economic future. Employment would increase, including more modern apprenticeships, which would help to increase manufacturing output and assist the Scottish economy. More money would be in the local economy, and that would help to sustain businesses and traders. Commercial traffic on the Clyde would increase as manufactured products were transported.
Those are just some of the potential sustainable outcomes that could benefit an area such as Inverclyde, if it was fortunate enough to get the opportunity. I raised the matter at question time before this debate and was pleased that the minister agreed to meet me so that we can discuss the proposal further. Whether it is in west Scotland or in the whole of Scotland, we have a wonderful opportunity to make a long-lasting and positive difference to the country and the population.
I am pleased to see that Alex Johnstone has come back into the chamber. I always enjoy his contributions. I might not always agree with him, but he tends to bring a bit of humour to the debate, whether he means it or not, and he always gets a wee laugh. However, I was a wee bit lost when he was talking about the investment in renewable energy only surviving because of public interventions. I might be wrong about this, but surely there have been public interventions over the years to create the nuclear power stations that exist in the UK. If he is going to use that argument, he must be consistent and apply it to nuclear power as well.
I am conscious of the time. I am happy to support the motion in the minister’s name. I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. Members who have listened to and taken part in the debate know the importance of working towards a low-carbon economy. Climate change and global warming are not made up or fantasies. Our collective global and generational carbon footprint is taking its toll on our planet, as we can see. Rarely does a week go by without our seeing on our television screens the terrible effects of hurricanes, tsunamis, floods and droughts, which claim many lives and destroy communities around the world. We hear frequently about rising sea levels and can see for ourselves the devastating impact of coastal erosion, which eats away at the coastline and frequently takes with it people’s homes and livelihoods. I am sorry if Mr Johnstone feels that I am being overly enthusiastic about wanting to combat that.
There is no doubt that action has to be taken, but whether members believe that the Scottish Government’s plans are ambitious or unrealistic might depend on where they sit in the chamber. There is nothing wrong with ambition, but it must have a credible degree of attainability. That is why I am concerned by the views of industry experts such as Professor Tony Mackay, who believes that the Government’s renewables pledge is “just not possible” and Dr Euan Mearns from the University of Aberdeen, who fears that the Government’s plans may make Scotland
“a world leader in a white elephant.”
Is the member aware that pretty much every target that has been set either by this Scottish Administration or by previous ones for increasing the proportion of renewable energy has had cold water poured on it by people within the industry, many of whom have a vested interest in the old-fashioned, dirty, polluting technologies that we need to move away from?
I take that point on board, but we cannot simply dismiss the opinion of professionals in the industry. We should take on board opinions from across civic life in Scotland and from industry experts.
I have already taken one. I want to make some progress.
Coming from an engineering background, I was interested in the recent policy statement from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers regarding negative emissions and carbon recycling. The IME highlighted an issue that I raised in a previous debate on renewables: the importance of recognising the many different ways of reducing emissions. The Government cannot simply focus on one or two green energy sources—for example, onshore and offshore wind farms, which evidence shows cannot be relied on in the long term given that average wind speed continues to fall across the UK.
We can see just how difficult the job ahead is by looking at the 2050 decarbonisation targets. Despite the excellent work that has been done by firms such as Argent Energy, which is based in Newarthill in Central Scotland and is the country’s foremost biodiesel producer and which works with businesses on reducing their carbon emissions, we are not on course to meet that 2050 target. To do so, we would have to reduce carbon emissions by 5.5 per cent per annum, but the best rate that we have achieved so far is 2.3 per cent per annum—in the 1990s. That is further evidence of the need to research and invest in other methods.
I mentioned in a previous debate that we must use the carbon fuel that we have in the most efficient way possible, and the minister showed that he shares that sentiment in his opening speech. We cannot continue to have a situation in which power stations convert only 35 per cent of the energy and discharge 65 per cent as waste heat. The Government should engage with industry to initiate a feasibility study into the costs and technical obstacles involved in using the wasted hot water to provide neighbouring communities with district heating schemes.
We have discussed carbon capture technology for fossil fuel power stations and other large-scale, static producers of CO2, but we have heard no proposals on how emissions from planes, ships and cars and the historical greenhouse gases that are already in the earth’s atmosphere can be dealt with. Governments have largely ignored the potential of technology that can extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which can then be stored or recycled, reducing the levels of CO2 in our atmosphere to a concentration that could be agreed through discussion with the climate science community.
An example of that technology is air capture, which is at an advanced stage of design and is reaching the pilot demonstration phase. It involves the extraction of greenhouse gases—primarily CO2—from the atmosphere, regardless of where in the world the gas was emitted. The removal of CO2 from the atmosphere creates negative emissions and allows the captured CO2 to be stored or processed and recycled. We have already seen the benefits of carbon capture from high-polluting industrial sites. For example, Carbon Recycling International, which is based in Iceland, successfully captures CO2 from energy-intensive industries and converts it into renewable methanol, a clean fuel that, when blended at various levels with petrol, can be used as a drop-in fuel for existing cars and hybrid vehicles.
Scotland is in a unique position to lead in this new carbon capture technology, due to the massive storage potential in the depleted oil and gas fields in the North Sea. With an EU carbon trading scheme, Scotland could position itself to receive significant income from other countries, as they would effectively be paying Scotland to absorb and store their emissions. At the same time, thousands of jobs and opportunities would be created in a new industry that manufactured air capture devices and processed the captured carbon.
It is the view of many in the industry, including the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, that air capture can play an important role in reducing greenhouse gases and growing the Scottish economy. I hope that the Government will seriously examine that technology when planning for the future.
Today’s debate shows just how far the Parliament has come towards making Scotland a low-carbon economy. The fact that we can seriously discuss achieving renewables capacity equivalent to 100 per cent of our electricity consumption is testament to what this Parliament has achieved in a few short years.
I associate myself with Mark Griffin’s comments about heat and, in particular, heat being wasted and the potential for renewable heat. We need to focus on that issue.
That said, I will focus on electricity generation. In Scotland, our renewables capacity is currently some 33 per cent of electricity consumption, rising to 58 per cent if we take into account capacity that has been consented or is being built. Although we have much further to go to achieve our targets, we must not underestimate what we have achieved. In comparison, England has managed to achieve only 5 per cent of consumption from renewables. We should recognise that this Parliament has made considerable progress.
The Scottish Government’s economic strategy has rightly placed green technology at the heart of economic recovery and aims to create 130,000 jobs in the renewables industry by 2020.
Dundee has a huge role to play in Scotland becoming a world leader in low-carbon technology. It is ideally placed to support the development and manufacturing of wind turbines for offshore wind farms, as it has a deep port and a skilled engineering base, and a number of key firms are already established in the city or plan to set up in it in the near future. Dundee already has a reputation for engineering success and research and has been identified by a number of key stakeholders in the renewables industry as an ideal location for them to establish their base in Scotland.
Steve Remp, of pioneering offshore wind firm SeaEnergy, recently expressed his desire to see Dundee become a master base for the renewables sector. He called the energy-rich waters around Dundee
“Scotland’s shop window to the world.”
Basque wind turbine manufacturer Gamesa recently reaffirmed its desire to set up a base in Dundee, with the promise of a £127 million investment across the country and more than 200 jobs in Dundee alone.
We have heard positive noises from Mitsubishi, which has also identified Dundee as a preferred location. The Korean manufacturer Doosan is looking at Dundee as a potential site for a major plant, with plans to invest £170 million in Scotland over the next 10 years in partnership with Scottish Enterprise.
A number of smaller projects are also in the works around Dundee. For example, Dutch manufacturer Tocardo is considering siting 20 bi-directional tidal turbines in the Tay estuary. We have heard from a number of members about other projects across Scotland.
Such projects are ambitious. They have the potential to make significant changes to Scotland’s energy mix. SeaEnergy’s Inch Cape offshore wind farm project in the outer Firth of Tay could lead to the construction of 180 turbines, which would have an installed capacity of around 1,000MW—that is enough electricity to power 700,000 homes and exceeds the current output of Hunterston B.
A number of views have been expressed during the debate, but I think that most members would think that 180 turbines, with the associated opportunities for green jobs and for the economy, are a much better option for Scotland than a nuclear plant that would take billions of pounds of subsidy, with decades being required for decommissioning and centuries for monitoring the hazardous waste.
Alex Johnstone suggested that nuclear power is somehow carbon free. If a working nuclear power station appeared out of thin air, its fuel materialised at the site and it simply vanished at the end of its life, it could be argued that nuclear power was low carbon. However, we all know that that is not the case. Nuclear is by no means carbon free.
Does the member accept that the figures, particularly for construction—which I am sure we could get if we asked for them—pale into insignificance compared with the carbon cost of building a wind turbine?
No. There is obviously some carbon cost to wind turbines, but it pales into insignificance compared with what nuclear power stations produce.
A report by Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, both former nuclear engineers, contains a joule-by-joule analysis of CO2 production throughout the nuclear cycle, with three pages of references to back up their research. It shows that, if we ignore dismantling, with present ore grades 80g of CO2 is produced per kilowatt hour of electricity. If we include dismantling, the figure rises to 140g per kilowatt hour. The amount of energy needed to secure uranium fuel will depend on the ore grade. Although relatively high ore grade uranium is available, uranium mining is picking the richest seams across the world. That will become more difficult and carbon intensive in future, and the carbon footprint of nuclear will increase as a result.
The problem is not just with CO2. There is a whole basket of other greenhouses gases, including chlorine, fluorine, organic compounds and many others. One example would be—
The one example that I would like to give is the production of Freon. An American study shows that enrichment plants in the United States produced 405 tonnes of Freon 114, which has a global warming potential nearly 10,000 times greater than CO2. If we factor in the Freon output from nuclear power production, the carbon impact almost doubles.
We have come a huge distance, and it is very important that we do not allow new nuclear to distract us from our renewables future. Scotland has the potential to be the renewables powerhouse for Europe, so let us not be distracted by new nuclear.
There is much that I endorse in Joe FitzPatrick’s speech. He began and ended by reflecting on how far we have come. It has been a long time coming: roughly 150 years since Tyndall identified the basic mechanism of the greenhouse effect and the better part of 50 years since the evidence began to accumulate that the effect was taking place as a result of emissions related to human activity.
It should be therefore be quite a happy moment for a Green party politician to be able to stand here and talk about a Government that places the phrase “low-carbon economy” front and centre in its economic strategy. Sadly, I come out of the debate with mixed feelings. Fergus Ewing gave the game away just two minutes into his speech, when he said that all the economic opportunities from renewable energy and low-carbon industries must be seen as additional to continued dependence on fossil fuels.
The terms “low-carbon economy” and “low-carbon sector” were used in Mr Ewing’s speech as though they are interchangeable. They are not. One is an assertion about the entire economy. A low-carbon economy means much more than just generating more renewable electricity: it means burning less fossil fuel. A low-carbon sector means that there are some economic opportunities in this sector and some in that sector, and it does not really matter if one is high carbon and the other is low carbon. There is a contradiction in that approach. If the low-carbon economy is seen simply as an addition to the high-carbon economy, we are no further forward.
I have congratulated the SNP on its action whenever possible, and I have never shied from criticising it when I feel that I have to. The SNP record on renewables is good—it can always be better, but it is good.
However, on fossil fuels, under the SNP we have seen a significant expansion of opencast coal extraction; a proposal for a new coal-fired power station on which we still await a decision; political support for new exploratory oil drilling; and a refusal, so far, to rule out hydraulic fracturing to capture shale gas, which is another means of securing new, unconventional fossil fuel reserves.
The amendment that I lodged has not been selected but, hey, how many Opposition amendments are going to get through in the next four and a half years? I am going to talk about it anyway. As my amendment suggests, the world already has more than enough—probably twice as much than is needed—known and identified reserves of fossil fuels to make irreversible climate change unavoidable. The challenge ahead of us is not to burn the stuff that we have found. It will always be economically beneficial in the short term to burn fossil fuels, but we need to wean ourselves off doing that. We need to leave the coal in the hole; we must leave the fossil fuels where they are. If we extract that fossil carbon and put it into the global economy, whether it shows up in Scotland’s emissions targets or anybody else’s, irreversible climate change will be unavoidable.
I understand Mr Harvie’s views. What I do not understand is whether he believes that the nearly 200,000 people who are employed in the oil and gas sector in Scotland should continue to work in that sector, or is he saying that, because of the imperatives that he has described, they should all now forfeit their jobs and all oil and gas production and exploration should simply cease?
I am saying that the Government’s priority must be to shift our economic focus from the jobs that are currently in the fossil fuel industries towards the opportunities that exist in renewables. It should do that instead, rather than seeing the renewables jobs as additional, which is unfortunately the emphasis that the minister supported in committee, looking forward with joy in his heart, it seemed, to another 50 years of fossil fuel extraction—something that we simply cannot afford to pursue.
That is the approach of not just the Government, of course, but a Scottish bank. The Royal Bank of Scotland is currently financing the single most destructive industrial process on the planet in the pursuit of tar sands, the most polluting fossil fuels available to us. In society at large, too, the values of consumerism still dominate, leading to increased energy demand and resource depletion. There are opportunities to do more, but this is not just about what we do more of; it is also about what we do less of.
I implore the Government to use the local government borrowing powers that John Swinney spoke of yesterday to invest in publicly owned renewables so that we get the economic benefit for the public sector as well as the clean energy.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
This has generally been a good debate. Malcolm Chisholm cannot see the trees for the burning wood. John Wilson reminded me how much I miss Jim Mather’s excellent mind maps—bring him back. I thank all those organisations that provided briefings for the debate, including the Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
All of us support the aim of moving to a low-carbon economy, but there are obvious differences about how we should achieve that and how big a role renewables can play. There is controversy over the cost of Scottish Government funding of action to achieve its emissions targets, as it will inevitably result in an impact on spend across other portfolios. The Government paper that was obtained through a freedom of information request by Scotland on Sunday revealed that, according to Government officials, the cost of meeting the 2020 emissions target is £8 billion—as Alex Johnstone pointed out—including £3.9 billion in transport costs and £3.2 billion in spending mainly on the conservation of energy.
In the previous session of Parliament, Derek Brownlee said:
“We need to make sure we are not reducing emissions by wrecking the economy.”
He had a point.
Like Maureen Watt, we believe that it is too soon to exclude nuclear power from the energy mix in Scotland. Wood Mackenzie published an independent assessment of Scotland’s energy options, as recommended by the Government’s own economic advisers, which noted that, were both nuclear plants—Hunterston and Torness—to be removed, Scotland would lose a very significant volume of low-carbon power.
We were glad to secure an amendment to section 65 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which enables local authorities to establish schemes for reducing council tax when improvements are made to the energy efficiency of homes. Moreover, to achieve a low-carbon economy, Scotland must invest in high-quality public transport.
A number of members described the good work done in their constituencies or regions. It was encouraging to read the news reports from the Scottish Renewables marine energy conference held at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness earlier this week, which attracted 200 delegates. Ministers must heed the warning of Ken Street, head of business development at the ocean energy division of Alstom Hydro, who said that while the industry was at a tipping point, hurdles remain for firms moving from single devices such as those being tested at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney. He also said that there are real challenges over energy transmission, and long-term commitment from the Scottish Government is needed.
Our Scottish Conservative amendment refers to the possible impact on migratory and non-migratory marine species and cetaceans of offshore wind farms and wave and tidal developments. I raise the issue because concerns have been expressed to me by people in the Highlands and Islands region about the proposed massive offshore wind development in the outer Moray Firth. There are fears about its impact on migratory stocks of salmon and sea trout and, possibly, on cetaceans. I hope that work is on-going to identify any possible problems, but my confidence was somewhat undermined when I heard that a senior Marine Scotland official had said to a senior marine lab official that salmon had been forgotten in the plan. It appears that the consultants, Brown & May Marine, while aware of the cetaceans, did not realise the huge importance of the migratory fish in the Moray Firth. It would be churlish to point out that, under the special areas of conservation rules, it would be the UK and not Scotland that risked facing enormous fines. If Scotland was separate, the Scottish Government would face those fines. What is important is that enough pilot studies and research are carried out beforehand in order to identify whether there will be problems in the marine environment.
The development could be the biggest offshore wind farm project in the world, so it is very exciting. However, the Government must ensure that it does not throw the baby out with the bathwater with regard to vital elements of the present economy.
As I spoke at the conference at the Eden Court theatre, met Alstom Hydro and Marine Scotland and saw the presentation on that excellent work, I wish to give general reassurance that all these matters are under consideration. If Mr McGrigor has concerns, he should write to me about them to ensure that they are fully considered. If he does, I will ensure that that happens.
It is very kind of the minister to say that I can write to him and I certainly will do so.
Some 17 important salmon rivers debouch into the outer Moray Firth. Several of them are special areas of conservation, such as the Moriston, the Beauly and the Spey, because of the migratory species. The European eel is protected on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list and is also migratory. The proposed energy site is to be built on sandbanks around the Smith Bank, an important sand eel breeding area. Sand eels are a vital element in the marine food chain for young fish and seabirds. The outer Moray Firth is also rich in cetacean life, such as bottlenose dolphins and porpoises, not to mention the visits from killer whales that come to eat the seals. Some of these protected species are under international, not just EU and UK, designations.
This has been an interesting debate and there is much agreement around the chamber about the importance of a low-carbon economy, not least because of the jobs and inward investment that it will provide. Mark Griffin highlighted the real importance of a low-carbon economy. We need to deliver this as part of our global commitment to countries living with the effects of climate change. We do not have the power simply not to act; but there are benefits to acting, which will help us here.
When discussing a low-carbon economy, we must deal with the issue of those living in fuel poverty. It has often been put to me that our rush to renewables is costing those who are in fuel poverty. We must ensure that that does not happen. The real prize is having renewable fuel that allows people to have affordable fuel and heating in the future. We need to ensure that those who are now living in fuel poverty are protected from the investment that is required to move towards that prize. If we do not move towards renewable heating and electricity, power costs will increase and more people will be dragged into fuel poverty. We need to be mindful of that; we really cannot forget it.
Liam McArthur mentioned that the heat target is too low. The Government has set a 100 per cent target for electricity from renewables, but the heat target has not really changed. We need to be much more ambitious, as fuel poverty is measured by people’s ability to heat their homes. We need to consider community heating schemes and recapturing heat from power stations. Mark Griffin and Joe FitzPatrick talked about that. We also need to look at microrenewables and how we can get them to those who need them most by utilising feed-in tariffs and ensuring that financing arrangements are available. We need to ensure that those who can least afford to bear the brunt do not do so. It is for the Government to consider proposals such as an infrastructure bank that would provide investments for those who cannot afford things and use that money again to help others down the line.
We cannot ignore energy efficiency. Moving to renewables is all very well, but we must be able to use the energy that we generate much more efficiently. We need to look at building standards.
The member may not be aware that the most recent building standards—the 2010 standards—include 30 per cent more energy efficiency measures. They are already challenging the construction industry, especially in the creation of affordable housing. That is happening in the member’s region in particular because of the extra rural costs. Therefore, I am surprised that she is asking for even higher building standards.
It is anathema to build affordable housing that is not affordable to heat. We must be very careful about doing that. Greater costs are involved, but they need to be borne up front, not left to those like many of my constituents who have night-storage heating and inadequate insulation, for example, and really cannot afford to switch on a heater. Older people and families live in such conditions, so we need to consider the matter.
A couple of years ago, I think, I was at the Highland housing expo in Inverness, which showed how we could use insulation and building design to cut down heating costs. Indeed, a house there had no heater. If a person felt a bit chilly, they could put on their oven or their hairdryer for a couple of minutes and the whole house would heat up. We need to work towards that approach.
We also need to look at the housing stock that we already have. Social rented housing needs to have a minimum standard of insulation. We need to move towards that.
I mentioned microrenewables. We have suggested a green new deal that would insulate 10,000 existing homes. We need to work on such things. Obviously, retrofitting is more expensive. As other members have said, we need to ensure that the work goes to small and medium-sized businesses if we want to benefit our local economies, get an economic boost from it, and create local jobs. That could be tied up with apprenticeships—the minister talked about that earlier.
Members have talked about getting communities involved in renewables. That is a big issue that relates to onshore renewables and wind power, and it is missing from the motion and the amendments. The issue has become controversial, but we cannot meet the 100 per cent target without onshore wind power. We need to consider where it has developed and we need a plan to ensure that communities are not overburdened, but we must also ensure that all the communities that are involved benefit. Perhaps we will have to consider shares in developments rather than cash on the table, up front, to involve communities for the lifetime of a development and to allow communities to benefit from fluctuating prices and profits from such projects.
We need to consider planning guidelines to ensure that development can happen more easily, but we also need to ensure that communities can be heard during that time. I speak to a lot of constituents who are frustrated because they feel that they are going to have a wind farm imposed on them and no one will listen to what they say. We need to ensure that there is a strategic plan for where such structures will be and that we let communities benefit.
I know that I am running out of time, but I need to speak about grid infrastructure. If we are going to meet our targets, we need to be able to move the electricity back and forth. There are areas in my constituency in the Highlands and Islands, especially in the islands, where the grid infrastructure simply is not there, which means that developments cannot get started. For example, I have been told that, in the Uists, the only capacity that is available is what is left over when it is not being used by other people. Communities cannot benefit on that basis, and we need to examine that situation.
We must have joined-up policies to ensure that we can deliver a low-carbon economy. I urge the Government to develop them.
We often say that climate change is one of the most important challenges facing our country, and many contributors to today’s debate have made that very point. The other side of the matter is how we respond to making the transition to a low-carbon economy, which is clearly one of the greatest opportunities that is currently before us. We are fortunate in Scotland to have the natural resources and expertise to enable us to be at the forefront of a new global economic condition. We have tremendous potential in our renewable resource, our capacity to develop carbon capture and storage, our high-tech research and our business acumen. As the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism said, we aim to meet the equivalent of 100 per cent of our electricity demand from renewable sources. I note that some commented that that seems overambitious. In response, I say that many of the conversations that have been had with the power industry suggest that it is eminently achievable.
What we do not need, and what the Government will absolutely not promote, is new nuclear facilities. Therefore, when we come to decision time, the Tories should not look for support for their amendment, because of its inclusion of that subject. Nuclear power is a hugely expensive technology of the last century and it need play no part in Scotland’s long-term energy future.
Will the minister accept that the statistics on which he bases his ambition to achieve 100 per cent of our electricity requirement from renewable sources involve the transfer of power back and forward across the border, which means that he has conceded that Scotland needs and will have a new nuclear power station, but it will be built in England and we will buy its electricity across the grid?
I do not accept that. I accept that there will be transfers of energy across the border—going south, because we are already a significant exporter of electricity and will become even more so. I note that over the extended period—I think that it was two years—when Hunterston was not delivering to the network, we did not miss that nuclear capacity.
I will deal with comments that were made during the debate. Lewis Macdonald made an effective contribution, much of which I agreed with. He said that transition is possible but not certain. That is, of course, correct. It will not happen without our driving it forward; it will not happen through passivity. He talked about the need to join up different levels of government. That is a perfectly proper point to make. With Alison Hay of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, I jointly chair a group that is working with local authorities to take steps to improve the contributions at that level by engaging officials rather than just politicians and related decision makers. Our relationship with the UK Government—previous and present—on this agenda has been effective. I have been at the environment council with Chris Huhne, Caroline Spelman and Ed Milliband. Although we disagree on matters of detail, we are completely aligned in our central purpose, and we have worked well together.
The challenge is to take many of the countries of Europe along with us. At the most recent environment council meeting, we moved to a substantially better position than existed before, as 26 of 27 countries were able to sign up to a motion that recognised the need for higher targets. We must now translate that into higher targets throughout Europe, as that is important. We will continue to work with other administrations—at local government, UK and Europe level—to seek to deliver on that.
Members have expressed support for carbon capture, and I introduced some of the relevant issues when I intervened on Lewis Macdonald. In many ways, there has been some timidity on the part of officials in various jurisdictions—that is perhaps a greater issue than ministers’ enthusiasm, or not. We are now behind the curve, but we do not have to be there.
I will give members a little sense of some of the opportunities. The Scottish Wildlife Trust yesterday gave me a report that suggested that restoration of our peatlands alone could contribute 2.4 million tonnes of abatement per annum. As Scotland’s emissions as a whole currently amount to 50 million tonnes, one could almost persuade oneself that peatland restoration could do the job on its own. Of course, it is a bit more complex than that, but we certainly want to continue to make progress in that area.
Kevin Stewart mentioned the success of combined heat and power in Aberdeen—indeed, Lewis Macdonald has made similar contributions on previous occasions in the chamber—which is an important demonstration of what can be done. Malcolm Chisholm understands that I will not comment on specific proposals on which the Government may need to make decisions, but I highlight that we have supported more than 50 small-scale biomass projects in small and medium-sized enterprises, which represents around 12MW of energy. There is certainly a place for biomass.
I hope that Malcolm Chisholm recognises the value of the objective analyses that SEPA—which is, of course, a Government agency—brings to bear on applications. He—like other members—stressed the importance of good heat distribution. In my previous ministerial role, I visited the Michelin plant in Dundee and noted the difficulties that it was experiencing in obtaining an appropriate heritable right of way—known in England as a wayleave—for getting heat to adjacent houses and businesses. There are some issues in that regard that we must revisit.
John Wilson mentioned the climate challenge fund, which has supported more than 400 projects in communities throughout Scotland. That is a substantial contribution to empowering people in Scotland and ensuring that we are all moving together on this agenda.
Jackson Carlaw wished us to genuflect before the Government’s achievements. We will certainly consider that, although some of our knees are getting a little creaky, which may make genuflection a bit more difficult than it might have been in the past. However, when it is at the altar of SNP achievement, I am prepared to sacrifice my knees.
There are significant difficulties with nuclear as much as with anything else. We in Scotland cannot make as much of it in terms of new jobs and new opportunities as we can by putting our efforts into renewables technologies. That is where we must be in Scotland.
The Labour amendment is fine as far as it goes, but it is flawed in the sense that it asks for more money—this is the wrong time and the wrong place. We look forward to engaging with the Labour Party and others on a number of issues.
I will reflect the position at the end of my speech as I did at the beginning. We have a challenge and an opportunity. The global economy has experienced much uncertainty in the past four years. Our important way forward is through low-carbon growth, which gives us energy security and new jobs. We as a Government wish to encourage demand for low-carbon goods and services. I hope that the Parliament will support those aims at decision time and vote for the Government’s motion.