An energy policy critique: Scotland – Moving forward on renewables?

Dr Keith Baker and Dr Geoff Wood introduce the contents of seven years' worth of work from nine academics on Scotland's energy policy

THE title of this article is taken from the epilogue to our new book, A Critical Review of Scottish Renewable and Low Carbon Energy Policy, (available from Palgrave Macmillan and other online bookshops)

The book, which has been almost seven years in the making, brings together nine leading academics specialising in energy policy, who were invited to pull no punches in their analyses of Scottish policy, and to present their own more radical solutions.

Those seven years have seen us through two referendums, and we now have a brief period in which to learn from them and prepare for the political turmoil that will surely come.

Collectively, the chapters make a clear case for full devolution of the Electricity Act and all powers related to energy and infrastructure. 

The aim of the book is to inform that debate, and while the widespread failures of the Westminster government inevitably attract much of the stronger criticism, the contributors also point to examples of where the Scottish Government has failed completely of its own volition, or could have done more with the powers it already has. 

Of these, the provision of renewable heat and infrastructure, and political wishful thinking on carbon capture and storage (CCS), are raised as particular causes for concern. However, what emerges is strong and consistent evidence that is pro-renewables, pro- Europe, and (largely) pro-independence and anti-nuclear.

We, as editors, make no secret that we fall into all these camps, but also that we should be wary of seeing independence as a silver bullet to all our problems. Collectively, the chapters make a clear case for full devolution of the Electricity Act and all powers related to energy and infrastructure, and it is impossible to deny that the Scottish Government’s progress on large scale renewables has been impressive. 

And even on nuclear, where we present a contribution with an opposing view, no one is suggesting a revival of the type currently failing south of the border, and set to lock the UK into higher energy prices for decades to come.

Although we deliberately didn’t address the fossil fuel industry directly, it was naturally impossible not to comment on the role of oil revenues in the independence debate.

However, we argue, this is somewhat of a red herring given that the best scientific evidence points to the need to cease reliance on all fossil fuels, and particularly coal and oil, by 2025-2030. 

Planning the managed decline of the fossil fuel industry must be a central part of planning for a second referendum and retaining our membership of the European Union.

So even if we were to gain independence as early as 2019, a prospect that currently looks too optimistic, we would still only have a few years of trading in oil. This means that planning the managed decline of the fossil fuel industry must be a central part of planning for a second referendum and retaining our membership of the European Union. Consensus on the former may be slightly weaker, but you will struggle to find many scientists who aren’t pro-European.

What we hope to have shown is not only that harnessing the environmental, economic and social potential of renewable energy should be central to these goals, but also point to examples of where more radical thinking could really make Scotland one of the biggest little countries in the world.

Finally we’d like to thank all our contributors and the team at Palgrave Macmillan for sticking with this project and supporting us through some times when we thought it might never see the light of day. We hope the end result is something that, while deliberately provocative, will help move Scotland forward on renewable energy.

Dr Keith Baker is a researcher at the Built Environment Asset Management (BEAM) Centre, School of Engineering and the Built Environment, Glasgow Caledonian University

Dr Geoff Wood is a lecturer at the School of Law, University of Stirling, and a research associate at the Centre for Energy Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy (CEPMLP), University of Dundee

Picture courtesy of Gavin White

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