Gordon Morgan: We need solutions, not scaremongering, on Scotland's green energy transition

Common Weal Energy researcher Gordon Morgan criticises a news piece and editorial in the Herald which sought to scaremonger about renewables, at a time when what we need to be worrying about is the dangers of not going green

‘BLACKOUTS, deaths and civil unrest’.

This headline appeared in The Herald on 29 November and appeared to blame this apocalyptic prediction on “Scotland's rush to go Green” rather than the far more dire consequences to Scotland and the rest of the world from not going Green as predicted by the IPCC. The Herald's accompanying editorial was headlined “Dark warnings over Green Energy”.

The Herald article is based on an as yet unpublished report from the Institute of Engineers in Scotland, which – I would wager – would not have expected these headlines, given that their members are those who are trying to decarbonise electricity, transport and heat throughout Scotland.

There is a serious point to the Herald piece - how should the Scottish and UK Government act when the answers and solutions are unclear? Normally administrations seek consultation, delay and pass the buck!

READ MORE: Scottish climate minister fails to pledge new action, despite environmentalist criticisms

With Climate Change and given the dire predictions from the most optimistic climate scientists that only 12 years are left to save the planet, there is no time to waste. Action is needed now. Hopefully, as the UK committee for climate change (CCC) describes them, these can be “no regrets actions”, however ANY action which reduces CO2 emissions would be better than delay, so long as it meets the IPCC conditions of equity.

The UN Secretary General has stated that unless the world changes course by 2020 we run the risk of runaway climate change. He repeated the points this morning on the eve of the G20 summit. Every day it seems a new report states that Climate change is worse than predicted and action is needed NOW.

The CCC has produced reports recommending actions that both the UK and Scottish Government can take. So why are they not fully implementing them?

The UK Government has control over energy policy and hence has the largest responsibility. They privatised energy in the '80s and supervised the current regime whereby electricity users are paying the costs of decarbonising the energy supply. Contrast this to the post war era when the entire electricity grid was built, as well as the hydro board and dams, entirely from government investment.

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The latest CCC reports states that the biggest problems we face is how to decarbonise heat and transport. They point out that infrastructure is needed to install electric points and in the near future hydrogen refuelling points for heavy trucks and ships. This can be done, if it’s planned for. Heat, however, is largely gas, which has not incurred any of the costs of carbon charges. It is inconceivable that consumers who already suffer from high charges from electricity would tolerate or could in most cases afford increased gas charges. Look at France where the Yellow Jackets are rebelling against the increased price of fuel. The problem is that energy is subject to market prices. Moreover the electricity market is becoming reconcentrated as margins are squeezed and firms go bust.

We need Government control of prices and supply of both electricity and gas to be reintroduced if citizens are to make the transition to a low carbon, low cost fuel economy. The cost of on-shore wind is around 4.5p per KW, the remainder of charges are infrastructure which should be socialised and paid for through long term debt in the same way the electricity and gas grids and supply were in the first place. The cost of removing CO2 or leaving it in the atmosphere is unknown but could be hundreds or thousands of pounds per ton. Leaving it there will destroy our future.

We need to set short term targets and act now. Most of the short term measures recommended by the CCC do not require a major change in policy.

The UK Government must raise the restrictions on on-shore wind and solar and allow local communities to build wind farms and larger groups to join the grid. This must be done at sufficient scale in combination with storage to ensure at all times a surplus of energy.

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Both the Scottish and UK Government require to legislate to ensure ALL new build is to the highest possible energy efficiency standard, with improved monitoring. As soon as possible and within the next two years decisions should be made to ensure all fuel used in new buildings is carbon neutral.

The programme for improving the energy efficiency of existing homes and degasification of them should be urgently considered and a timetable for decision made within two years.

Targets must be set for electric car charging to be available throughout the country. All new buses must be low carbon and zero carbon either via electric or hydrogen by 2025.

The Scottish Government should admit that full electrification of the railway system is impossible by 2030. Only 25 per cent is complete. They should identify routes that can be electrified possibly 5 per cent more, assess the number of trains which would still run on diesel on the remaining 70 per cent of track and order or build hydrogen trains as Germany has done.

Future Scottish ferries ordered after say four years should all be hydrogen or use carbon neutral fuels. The above decisions will determine an infrastructure of hydrogen refueling stations throughout Scotland. Heavy goods vehicles should be hydrogen in line with standars discussions across europe even if we leave the EU.

There are many other issues, however, Scotland is is the ideal position of having the energy resources, both fossil fuels needed for 20 years, and vast amounts of renewable energy to be a leader in a cheap renewable future. We need to ensure it is invested in and maintained for future generations.

We need to tap into that and end the reliance on permission from Westminster to do so. We are not isolated from the rest of the planet, but given our knowledge and ambitions we can set an example to other countries!

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