2007 - 2022

The Power of Scotland


World’s Largest Tidal Turbine – the AK-1000 turbine, which stands 73-feet tall, weighs 130 tons, and can generate enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.

Earlier this week I took part in a breakfast debate at the Scottish Renewables annual conference on the impact that Scottish independence might have on renewable energy in Scotland.

I’m not an expert in energy policy, although I do have some knowledge of the issue from my 23+ years as an environmental campaigner, most recently as Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland. What I am is a passionate believer that Scotland’s energy future must (and will) be a clean, green, renewable one.

During my time as a campaigner, I’ve dealt directly with both the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments. The difference between the two experiences has been night and day. I’d liken trying to have any influence on the UK Parliament to ‘banging your head repeatedly against a brick wall’. Influencing the Scottish Parliament, by comparison, could be described as more of a ‘pillow fight’.

Environmental campaigners have made the most of the last dozen-or-so years of devolution, starting with relatively soft targets, such as banning fox hunting and establishing National Parks, and, more recently, ensuring that Scotland’s Climate Change Act was one of the strongest in the world, which was a much greater challenge.

However, the limitations of the current devolution settlement are now beginning to restrict the influence that people like me can have. The risk is that I once again find myself banging my head against a brick wall. My colleagues and I have achieved what we can with the opportunities we currently have available to us and we now need to gain more influence over, for example, the reserved issues of taxation, defence, foreign policy and energy to continue our work to make Scotland a better place for its people, and a better place in the world. That is one of the reasons why I support Scottish independence.

I currently work for Yes Scotland – the campaign for a Yes vote at the referendum on Scottish independence. The Yes campaign is a broad church, which means (just like the ‘No campaign’) we don’t always agree on specific or detailed policy issues. What unites us all in the Yes campaign is the belief that Scotland should control all of the policies that impact on its people, and that future decisions about Scotland should be taken by those with the biggest stake – the people of Scotland.

It’s easy to see that renewables policy in Scotland has already delivered jobs, investment and environmental benefit, but Scotland needs more say in its own energy future to achieve the clean, green, renewable one that I dream of and expect.

For example, our politicians at Holyrood can promote renewable energy through the planning system and by showing consistent policy support, but without the power to regulate the energy market they can do nothing to shift incentives towards renewables and a sustainable energy policy.

I believe we should be devoting far more resources to energy efficiency and demand reduction (and the social and economic benefits that spin out from these) but without the power to define the energy companies’ obligations we’ll always get less bang for our buck.

The Scottish Government can argue the case for high voltage North Sea grid connections to create a Europe-wide market for Scotland’s clean, green electricity and ensure supply and security, but without the status of a separate member state in Europe, Scotland is left with UK Ministers to speak on its behalf – those who are prioritising new nuclear power stations and the dash for unconventional gas.

We are now well accustomed to the negative tactics of the ‘No campaign’, whose campaigners waste no opportunity to cast doubt and scaremonger, yet when these claims are examined in any detail they often fall apart. For example, at the Scottish Renewables conference, UK Energy Minister, Ed Davey, argued (rather petulantly) that the rest of the UK would not necessarily buy its electricity from an independent Scotland, yet the UK Government has admitted that energy is a cross-border asset and it is clear that the rest of the UK will actually rely on Scotland’s renewable electricity supply to meet its legally binding renewables and carbon emissions reduction targets.

The idea that the rest of the UK wouldn’t buy clean, green, affordable electricity from an independent Scotland is ludicrous, especially when the UK Government recently announced that it will be buying electricity from Ireland. With Ofgem fast-tracking £7 billion worth of upgrades to the grid in Scotland to boost transmission, it’s implausible that the UK electricity market won’t remain, giving an independent Scotland the opportunity to be a net exporter of renewable electricity and a good neighbour.

Scotland should be rightly proud of how much it has achieved so far in the establishment of a renewables industry that is seeding a green economy and helping reduce carbon emissions, but we still need to do much more. We’ve managed to achieve so much without having complete control over energy policy, without having our own voice in Europe, and despite the disinterest and opposing direction of UK Ministers. Imagine what we could do if we had complete control over all of the decisions relating to Scotland and its energy future.



Comments (21)

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  1. Barontorc says:

    There are so many compelling reasons to start with the virtually blank canvas that independence offers and green power supply surely ticks all the boxes apart from one – scenic intrusion, which bugs a lot of people, including me.

    But, when I contemplate a future clung to the WMDs Trident carries 30 miles from my door, the polluting smoke stacks now not needed but taking their toll, as industry disappears with them – I say, we need a new start, a future plan that is in touching distance, if YES but wins the day and we then govern ourselves and be rewarded as a country going some place – that’s for me.

    Green energy is bursting with positivity and not only in the sense of physics, but of clean purpose and open mindedness leading to living within the environment and not against it.

    I cannot contemplate not seeing YES prevail.

  2. Barbara Gribbon says:

    A crystal clear, nuts and bolts argument which gets to the level of detail we need in the debate, in every area of reserved policy.

  3. George Gunn says:

    What I would like to see in a post independent Scotland is an actual renewables policy which separates landowners from big energy companies in the planing and siting of windfarms and some real social planning in relation to the “community funds” which are set up to placate local worries as these monies often cause more friction and conflict in communities than benefit because there is no agreed policy as to how they are implemented and spent. In Caithness we have at least six new, huge onshore wind developments and the probability of two huge off-shore wind farms off Lybster. All of this electricity will,of course, go south. A few landowners are minted, utility companies get cheap production and we get an industrialised landscape. I am not one of these anti-windfarm objectors who are either obsessed with their house price or with nuclear power – I live in Caithness where this is the main concern of objectors. What I want to see is a policy which protects the lived environment and at the same time produces cheap, green energy for local consumption and I am afraid I do not see that policy coming out of Hollyrood at present. The Highland Council are worse than useless and their reactions to planning permission is idiosyncratic and damaging and any local plan they have devised seems to be abandoned at the first sniff of cash. We have a green energy source in the Pentland Firth but it will be the same big players who benefit including the Crown Estate. What we need is some radical politics to stop the rush for green energy becoming a fully blown exploitative asset grab by corporations and a cynical cartelisation of what should be the democratic right of everyone in Scotland. Otherwise it is the same old paradigm of profit for the few and crumbs for the rest of us.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      You are quite right George, the need for a decentralised grid and for a mix of publicly owned and community controlled energy companies is absolutely essential.

      I note that whole communities (‘Arran’) are without power after some pretty unremarkable weather despite or because a private company runs these utilities. So they cream in extraordinary profitss but when push comes to shove cant guarantee supply. These things are connected.

  4. Dick Winchester says:

    I would hope that independence will lead to Scotland and Scottish companies owning and manufacturing a considerably larger proportion of renewables technology than we do now so enabling us to develop an export business.

  5. chicmac says:

    England lies slap bang in the middle of the best on-shore wind potential in Europe, but unlike the other areas in that corridor, Denmark, Northernmost Germany, Southern Sweden, Ireland and Scotland they are producing relatively nothing, especially in the SE half of the country. Indeed the degree to which English NIMBYISM has been tolerated is quite extraordinary. It has been described as ‘like a Saudi Arabia which refuses to drill for oil.’

    Here are graphics compiled from European Environment Agency data which support the above contention.



    England is happy to import electricity from areas which generate by onshore wind. Note that countries well outside the cost effective corridor for wind, Like Spain, most of Germany etc. Have still embraced onshore wind fully. They would rip your arm off for the onshore wind potential that England has.

    It would be bad enough if they were only refusing to do their bit for the environment but were willing to pay for it themselves, but in the case of Scotland, suppliers there have to pay an anti-market principle extra charge to connect to the grid as well.

    None of the other countries seriously began offshore production until they had ‘used up’ their onshore resource. For the very simple reason that, as you can see from the above graphic, electricity produced offshore will cost nearly twice as much as onshore.

    The UK already has more offshore than the rest of the world put together, and up to 35 GW capacity in the pipeline. The vast majority of it will be in English waters. Again, at best this extra cost over that which could be produced onshore in England, which will be very substantial, will be met by UK-wide leccy bill payers and tax payers. That is if they do not think of another way to regionally massage the cost distribution.

    It is a high price to pay for English NIMBYISM as well as being the biggest onshore wind resource effectively unexploited in Western Europe.

  6. chicmac says:

    Sorry moderator, that first graphic should have been wind cost rather than wind speed.It is cost rather than speed which is the salient point, average wind speed is higher offshore but the cost of production is double.
    Anyway here is the proper graphic if you could replace please.


  7. George Gunn says:

    I am I whistling in the dark here. Do none of you actually see the importance of the points I raise?


    1. George, You write:
      “What I want to see is a policy which protects the lived environment and at the same time produces cheap, green energy for local consumption and I am afraid I do not see that policy coming out of Hollyrood at present.”

      “What we need is some radical politics to stop the rush for green energy becoming a fully blown exploitative asset grab by corporations and a cynical cartelisation of what should be the democratic right of everyone in Scotland. Otherwise it is the same old paradigm of profit for the few and crumbs for the rest of us.”

      I am working with communities to secure their land rights in Kenya and have no time to respond, but I just wanted to say I agree completely and think this crystallises perhaps the most crucial question about our future (whether framed in terms of what a post-independence Scotland would look and feel like or not).

      Being Pro or Anti misses the point.

      I object to wind turbines that are owned by corporations – looking at them I see the same greed that is driving us to ecological oblivion. I love wind turbines that are owned by communities – looking at them I see hope.

  8. Wullie says:

    In these times of disrupted gas supplies & Dick Turpin prices, thank god for the visual intrusion of the turbines.
    And I’m off to the hills every week!

  9. Barrie Seabright says:

    Why are there not more Hydro power stations in the pipeline? They have by their nature less scenic intrusion than windfarms etc.
    The big question is, can we trust a post independant Scotland to the MSP , councilor or quango like groups with these choises, when they have cost us a fortune in resent years. They seam to think that they are not connected to this money, as us ordinary folk , and so when costs rise they “justify” them. If I said to one of them that I would do a job for £50 then charged them £5000 they would soon complain if it came directly from their pockets.
    If we vote yes in 2014, who do we complain to about renewable energy , health and transport etc., if we dont want what “they” want?
    Will we have an Ofgem ( Scotland ) etc. with whom to bang heads on a brick wall / pillow fight with, or a different type of body?

    1. Anonymouse says:

      The peak of hydro development in Scotland was in the 1960s.
      Roughly speaking, two thirds of the availabel hydro resource has been tapped. Of the remaining third, it is estimated it would take around 7,000 smaller projects to tap it all.
      There is some interest in the bigger estates in hydro, like at Glen Lyon, but it comes down to subsidy.

  10. chicmac says:

    There are more hydro power stations in the pipeline. The one thing Scotland has been unlucky with is the low availability of good pumped storage options. I say unlucky in comparison to the sheer area of Highlands we have. For example, Wales with a much smaller Highland area (not percentage wise but in absolute terms) has been a lot luckier in this respect.

    The Holy Grail, in terms of renewables in Scotland would be something like enough Tidal Stream power to supply all our needs and enough pumped storage to cover the worst case tidal turnarounds.

    We may, at the end of the day, deliver the first, but we are going to struggle on the second probably. Hence the need to get those Norway cables, they have surplus pumped storage.

    OTOH technological advances in hydrogen technology and fuel cell capacity/cost may eventually circumvent that need. For example the new STAIR cell shows potential to bring capacity/cost for fuel cell storage of off-peak Tidal and Wind generation into the realms of commercial reality.

    Why Tidal was held back by UK Governments for at least 2 decades is a mystery even to their own Science Committee.

    My other main concern is the way tidal is being developed. Vying groups seeking to develop the sexiest most efficient systems will take years and inevitably end up with something that probably isn’t going to be cheap and still leave major questions over optimal array deployment configuration which is the biggest unknown.

    I would have gone for rapid, cheap guaranteed cost-effective deployment of systems which, while not the sexiest or most efficient, would produce a lot of commercially viable electricity very quickly, but more importantly, from which we would learn so much regarding optimising array configuration. They would also be cheap enough to have paid for themselves by the time it came to replace them with the Fancy Dans.

    I’m talking about simple cable anchored, buoyed, systems with variable duct assistance and smaller (cheaper) turbines. Cheap, easy to churn out, easy to maintain, yield lots of leccy and config. info. (height as well as planar) while those who are above such a thing develop their go-faster stripes models.

    Also the actual production of significant quantities of reasonably priced electricity would automatically demand grid upgrades and not leave that until there is a winner declaration years from now.

    Basically, the approach needs more real world engineers in parallel with the high techno-status fraternity.

    1. Clydebuilt says:

      Quote Chicmac “Why Tidal was held back by UK Governments for at least 2 decades is a mystery even to their own Science Committee.”

      I’m of the opinion that the UK didn’t develope Tidal as it was a threat to the requirement for new Nuclear Power stations.

      Wrote a letter to the Herald saying as much about 9 years ago, never published.

      The sooner Scotland pushes ahead with Tidal the better.
      Creat energy independence plus politically put an end to attacks on renewables needing backup.

    2. Clydebuilt says:

      Pump Storage , Nick Dekker had letter in herald and article in Scots Independent spelling out how during the 90’s owners of Hydro schemes were offered grants to service the machinery. BUT these grants were for schemes below a given generating capacity. to get these grants the owners reduced the generating capacity of their dams by up to 50%.

  11. owl says:

    We are, George and Wullie, concerned, very concerned, by the trashing of the landscape ‘renewable energy’ currently pretty much stands for. Our author, Stan Blackley, works for communities and was concerned enough to head up FOE Scotland. Landscape trashing seems to be the method of the moment for improving communities and safeguarding landscape.

    I just don’t get it.

    Few commentators relate this set of initiatives with how we currently, and in future will, support our economy. Our largest industry and largest employer is tourism. Visitors are pretty clear that landscape and history/culture are the main reasons for their journey to Scotland.

    Edinburgh is mostly safe with its magnificent historical and cultural base (trams aside). Our landscape is under absolute threat of losing entirely its attractive worth. We are developing policy to ruin absolutely one of the two main sources of earned income we have.

    Oil and gas may, or may not, be capable of replacing the value of lost visitor attraction. Who has done those numbers?

    1. Stan Blackley says:

      Owl, my piece was about Scotland gaining more control over its energy policy and energy future through voting Yes to independence – not about wind power, which is a separate and distinct debate. Further devolving energy policy to Holyrood and putting decision-making closer to the people of Scotland might actually help you make your anti-wind case and avoid developments of the wrong type and size in the wrong places. You make a lot of assumptions in your response about what I think and stand for, based purely on your own prejudices and nothing else. I’d very happily discuss energy policy and renewables with you if you weren’t hiding behind an anonymous log-in. Your log-in suggests that you have something to do with the John Muir Trust, in which case you’ll find that we have more to agree on than disagree on in terms of the scale, siting, ownership, financing and need for renewables. So, who are you?

      1. Anonymouse says:

        It is possible to export electricity generated from renewable sources, but we can’t neccesarily expect foreign customers to pay a premium for it. WInd-generaed electricity in particular, which is available when the wind is at the right speed rather than when demand is high, can suffer in the spot market. The Danes export their surplus but reportedly at a loss.
        Tidal is promising as a marginal contributor, if survival for more than a few seasons is achieved. I would not have picked Atlantis as the example, there are community scale developments taking place.
        Atlantis is classic big business – an Australian company with backing from Morgan Stanley, International Power GDF Suez, Statkraft and EDBI Singapore. The company is headquartered in London.

    2. Clydebuilt says:

      Quoting Owl “Few commentators relate this set of initiatives with how we currently, and in future will, support our economy.”

      Owl the jobs are coming………

      Mr McColl, is also hopeful of locating an offshore wind turbine assembly plant in Scotland.

      His Clyde Blowers group is developing a seven megawatt turbine through its David Brown subsidiary in conjunction with Samsung Heavy Industries.

      Clyde also bought Finnish turbine maker Moventas out of bankruptcy earlier this year. (2012)

      He said: “To do offshore wind in Scotland you need to at least put together the manufacturing assembly and testing capability. It needs to be onshore but by the dock side so you can ship this equipment off as it is so big and heavy.”

      One of the seven MW turbines is slated to go to Methil in Fife next year and Mr McColl predicts larger volumes for offshore wind will start to come through in 2015 and 2016.


      Jim McColl’s Clyde Blowers Capital is planning a push into the North Sea on the back of its $20 million (£13m) purchase of US company Energy Services International (ESI).
      Mr McColl, one of Scotland’s richest men, yesterday revealed plans to open an ESI service centre in Aberdeen as he unveiled the acquisition of the Texas-based company, which manufactures and repairs systems and equipment for jack-up rigs.
      (jack-up rigs – a type of mobile platform used for exploratory drilling and offshore wind farm service. )

      The ESI deal follows Clyde Blowers Capital’s purchase last month of Rosyth, Fife-based Parsons Peebles Generation – a specialist in power generation and motors. A Parsons Peebles Generation service centre is being set up in Aberdeen – creating dozens of jobs.

      Jim Mccoll a Scottish working class hero.

  12. Wullie says:

    Donald Trump has similar opinions!!! Just how do you propose that we keep the lights on? open cast pits or nuclear junk?
    Scottish miners used to keep the lights on, the death toll was scandalous and conditions ditto.
    The landscape then was really “trashed”, as you put it, with bings which burned for decades and covered the horizon of Central Scotland.
    I can remember when Glasgow’s buildings were as black as the back of the fire and folks lungs ditto.
    Bring on the turbines.

  13. Clydebuilt says:

    Quote Chicmac “Why Tidal was held back by UK Governments for at least 2 decades is a mystery even to their own Science Committee.”

    I’m of the opinion that the UK didn’t develope Tidal as it was a threat to the requirement for new Nuclear Power stations.

    Wrote a letter to the Herald saying as much about 9 years ago, never published.

    The sooner Scotland pushes ahead with Tidal the better.
    Creat energy independence plus politically put an end to attacks on renewables needing backup.

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