The Wind of Change

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I don’t believe the gold of today is under the ground. I believe we are the gold.
Toby Shapshak, TED GLobal, Edinburgh

The independence campaign is shaped and moulded by discussions about oil but it needs to be shaped by investing in people and aspiring for a better more sustainable future, ‘beyond petroleum’, to reclaim a recently abandoned phrase.

Not only does this mean looking beyond the short-termism of an oil-based economy, and letting go of the lies and duplicity of the British Governments of the 1970s, it means looking forward to a bright green future that empowers communities and severs fuel poverty.

The Scottish government has just admitted that it had missed its target for 2011 by 0.8m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), for the second year running. It missed the 2010 target by 1.1m tonnes CO2e, (more on this here).

It’s clear we need to do far better, and quickly.

But two really significant developments in the past week need to be seen together as not just great news for the green economy but as paradigm-shifting moments for the independence movement. Yes it’s Scotland’s oil but more importantly it’s Scotland’s wind and it’s Scotland’s waves. One is a finite diminishing and vastly polluting energy source, the second and third are infinite clean energy we have in abundance. You Do the Math.

First, some great news from the Western Isles where an island development trust will create the UK’s largest community-owned wind farm following a £1m grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

The Beinn Ghrideag wind farm, owned and managed by the Point and Sandwick Development Trust (PSDT) on the Isle of Lewis, will generate more than £36m in the next 25 years thanks to an output of 9MW from their three commercial sized turbines. This makes it the largest community wind farm in the UK.

Last Thursday’s award of £999,718 through the Growing Community Assets scheme from the Big Lottery Fund Scotland, will part fund the initial costs of the installation of three 3MW turbines to generate renewable electricity which will be sold to the national grid.

Chairman of the Point and Sandwick Development Trust, Donald McSween, said: “A quiet revolution can now take place in our community and it is wonderful news. We have a 25 year plan which will lead to a huge change for everyone who lives here. It will give us the tools to turn ourselves around.”

“We will no longer have to rely on subsidies and government handouts.”

These are important words and vital lessons that have resonance far beyond Lewis. This is about real independence and viable low carbon futures. This is a hugely important step.

Out of the Blue

Also off Lewis but now in tidal is another huge development with some of the same impact where Ministers have approved plans for the world’s largest commercial wave farm.

Full consent has been given for a 40MW farm off the north-west coast of Lewis – enough to power nearly 30,000 homes.

Wave energy firm Aquamarine Power said it would begin installing its Oyster devices in the next few years, once grid infrastructure is put in place.

The major stumbling block is that Energy giant SSE said last week it would not be able to commission work on a Western Isles subsea electricity cable before 2017. This is a ridiculous situation to be in. Why are we waiting for a private company to flick the switch that would allow us to unleash a new wave of renewable energy?

We shouldn’t be held back by this and it seems an extraordinary position where an obvious public good and environmental necessity is being stymied by the absence of some key infrastructure.

Aquamarine said it planned “ultimately” to deploy between 40 and 50 devices along the coast at Lag na Greine, near Fivepenny Borve.

The project will be carried out by Aquamarine subsidiary Lewis Wave Power Limited.

Last year, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) gave planning permission for an onshore hydroelectric power plant which will be connected to the Oyster farm.

All of this is unalloyed good news but two things should be said that need to be the pillars defining energy policy in a free Scotland.

The first we can’t move on with unadulterated private ownership. It’s too dominant and the need for a mix of community and publicly owned utilities is clear. The second (and deeply connected) point is we need a serious and ambitious energy descent plan. There is none, in fact there is an assumption (always) that energy will increase year on year.

We need to stop obsessing about the oil and develop sophisticated multi-platform community-controlled renewable energy systems.

Back to Toby Shapshak who said at TED in Edinburgh:  “Freedom is having the tools, the ability and the self-confidence to make anything possible.”

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  1. Amos Keppler says:

    Moving beyond an oil-based economy is definitely a necessity, but we also need to move beyond the false notion that advanced technology will help us. It is what brought us here. The worst event ever will be if we just can grab energy from the air. We need to use far less energy, not find ways to use more.

  2. bellacaledonia says:

    Which is a point I make ‘we need a serious and ambitious energy descent plan.’ I don’t think your technology stance is credible, sorry.

  3. Dave Coull says:

    A friend of mine who works in the oil industry once said to me that oil is such a valuable resource that future generations will look back at us and wonder that we were ever so primitive as to actually BURN the stuff. Yes, we need to extremely rapidly, like yesterday, move to a situation where all of our energy comes from renewable resources. But even then we will need oil. Not for energy! For manufacturing things. The computer you are reading these words on could not exist without components derived from oil. Your television set has parts derived from oil. Your phone, your fridge, your toaster, your kettle, in fact, every appliance that you have, depends on parts derived from oil. As for the idea that we could have a world economy without advanced technology at all, what Amos Keppler is advocating is, in effect, that several billion people, the vast majority of the world’s population today, ought to die. Because that is what would happen without advanced technology. Now, I realise that, on the far fringes of the environmental movement, there are a few folk who really do think that, if several billion people have to die in order to have their “primitivist” ideal, then so be it, several billion can die. However, that is not a viewpoint which should be taken by any sane and responsible person.

  4. George Gunn says:

    Dear Mike, good article. The politics of alternative and renewable energy is just as ugly as oil. Who owns the land and who owns the seabed? It is not the Scottish people. We need to take ALL land into public ownership so that landowners and power utilities can stop enjoying the cash bonanza they currently dominate, and that is the same with the Crown Estate on the seabed. Energy is a facilitation for a quality of life, and should be nothing else. The two huge off-shore wind farms being built off the Caithness coast will do little to eradicate poverty but will make a few fat cats rich. The paradigm in regards to energy is wasteful absurdity and needs changing totally. Scotland is a country of five and a half million people Unless we have control of our resources through a democratically elected parliament then nothing will change. I walked through Glen Golly in Sutherland yesterday. There is no-one there but the land is owned by a Dutch shipping magnate.

  5. afedscotland says:

    “We need to stop obsessing about the oil and develop sophisticated multi-platform community-controlled renewable energy systems”

    I broadly agree with this post but it seems to sidestep oil. We need to be ‘obsessed’ with it because we’re dependent upon it and most of the pro-independence campaign bases its argument on exploiting it. Of course, Bella has a mix of different opinions but as far as I can see there’s been no real attempt at questioning the oil agenda* – seen for example in: https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2013/05/29/ten-things-to-tell-your-friends-about-an-independent-scotland/

    Perhaps this sort of thing is being left till after the referendum? Too much scrutiny could bring negativity to the Yes campaign? On the other hand, a transition from oil is going to be crucial whether or not there’s an independent state, it’s an incredibly complicated issue that requires debate and it looks like governments and corporations will put up a struggle.

    *A couple of exceptions: https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2013/01/28/altogether-better-without-oil/
    https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2012/11/22/we-dont-need-to-count-on-oil-to-balance-the-books/

  6. bellacaledonia says:

    Thanks Afed – yes shifting the entire society from oil dependency is part of a massive (essential) transition. Political independence and dismantling the British State is a small step, relatively.

    The other thing that we need to get our heads around is that ownership is key and it might have different levels – so community-owned and controlled on a local scale but publicly-owned at a national scale. We might need both these to aid the transition and ‘power-down’.

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