Energy Justice

scottish-marine-energyContinuing our series of articles from Closer Elaine Morrison explores a future beyond climbing prices, energy profiteering and fuel poverty.

It’s 2016. The progressive green-left coalition is into its first term as the government of an independent Scotland. The seeds of change it promised are beginning to take root.

2016 is the year that the devolved governments of Scotland had set as a distant target for ending fuel poverty. They failed to come close. Energy prices spiraled in the hands of private utilities with energy policy set in the hands of Westminster. Piecemeal programmes to insulate people’s homes put much more money in the accounts of ‘delivery agencies’ than was saved in energy bills en masse. Investment in solar power was encouraged through a subsidy that benefited the rich and encouraged greed at the expense of the poor. Investment in large scale renewable energy was hindered by a lack of real commitment to anything other than big business (especially those with their sticky mitts in the black, black oil) and a lack of access to land for most communities to do it for themselves.

Those of us who worked in the green energy sector were split into two camps. The ‘get rich quick and onto the next bandwagon’ brigade and the rest of us who felt the soul being ripped from what we believed to be a progressive way to reduce energy bills and tip the balance back in favour of a healthy planet.

But it’s 2016. Fuel poverty hasn’t been eradicated but in the space of a year the new confidence and fresh thinking post independence is bringing it closer. From hope springs a new reality.

Early actions included establishing a co-operative energy utility to develop, own and operate all future base-load energy generation. Private sector energy developers are required to contribute to a Scotland-wide fuel poverty fund and a ‘polluter pays’ carbon tax has been placed on all fossil fuel extraction and use in energy generation. The grid infrastructure is in the throes of being taken into public ownership as is the only remaining Scotland-based energy utility which has been subject to a number of hostile takeover bids in recent years. The state has taken control of the Crown Estate in Scotland to make inshore and offshore assets available for publicly developed renewable energy schemes ranging from mid-scale hydro electricity to large-scale marine renewables.

The Government has offered every household in Scotland a solar thermal or solar electric system depending on best fit. The caveat was that these systems had to be manufactured in Scotland and installed by local contractors. This promise is resulting in a major upscaling of existing solar thermal manufacturing in Forres and a new solar PV plant in Dundee finally offering high value jobs for the city’s redundant micro-electronics workers. Demand is high and all the stops are being pulled out to ensure it can deliver. The trade off (or the ‘no such thing as a free lunch‘ small print) is the introduction of a universal personal carbon budget. The penalties for over-spending on the carbon allowance is high, the benefits of being canny make it well worth the effort. Energy awareness education has become a core part of the school education system and workers from the old delivery bodies have been redeployed to offer genuine free in-home energy management advice rather than sitting at the end of a phone telling people to ‘only fill the kettle as much as they need’ and to ‘go easy on the accelerator in the car’.

The fuel poverty fund, carbon tax and progressive taxation policies are being used to roll out a range of initiatives. These aim to enable a genuine balance to be struck between meeting enhanced climate change targets whilst achieving energy justice for those previously excluded from participation in green energy initiatives due to low incomes and lack of access to knowledge.

They include a sustainable energy action plan for all of Scotland’s towns and cities to maximise the use of combined heat and power and district heating networks using a mix of hydrogen (generated from off-peak on and offshore wind, pump storage hydro and wave and tidal turbines), solar thermal panels, local woody biomass where appropriate with a small input of natural gas as part of a transition arrangement. Major insulation retrofitting alongside smart meters and smart grids help with demand management. Local authorities are encouraged to develop Danish style energy co-operatives and residents are given the options to buy a stake in the co-operative through the use of credit union finance. They are also required to produce and report on management plans to prevent exploitation of common-pool resources – the land, trees, rivers and atmosphere on which renewable energy generation depends.

Building standards for new and refurbished buildings insist upon measures to optimise solar gain, such as proper sunspaces (not heated conservatories), thermal mass in the built form and the use of solar thermal systems with inter-seasonal heat stores.

Rural communities are being aided to make best use of their natural advantage through a rural resilience development fund in which they are adopting the ‘Gigha+ Model’ of using income from energy generation to invest in improving the energy efficiency of housing, developing local infrastructure and enabling a reduced rate of electricity for low income households. Scotland’s islands and peripheral communities have become the gatekeepers to base-load electricity generation and are using land reform legislation to ensure that influence delivers tangible benefits for the local economy. An early result of this has seen rural populations increase, young people having the hope to return home to work and raise their families and a general reversal in the decline in resilience bemoaned for decades pre-independence.

There is no doubt that this is the beginning and that inroads to achieving real energy democracy will take time. The theme of hope runs throughout these bold measures and is demonstrated in the apparent willingness of citizens of the new Scotland to embrace change. It could be viewed through a cynical lens in that people wonder what there is to lose as they were catapulted into a land no longer part of Britannia. But this wee land of few people were brave enough to listen to their hearts, to think enough of themselves and their neighbours to mark their cross where it mattered.

With fuel poverty anticipated to be eradicated within 6 years the progressive green-left coalition has their work cut out for them, but for now the tide is in their favour. Taking a stake in how energy is generated and used is empowering quite literally. It engages every citizen in being part of the change that is necessary to prevent runaway climate change whilst at the same time creating an economy that functions equitably at all levels. You don’t need to use terms like ‘energy justice’. Give power for the people by the people and it’s inevitable that the lightbulb stays alight and glowing proud.

There is hope. Change is happening in front of our eyes.

Comments (11)

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  1. Crubag says:

    Hello, I’ve a few issues with this:

    ” The caveat was that these systems had to be manufactured in Scotland and installed by local contractors.”

    Would likely be in breach of EU public procurement rules (e.g. EU Directive 2004/17).

    “The grid infrastructure is in the throes of being taken into public ownership as is the only remaining Scotland-based energy utility which has been subject to a number of hostile takeover bids in recent years.”

    There are dozens of energy generators in Scotland – I don’t think the public resources exist at the moment to nationalise these.

    “Rural communities are being aided to make best use of their natural advantage through a rural resilience development fund in which they are adopting the ‘Gigha+ Model’ of using income from energy generation to invest in improving the energy efficiency of housing, developing local infrastructure and enabling a reduced rate of electricity for low income households.”

    Currently the income from renewable energy generation includes a subsidy component to make it as attractive to investors as conventional sources. Currently this is paid for by all consumers. Is the vision for medium and high consumers to pay more to subsidise both producers and low income consumers? Will this consumer base be adequate to fund both?

    Continental models are interesting but note that the cooperatives depend on private investors incentivised by tax regimes and the benefits (and risks) flow to those investors.

    1. Joe says:

      As we have been repeatedly told by naysayers, Scotland may not be a member of the EU after independence (I do not believe that, but who knows?). In the 70s as part of gaining extraction licenses Norway insisted that rigs and platforms be built in Norway and Norwegian manufacturing used where possible. Oil companies were to train Norwegians wherever practicable to operate extraction and refining technologies. Much of the the UK did not insist on – an opportunity ignored. Elaine Morrison is entitled to at least include something similar to the Norwegian policy in her vision on Scottish Power generation.
      Another great opportunity missed in the UK in the last 15 or so years was something similar to the German Renewable Energy Act (in German: Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz, EEG). This was designed to encourage cost reductions based on improved energy efficiency from economies of scale over time. The Act came into force in the year 2000 and was the initial spark of a tremendous boost of renewable energies in Germany.
      Feed-in tariffs for every kWh generated from renewables and delivered to the grid provided incentives to all companies involved in the renewable energy generation business, especially the small and medium-sized energy firms (many of these rural community enterprises). It decreased the initial market entry barrier for these businesses, and reduced the costs of Renewable Energy Sources (RES) for production and consumption over a period of time, and made it easier for them to invest in developing RES. These tariffs fixed by law allowed these business to be able to work out how much power they could produce over the fixed period of the scheme, thereby, highlighting to lenders a safe return on their investments.
      I witnessed many of these community enterprise projects in Germany which covered a whole raft of generation technologies which included, among others: wind, run-of-river, biodiesel,combined heat and power: biogas, woodchip, solar (water heating and PV). They were all making money for community, and large enterprises, while reducing costs for consumers. this had the knock on effect of most individuals and businesses embracing the idea of energy efficiency, and more importantly, the value of energy minimization. The EU’s land set-aside (designed to stop the creation of the famous European food mountains) allowed land to be used to grow crops for bio-fuels (another opportunity that apparently by-passed the UK). Hard as I might have tried I could not find a farm vehicle that actually used diesel. Non-commercial rapeseed delivered by farmers to process plants was pressed for oil to be used as fuel and the farmer received back a rich cattle feed from the compressed seed “cake” cutting their running costs even further.
      I don’t think Elaine Morrison said generators should be taken into public ownership only the Grid, which doesn’t generate, but transports. It should never have been privatised.
      Power generation only appears to be a risky business within the UK model of squashing the apple till the pips squeek!. Scotland is one of the most energy rich countries in the world; fuel poverty in such a nation is an absolute and utter disgrace. It is long past time for a energy model.
      Where the UK has failed miserably in energy efficiency, minimization and renewables, I know an independent Scotland would succeed. I support Elaine Morrison’s view.

  2. Crubag says:

    I should add that if we’re talking about fuel poverty overall, most Scots use mains gas, less than 20% depend on electricity for heating and around 5% use fuel oil or bottled gas. Scotland should be a net gas exporter in 2016.

  3. Ian Mor says:

    Crubag- What you said.

    Still, laudable sentiments at least in Elaine’s article. Positive thinking. Keep working on it.
    Bear in mind, previous generations in Scotland have heard, variously: N. Sea Gas – too cheap to meter, Oil – too cheap to meter, Nuclear Energy – too cheap to meter. But it wasn’t was it? Oh dear me no.
    As they sat, huddled in a coat, round a single bar fire, checking pockets for a few bob extra for the meter. Aye, we remember, because this generation is still bloody doing that!
    So, forgive my cynicism, it dies hard. Renewables? Hah!
    How cheap will that be then? Too cheap to meter? Aye, well you at least didn’t quite claim that in your article. But it better be.
    Why would energy producers be contributing to a fuel poverty fund in Scotland then?
    Fuel bills a tad high for us in the future maybe, now why on earth would that be?
    Answers on a postcard.
    Still, its all good eco friendly stuff, bar the concrete and the mined rare earth elements.
    Still, you’ve got to start somewhere.
    We will all have a warm glow thinking of the environmental benefits. Maybe even manage a warm glow from the fire as well, when the fuel poverty fund giro comes in and the carbon tax for last month is paid.
    Or maybe just another pullover.

    Though I know what my cynical ten bob for the meter is on, I trust hope will triumph over experience.
    You at least have made a start on outlining a plan to reverse the hideous crime of fuel poverty in Scotland.
    So go ahead and make it work. No, really.
    Best o luck to you! We auld cynics will watch with interest.

  4. I like the enthusiasm and positivity of the article but I agree with Crubag that there are problems with some of the actions it promotes.

    “Early actions included establishing a co-operative energy utility to develop, own and operate all future base-load energy generation.”

    If the problem is spiralling energy costs then why distract yourself with the complex and risky business of generation?

    A combination of the carbon tax, controlling the distribution grids (electric and gas), more efficient energy use, and domestic energy capture (e.g. solar panels) will give us plenty of levers to control the cost of energy to consumers.

    “The caveat was that these systems had to be manufactured in Scotland and installed by local contractors.”

    Demanding that products and installers of solar panels have to be Scottish is a recipe for being ripped off by the favoured suppliers and provides no guarantees that the work will be done properly (witness some of the shoddy Green Deal jobs being done by very Scottish installers).

    Far better to develop ways of accurately measuring the quality of installations and paying installers by results, regardless of where they or their equipment come from. If Scottish firms are good and offer value for money they’ll get the work.

    “Rural communities … adopting the ‘Gigha+ Model’ of using income from energy generation … enabling a reduced rate of electricity for low income households.”

    As Crubag points out energy consumers provide the subsidy that makes renewables pay. Using the profits from this subsidy to solve fuel poverty in rural areas means that you’re inflating energy costs for consumers somewhere else.

    Trying to solve poverty by manipulating the energy market doesn’t feel very sensible.

    Energy policy should concentrate on increasing energy efficiency, rewarding consumers for using less energy, and penalising the theft of future generations’ share of hydrocarbons.

    Poverty is a bigger, broader issue that can be better solved by other means.

    1. I think a co-operative energy generating utility as proposed in the article could have many benefits. The location of new power plants could be planned to support combined heat and power and the district heat networks mentioned later in the article. It would also be easier to plan for a good mix of generation types, from peak load plant to load following plant, and in doing so some of the financial risk would be significantly reduced.
      My question is why wait to set up this energy co-op?

  5. scott young says:

    it’s a fine vision, to get enthusiasm rolling, and i’d certainly love to see it manifesting, in the way you describe or in similar fashion….

    there’s a lot of complexities to move through, before we arrive at simple solutions….

    i’d also like to hear that we will invest in a potentially massive industry, of producing compressed air cars, which are well under way in france…. once the technology is tweaked a bit that will potentially revolutionise the transport system, and drastically reduce the amount of fossil fuel we need. it would also initiate a massive new industry and create a lot of jobs.

    the energy companies, can easily afford to give pensioners who are on the breadline with money, free electricity for the coldest 4 months of the winter.

    i’d like to see the independence party bringing that forward, as a main agenda policy, as part of their social welfare vision.

    we need to remember that changing our attitudes, and getting away from the deeply bred selfishness and greed mindset, must change to one of sharing the unlimited energy we have at our disposal, if we can but wake up, to a few simple universal principles….

  6. Elaine Morrison says:

    Hi guys – thanks for your comments.

    I will endeavour to respond to them over the next wee while – packing for my hols tomorrow so forgive me for not offering up much just now.

    The idea with this is to float some ideas, even if there are flaws – each thing I suggest could warrant a thesis in its own right – but I genuinely want to see us have a debate about this stuff. Let’s not cling to the hope of North Sea oil or developer led renewables somehow distributing energy wealth.

    If we had control, what could we do? How do we reconcile issues of energy affordability (for the lowest income households) with tackling climate change and propping up an indy Scottish economy?

    Positivity and putting something out there to tickle the debate is the aim – social and environmental justice is my ultimate goal. Let’s figure it out between us.

    More from Brittany in a few days.


  7. Coinneach MacRaibeart says:

    Anyone know where I could acquire an interseasonal heat store in 2013?

    I’m not waiting.

  8. Raemond Bradford says:

    Yes, try (for one example) – there is a list of projects they have completed.
    Most ground source heat pumps use interseasonal heat storage to some extent.

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