Scotland Needs Power to Create Energy


In the second part of his energy review Philip Johnstone explores the areas of energy policy Scotland needs control of.

The starting gun for the race for the General Election has fired. The only thing predictable about this election is its unpredictability. With a kaleidoscope of different coalitions predicted daily, incessant polling and continuing constitutional rumbling there is a danger that specific detail on policies is drowned out amongst the white noise.

The reason the independence referendum so invigorated people was the focus on issues and policies, it wasn’t as tainted by the tribal nature of party politics as elections are. Of course the referendum was fundamentally different to an election but political parties of every hue must trust the public to debate serious politics and not resort to soundbites. Simply saying more nurses = good doesn’t cut it anymore the parties must lay out detailed proposals of what they intend to do in power.

One area which needs more examination is energy policy which is not given the priority it deserves when the various parties are pitching themselves to the electorate. A good energy policy should benefit society economically, environmentally and provide security of supply. This is something Westminster has singularly failed to provide, with a privatised industry charging exorbitant prices that lacks the ambition to take advantage of the wealth of potential renewable energy available. It’s for this reason that the devolution of aspects of energy policy could become a key election battleground in Scotland.

It’s now clear that the hastily thrown together Smith Commission doesn’t satisfy anyone. The two main parties in Scotland are unhappy with it (for very different reasons). This coupled with the concessions that would surely follow a strong SNP performance at the election means it won’t survive in its present form.

The Scotland Act 1998 declares energy a reserved matter this includes; electricity(generation, transmission, distribution and supply), oil, coal and nuclear. The Smith Commission recommends that the Scottish Government has a consultative role in designing renewable energy incentives and strategic policies to which OFGEM must have due regard. This amounts to the Scottish Government being allowed to offer OFGEM an opinion… not exactly earth shattering.

Managing the electricity produced from renewable sources will become increasingly important as Scotland makes the transition to producing all it’s electricity in this way. According to a report by engineering consultancy DNV GL “Scotland has plenty of renewables in the pipeline to cut the carbon from its power supply by 2030”.

Whilst gaining control of every aspect of energy policy would be ideal realistically without independence the likelihood of powers over offshore oil being transferred are nil.

So specifically what areas of energy policy does Scotland need control of ?

If a company wants to generate, transmit, distribute and supply electricity in Scotland, England or Wales they must be granted a licence to do so by OFGEM. Not so in Northern Ireland which has the ability to issue licences through a government department called The Utility Regulator. The argument for all of the UK to be controlled by one regulatory body falls apart when confronted with the fact that Northern Ireland has a separate licensing body. This leads to the logical conclusion that Scotland with its unique energy challenges and opportunities should have the ability to issues licences as Northern Ireland does.

Ownership of the network is another area that must be examined closely by policy makers of all parties. In Northern Ireland the transmission and distribution infrastructure is owned by Northern Ireland Electricity Ltd (NIE) which is a subsidiary of ESB a company owned by the Irish Government. Thus we have the ludicrous situation where one nation of our ‘family of nations’ has its grid owned by the government of another country whilst another is denied the powers needed to implement necessary improvements. The onus is on unionist politicians to demonstrate why Scotland shouldn’t have policy control over its grid. It’s difficult to see how creating a publicly owned grid like most European countries is anything other than a massive vote winner and it would be interesting to see if any of the parties in Scotland are willing to campaign on this.

It would be ridiculous to try to pretend the recent (and ongoing) constitutional question won’t influence how Scots approach the coming election. Independence is off the table but extensive powers (home rule?) were promised although this must be tempered with a dose of reality. Westminster will never grant Scotland power over offshore oil but the argument against Scotland having powers already accorded to Northern Ireland won’t be so easily shrugged off by the Unionist parties. Pressure is already being applied to Westminster over the devolution of Corporation Tax but in the long-term having control over electricity is just as important.

Comments (11)

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  1. Crubagan says:

    “Managing the electricity produced from renewable sources will become increasingly important as Scotland makes the transition to producing all it’s electricity in this way.”

    As I recall, the Scottish Government still plans to generate electricity from coal-fired plants (we need the baseload) but to use carbon capture and storage to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.

    In all discussions of “power” it’s important to remember that electricity is only the smallest element of power generation, only around 20%. Transport and heating are both more significant elements and both still largely dependent on hydrocarbons. Electrifying homes and transport is still a step to be taken.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      ‘carbon capture and storage’ you say? Can you give me details of where that has been successful and to what extent and what timeline you are working to? While a nice idea it remains a future-fix, a techno-heal to avoid us making the changes as a society and as an economy we need to make.

  2. bringiton says:

    The only way Scotland will ever gain significant powers over our affairs is through independence.
    The Westminster establishment has made it clear it will do anything to stop meaningful powers being “granted” to Holyrood and I am not particularly optimistic that a block of SNP MPs will make any difference to that situation.
    Scottish energy policy is just one of many that will be retained by the English parliament and we will just have to put up with it since we voted to allow them to do this.

  3. I am no expert but is it not a fact that south Britain has less scope for wind and wave power than Scotlandshire hence the Daily Mail’s hate of windmills?Knowing that ,is even more reason to keep Scotland in the fold.Daily Mail and Metro, partners in grime !!!

    1. Shaun says:

      Cornwall actually has very good scope for both wind and offshore wave energy.

  4. Clootie says:

    use 2013 tab England high in two key regions.
    Scotland strongest by a long way in hydroelectric and tidal but poor on solar (Surprise)

    Renewables per population size and demand – Scotland way ahead.
    Ability to handle peak demand – Scotland wins hands down thanks to hydroelectric.

  5. yerkitbreeks says:

    Marine renewables must be the way ahead as we’re soon to be turbined – out ( I have my own on – farm wind turbine ) and as I responded to your previous post, would enjoy investing in a ScotGov initiative in this area.

  6. Geezsum says:

    Its great everybody talking about power generation and I can see windmills from my window. Before privatisation grid connection was free as there was a social remit. So it might be a surprise to all out there, that there are still homes that have no connection and are unlikely under present circumstances to ever have one, mine being one. Now if I lived in mainland europe I would be connected. The only way ahead is renationalise the grid and allow proper competition for generation. Then maybe we could get rid of the generator and paraffin lamps.
    Power companies are being subsidised by billions of public money ,how about them improving the networks.

  7. lastchancetoshine says:

    Can anyone explain why the rivers never figure in any of these discussions? every last one of them seems to already have the weirs and disused millstreams that could be re-employed with very little fuss or environmental impact with a bit of imagination. Both wind and marine are huge engineering undertakings by comparison, what exactly is the barrier?

    I would have thought that a river stream with weir never stops even when a river is low and would therefore be suitable to provide base load, but I just don’t know (Which is why I’m asking) any tech bods be prepaired to enlighten me (in an easy to follow manner)

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