Johnstone’s View - Renewable energy has part to play

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I have always believed that renewable energy has a part to play as a component in Scotland’s energy mix.

I don’t however, share the single-minded focus of some other Parties about onshore wind as a technology, but I do want to see a balanced portfolio of renewable energy making a contribution. There are a great many success stories in Scotland that we can all celebrate, whether that is in hydro, wind, biomass or one of the many other available options.

The Scottish Government have been critical of UK plans to cut subsidies for wind power. Back in April 2014, then Energy Minister Michael Fallon made it clear that any wind projects which did not have planning consent and grid connection by the date of the General Election would not be eligible for subsidies thereafter.

The Conservative Party has held true to its manifesto commitment and kept its promises.

Why have we done so? Simply because the costs have been spiralling too high.

The respected Scottish economist, a specialist in energy, Tony McKay, has calculated that wind farm subsidies in Scotland were between 2.5 and 3 times what was actually required for these to be built. Tony McKay puts his best estimate at 2.8 times. In his words, this means that the developers have been making “super-normal” profits from these projects, all at the expense of the electricity bill payer. This is at a time when we see fuel poverty at worrying high levels.

We need to remember that, if we add together all the projects already constructed, all those under construction, and all those which already have planning consent, we will have exceeded our target of having a hundred per cent of our electricity needs from renewable energy by 2020. We cannot go on pouring bill payers money into a single technology when targets are already being met.

The UK Government’s proposals have had a warm welcome from communities across Scotland, and from conservation groups such as the John Muir Trust.

Tony McKay himself commented: “The UK Government’s proposed changes may not be ideal but at least they are a sensible way forward. They will not result in a reduction in wind energy capacity in Scotland but may slow down future growth. Hopefully they will result in lower electricity prices for consumers in Scotland”.

Scotland’s Nationalist doom-mongers have had plenty to say about these subsidy changes and their impact on the renewable energy sector. Fortunately, not everyone involved takes such a pessimistic view.

Brian Galloway, Energy Policy Director at Scottish Power, wrote in July: “My view is that once the dust settles we will come to understand that onshore wind still has a vital role to play… I remain optimistic on the prospects for Scotland’s onshore wind industry”.

The Canadian company, Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners, said in August that they were planning to build up to 200MW of wind farms in Scotland before the end of the decade, their President commenting that these projects “really can stand on their own two feet without the need for significant subsidies”.

Dr Jimmy Aldridge, research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said: “Amber Rudd is right to act to control costs and to protect bill payers from continuing to pay over the odds for clean energy”.

Back in 2011 when the UK Government made changes to the subsidy regime for solar energy, Nationalists were predicting the demise of the industry. Mike McKenzie MSP said of the changes then “this could have a devastating impact for households and businesses and housing associations across Scotland”. Of course, it had nothing of the sort. The Solar PV industry went from strength to strength.

President of the British Photovoltaic Association, Greg Barker, has called on the sector to avoid the hysteria and self-damaging doom-mongering that we saw in 2011. He added: “Around the world, the solar industry is already operating without subsidy and there are still further opportunities to create additional value and extract further efficiency savings in the UK sector. It is time to muster up an optimistic “can do” ethic and talk up the huge success and enormous potential of UK solar, not plead for years’ more subsidy”.

Richard Warren, Senior Climate and Environment Policy Advisor at the Engineering Employers Federation, said: “With the costs of government energy policy surpassing previous projections and the levy control framework budget already looking like it’s been maxed out, government is right to be getting to grips with the issue.

Renewable energy still has a bright future, despite all the hand-wringing and doom-mongering we hear from our Nationalist Government which is out of its depth on the subject.

“The UK Government has taken the right decision to protect consumers. That’s what being in Government is all about; not ducking the hard choices.