Peter McColl, Green Party, 19.8.13
Three topics to be discussed:-
- Independence and North Sea Oil
- Renewables in Scotland
- The experience of community ownership in the Highlands and Islands
1. The current UK government is tied to a policy of developing unorthodox fossil fuels, e.g. shale gas and fracking. This is part of a wider trend found in the USA and Ireland (where there is also a prospect of lignite reserves being used). This benefits the energy corporations. Osborne wants to divert government subsidies from renewables to the energy corporations involved in fracking. This is tied to a strategy of increasing people’s dependence on these corporations, since the alternative course of developing renewables opens up the prospect of local or community ownership.
Scotland still has considerable reserves of North Sea Oil, as well as undeveloped oil reserves west of Shetland. However, given the impact of burning fossil fuels on climate change, we need to consider methods of moving away from these. Money raised from existing reserves could be used to finance the transition to renewables, whilst the new reserves are left undeveloped. Climate change hits the poorest the hardest.
This would also mean opposing shale gas and fracking, which have other environmentally damaging costs – including polluted ground water and possible earthquakes. There is currently a planning application to frack under Mossmorran gas fractionation plant in Fife, with possible devastating consequences.
2. Scotland has the potential to take the lead in renewables – particularly wind, tidal and wave power. The unit costs of wind power have been falling dramatically. Even the cost of solar power is falling to such an extent that it could be used economically in more limited cases in Scotland, despite poorer weather and longer winters.
Money from oil and gas currently goes to the National Exchequer and the energy corporations (although ironically Norway’s state owned Statoil is one of the beneficiaries of oil and gas currently in the UK sector).
Now the development of wind power is in the hands of 3 major private corporations.
The alternatives to these forms of ownership include state control and/or locally owned companies or cooperatives. These can be more empowering.
3. The potential of social ownership can be best seen in the Highlands and Islands. The success of recent community land buyouts has been linked to the development of local renewable energy. This can be seen on Gigha, Eigg and in South Harris. These places have moved away from dependence on imported diesel fuel and are now energy self-sufficient, sometimes with surplus available for other uses.
Peter has been involved in an attempt to establish a community owned wind turbine in Portobello. However, they had faced major obstacles from the local council, including spurious opposition to a site next to a water and sewage treatment plant on the grounds of possible danger to the plant.
Allan, Gordon, Iain, Liam, Sarah, Vincent contributed to the discussion, raising the issue of the potential of carbon storage schemes, enhanced local democracy, how independence could actually improve the energy/environment situation, where the money for investment in renewables would come from, the balance between electricity distributed on the National Grid and more locally, the lack of constancy of wind power, the balance between old and new sources of energy, and the issue of fuel poverty
Two facts were revealed in this discussion. Ian Taylor, oil businessman and major financer behind ‘Better Together’ has s strong interest in fracking development. Food parcels, which require no heating, are having to be developed for the poorest, because people can not afford the cost of fuel.
Peter summed up by supporting further research into carbon storage schemes, but not placing any great credence on false promises. These have been made in the past, but have just been used to continue with old energy production methods in the meantime. The cost of renewables is falling rapidly making them increasingly cost efficient. Fossil fuels may initially have low costs when reserves are still large, but these deplete leading to a longer term rise in costs. There were also other potential energy sources such as biomass, but these are likely only to have more limited local potential. It would be possible to overcome some of the problems of the lack of constancy of wind power by having an underwater power connector with Norway, which has surplus energy produced by hydro-power. Electricity from wind power could then be fed back to Norway, when such power was being generated (a similar concept to power transfers in pumped storage schemes in the Highlands). There would be a need to keep some high voltage power stations for industry, e.g. aluminium plants, but these could use hydro-power. A major cause of fuel poverty lay in the control of energy by profiteering corporations. The creation of more local community power schemes was one way of addressing this problem.