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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Low carbon energy

Today I have finalised UNISON Scotland's submission to the Scottish Government's consultation, Securing the Benefits of Scotland’s Next Energy Revolution.

We would agree that Scotland’s geographical advantages open up significant economic prospects in the field of low carbon and renewable energy. There is a welcome commitment that Scotland should consolidate its position as a net energy exporter. I can recall the time when SNP policy was being guided by an academic who essentially argued for a ‘Scotland only’ energy generation policy.

There does need to be some caution against raising expectations of the scale of economic benefit. Successive governments and their agencies have published predictions on job creation that have rarely been realised.

Whilst low carbon energy should undoubtedly be the focus of a Scottish energy strategy it is important that the government does not lose sight of the importance of a balanced energy policy if Scotland’s security of supply is to be secured, let alone our export potential. North Sea oil and gas production in Scotland is reducing at the same time as our coal and nuclear electricity generating plants are approaching the end of their economic life. Within ten years Scotland will lose around 30% of its electricity generating capacity from large plants and within twenty five years we are likely to lose all our capacity from these facilities. UNISON Scotland holds the view (see our Scottish energy strategy) that all energy sources need to be considered as part of that energy mix and we cannot exclusively rely on renewables.

Much of this consultation paper, unsurprisingly from an SNP government, focuses on getting energy revenues and further powers from the UK Government. Scotland is part of the UK and revenue and expenditure has to be seen in that context. Whilst it would be beneficial to Scotland to extract one or more favourable tax streams, we need to recognise that these are part of a larger and more complex tax and spend environment. Arguments about what was generated in ‘Scotland’s waters’ means little in this UK context and the obvious political message in this paper undermines the importance of developing a coherent energy policy.

Having said that UNISON Scotland supports the devolution of energy policy and can therefore support many of the proposals in the paper. Greater control of the Crown Estates and a register of community benefit in particular. Sadly, there is no mention of the role of local government and planning functions are under further pressure as a result of spending cuts.

We have common ground on the issue of transmission charging for electricity. The Ofgem charging system results in generators from Scotland and Northern England paying the highest grid charges in the UK. Generators in the North of Scotland pay £21.58 per Kh compared to a subsidy of £6.90 per Kh in London. We support the ‘postage stamp’ principle of a flat rate for all generators and hope the Ofgem obsession with competition policy will not block this solution in the TRANSMIT review.

Overall, putting the obvious political messages to one side, there are positive proposals in this paper. This is one of many Scottish Government initiatives on energy policy and perhaps now is the time to consider some greater coordination. The Royal Society of Edinburgh produced a thoughtful report on a Scottish energy strategy in 2006 and they recommended such an approach. An incoming administration would do well to take a second look at their proposals.

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