Maree Todd: Supporting Orkney’s Renewables Industry

Maree ToddIt was disappointing not to be able to travel to Orkney on Monday to take part in Orkney Renewable Energy Forum’s Question Time-style debate looking at the energy policies of some of the political parties represented at the Scottish Parliament.

Thankfully Orkney SNP member Robert Leslie was able to stand in and join local Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur and Tory Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston to discuss Orkney’s route to a successful energy future. Having met OREF members and many others involved in renewable energy in Orkney, I know just how embedded in the local consciousness energy is, so wasn’t surprised that it was standing room only at the Stromness event.

There are many ways in which the Scottish Energy Strategy will enable precisely the kind of progress Orkney needs to make. The SNP Government has already backed the Research and Innovation Campus being created in Stromness, and is supportive of Orkney’s growing role as a renewable systems test bed.

One of the energy strategy’s three core principles is a smarter local energy model, and Orkney is arguably already leading the way – partly by necessity due to grid constraints – but also due to the sheer mass of energy expertise that has been drawn to Orkney to work in renewables, or who have stayed on after studying at Heriot Watt University’s remarkable International Centre for Island Technology.

I suspect that many of the students of the Postgraduate programmes at ICIT’s Stromness campus will help lead the way in creating local energy systems that other areas can learn from.

But while working towards these goals can, I hope, gain cross-party support, there’s no getting away from the fact that UK energy policy, with its focus on subsidising nuclear generation at the expense of supporting renewables, is not helpful.

The inadequate connections between Scotland’s islands – Shetland and the Western Isles also need interconnectors – and the Scottish mainland is a significant barrier to renewables growth. A clear signal is needed from the UK Government that it really wants to support island renewables before the marine renewable industry is lost to Scotland in the same way as wind was.

Today is the anniversary of the 2014 independence referendum and I’ve been reflecting on broken promises.

Scotland voted no to independence, but many of our worst fears have come true. We are leaving the EU, our democratic voice is ignored, and our parliament challenged. Let’s not forget the HMRC jobs lost, shipbuilding promises reneged, and women of a certain age being denied the meagre pension they were promised (our state pension being one of the lowest in Europe).

On renewables specifically, the Westminster decision in June 2015 to end subsidies to new onshore wind farms a year earlier than planned, with a disproportionate impact on Scotland contrasted with the 2014 rhetoric: ‘The broad shoulders of the United Kingdom are unlocking the power of Scotland to take its place as one of the world’s great energy hubs – generating energy and generating jobs’

Doesn’t feel like it!

This is a fortnightly column by local MSP Maree Todd, SNP, all List MSPs for Orkney have been offered the same column space.

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