An Energy Just Transition: Can Scotland Do It?

Scotland has the natural resources and the skills to produce clean energy for both its citizens and for export. But it also has some of the worst housing for energy consumption and as a devolved nation – a restricted budget. The Scottish Government wants to progress how Scotland produces and consumes its energy but to do that in a ‘Just’ way. It has published a draft Energy Strategy which it is now consulting on.

What’s in the plan? Does it go far enough? And is it achievable in the current constitutional set up?

Here’s a slide show of the summary in the Draft Plan

Scotland is already an exporter of energy but the sector is a complex one with most of the powers over Energy remaining with the UK Parliament. This draft plan has ambitions to export even more of the energy we produce and to work with our northern European neighbours to create a network of supply .

There are massive developments, particularly in Offshore Wind, around Scotland’s waters. Although these will add even more to the amount of renewable energy produced in Scotland it is still the case that “Scotland must reduce its overall emissions by 75%, as compared to 2019 levels, and 90% reduction by 2040” if the ambitions of the Scottish Government are to be realised.

To do this buildings, transport, industry have to all transition from fossil fuels – not easy when so much of Scotland is reliant on them. And this cannot be done overnight, it has to be done ‘justly’.

We don’t have a choice in this because our planet is already at breaking point.

World Meteorological Organisation

The UK plans to expand nuclear, oil, gas and even coal production. In order for Scotland to transition to net zero it requires to work with the UK Government. The two administrations are going in different directions over future energy production.

Friends of the Earth Scotland feel that the Scottish Government’s plans don’t go far enough.

 Head of campaigns Mary Church said:

“Our current fossil fuelled energy system is seriously harming people and the climate yet there is very little by way of new measures in this long-awaited Scottish Government Energy Strategy to tackle the climate emergency or the immediate impacts of the cost of energy crisis.

“After two years of preparation, this is a document chock full of existing commitments that we already know are insufficient to meet our climate targets, never mind the surge in action we need to see this decade. The Scottish Government has shied away from taking the big decisions we know are needed like setting an end date for fossil fuels in our energy system within the decade, and committing to phasing out oil and gas in line with science and justice.

“The draft strategy misses an open goal by failing to dramatically ramp up action on energy efficiency and public transport which can help improve lives, cut bills and deliver on climate commitments.

“The Scottish Government must reject the dodgy technology of carbon capture and storage and fossil hydrogen which is being pushed by the profiteering oil and gas industry who want to keep us locked into this harmful system.

“The Strategy contains lots of fine talk about job creation but no detail about how they will be secured. A huge dose of realism is required for many of the jobs estimates, particularly on potential for the hydrogen sector.

“By putting workers and communities at the heart of planning the transition to renewables we can ensure that we create a fairer, healthier Scotland that can meet its climate commitments.

“2022 was the hottest year on record in Scotland. We are drinking in the last chance saloon for any hope of staying within the critical 1.5 degrees warming threshold. For Scotland to play its part in tackling the climate crisis the final draft of this strategy needs to decisively end the era of fossil fuels.”

The Scottish Government is one formed between the SNP with an agreement from the Scottish Greens – a ‘coalition’ which both parties say is not a coalition. This agreement gives the Greens two Ministerial appointments in the government but with leeway in the MSPs to disagree with decisions. One of theses disagreements is around Carbon Capture.

The draft strategy acknowledges this difference of opinion – but it’s a strange kind of ambitious energy plan that still hasn’t come to term with dealing with Carbon Capture.

While we do not have an entirely shared vision for the role of hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage across the whole economy, we recognise – albeit to different extents – that these technologies will play a part in a just transition. The Scottish Government remains supportive of these technologies as part of the energy transition and in particular it remains committed to supporting the delivery of the Acorn project. However, we agree that any strategy for deployment of these technologies must enable decarbonisation at pace and cannot be used to justify unsustainable levels of fossil fuel extraction or impede Scotland’s just transition to net zero.

Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition

The direct cost we all feel of the current Energy set up is in the ever increasing bills we are paying to heat our homes, our businesses and to keep the lights on. These costs are seriously impacting the whole of society but especially the most vulnerable. The draft Strategy states that the UK transmission grid needs urgent reform.

The current transmission charging scheme militates against investment in Scottish solutions and inflates costs for Scottish communities. It needs urgent reform. The Scottish Government should bring the full weight of its influence to bear on this matter, which remains reserved to Westminster.

Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition

Scotland’s Energy Task Force identified transmission charges as one of the key barriers to net zero as part of the Joint Business Plan for Unlocking Investment in Scotland’s Energy Sector. Renewable generation in Scotland is subject to higher transmission charges than England.

Commenting on the Draft Strategy, Net Zero & Energy Secretary in the Scottish Government Michel Matheson said:

“Scotland is an energy rich nation, with significant renewable energy resource, a highly-skilled workforce and innovative businesses across a globally renowned supply chain.

“The renewables revolution is global, as all countries seek to address concerns about climate change, and Scotland is at the forefront of this transition.

“At a time of unprecedented uncertainty in our energy sector, accelerating the transition towards becoming a renewables powerhouse makes sense for a number of reasons – particularly to helping to mitigate against future global market volatility and the high energy prices which are making life so difficult for so many people across Scotland. For example, onshore wind is one of the most affordable forms of energy.

“While we do not hold all the powers to address these issues at source, this Strategy sets out how we can achieve an energy transition that ensures we have sufficient, secure and affordable energy to meet our needs, support Scotland’s economic growth and capitalise on future sustainable export opportunities.”

Do you think, given the direction of UK Government policies on Energy production and its attitude towards the devolved parliaments that the Scottish Government will have much success to deliver a Just Transition for Scotland within our current constitutional arrangement ?

The consultation on the Draft Strategy closes on 4th April 2023. Click on this link fore more information and how to contribute: Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan consultation

Image credit Martin Laird

Fiona Grahame

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