As nations benefit from Scottish renewables we lose out
"Oh Sergeant, is this the adventure you meant
When I put my name down on the line
All that talk of computers and sunshine and skis
Oh, I’m askin’ you, sergeant, where’s mine"
The chorus of Billy Connolly’s song Sergeant, Where’s Mine? came to mind as I walked around Dunbar Harbour. The Big Yin’s song was exposing the hypocrisy of the sales pitch for the military.
But the song also applies to Scotland and renewable energy. Scotland is energy-rich, yet more than half of Scots are fuel-poor.
From the shores of East Lothian, I could see preparations for offshore wind farms that can transform Scotland. But where’s the benefit for our communities, the wealth for our country, never mind the businesses and jobs that should follow from this natural bounty?
Earlier that day, I met fuel poverty campaigners
Recent good weather can’t hide the fact that not just cold but harsh times are coming.
Energy prices are dropping, but they’ll still be far higher than before the crisis began. Wages and benefits haven’t kept pace with food – let alone fuel – inflation.
For some it won’t be choosing between heating or eating, it’ll be neither.
The Tory government may hope folk will simply endure and view the reduction in energy prices as a respite, soaking up the pain as they suffer from that euphemism of “self-disconnection”.
It’s a political weasel word as wicked as “collateral damage” in war, simply meant to dehumanise suffering.
This is as tragic as Billy Connolly’s squaddie lying in his hospital bed. But it’s also perverse, as this simply shouldn’t be happening in Scotland. Our land already provides almost 100% of its domestic energy from renewables.
In East Lothian, wind farms on the Lammermuir Hills can be seen in almost every town and village.
Soon they’ll be joined by the offshore revolution. Giant turbines will be visible along the coastline that should be transforming our country, as well as playing their part in saving our planet.
One wind farm alone, Berwick Bank, will produce more energy than we have households in Scotland. a And it’s just one of many, not only in the Firth but all around our coasts.
According to a parliamentary answer I received, 35 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity was expected to flow from Scotland to the rest of the UK in 2021 and by 2030 it was anticipated to be 124 TWh. Let’s put that into context: 1000 kilowatts = one megawatt; 1000 megawatts = one gigawatt; 1000 gigawatts = one terawatt.
One terawatt is therefore 1,000,000,000 (one billion) kilowatts. We’ll be sending 124 billion south.
How much do we use in Scotland?
An average household in Scotland uses under 4000 kWh per annum, and the whole of Scotland only requires six gigawatts.
We should be quids in and able to supply our people with cheap renewable energy, not power charged at the expensive price of European gas.
More than that, we should be benefiting from the industry’s wealth and seeing jobs and businesses grow. But that won’t happen unless we act.
At the moment, offshore energy is being sold off to big corporates, the painful irony being that while many are state companies, none of them are Scottish – or even British.
Along from Dunbar, the energy from the Neart Na Gaoithe is coming ashore. It’s some 15 miles from the Fife coast, at the mouth of the Firth. It’s owned by EDF and ESB, the French state energy company and Ireland’s state electricity board. The Irish Consul General told me it’s their largest investment ever outside the Emerald Isle.
There are some six state companies that either wholly own or have a significant stake in Scotland’s offshore wind – and others on land. That’s absurd.
And where are the jobs?
The turbines are being built abroad while, across the Firth, BiFab stands idle.
At Neart Na Gaoithe, a constituent who was a seafarer was laid off, along with others from the UK, and replaced by low-paid South Asian labour.
In the new world that’s coming, workers will be living in flotels or other onboard accommodation and – being outside territorial waters – won’t be covered by the National Minimum Wage. We can’t allow this to happen.
Our communities and our country must benefit from this bounty, not be robbed as happened with oil and gas. We need immediate action at Holyrood and Westminster, but ultimately we require not just independence but a radical vision for our land.
As ever, similar-sized nations to our own have shown what can be done, even with fewer natural resources than we possess.
At the moment, although onshore wind provides for a community benefit, there’s no provision for offshore. Ireland has specified that from its lesser resource, communities hosting offshore infrastructure will benefit at least €24 million a year.
Certainly better than the zilch that Westminster currently provides for East Lothian and other areas.
Denmark is taking a 20% stake in every offshore wind field. So should we. Such stakes should be sought from existing ones too (there’s no harm in asking). We need to establish a state energy company, which even Wales is doing.
We must also demand that it is written into contracts that some turbines are purchased locally, even though many will still need to be imported. Contracts must go to local businesses and work must be available for people who live in Scotland.
The renewable revolution must benefit Scotland and Scots must not be exploited. We’re energy rich and our folk must benefit from our natural bounty. All I’m demanding is what’s ours.
(This article was first published in The National on 03/07/2023)