Interview Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland:
"We are aiming for a transformation - a re-industrialisation along the lines of a green economy"
No other country in the EU has more ambitious renewable energy plans than Scotland. One of the chief architects of the Scottish sustainable energy drive is government leader and leader of the Scottish National Party Alex Salmond, who also intends to lead the Scots into independence from the UK in 2014. In a wide-ranging interview with James Stafford of Oilprice.com, which Oilprice.com consented to share with European Energy Review, Salmond discusses his views of Scotland's radical new energy future: "We want to make Scotland the destination for international investment in low carbon, and for the development of the financial architecture for a global low carbon economy", he says. "We are aiming for a transformation - a re-industrialisation along the lines of a green economy."
|'The Scottish Government has a very strong vision of the opportunities that independence would bring to Scotland in the energy sector' (c) PA|
Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), became First Minister of Scotland in May 2007. In the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, he achieved a resounding victory, winning the first overall majority in the history of the Scottish Parliament. Salmond is one of the foremost proponents of Scottish independence. The Scottish government will hold a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom in the autumn of 2014. The outcome of this hotly debated referendum will be crucial for the country’s future.
Salmond is also known as a fierce proponent of renewable energy and climate change policies in Scotland. In his 2010 New Year message he "highlighted the importance of sustainable development and renewable energy in Scotland and the required increase in powers of the Scottish Parliament needed to help harness Scotland's green energy potential and therefore take full advantage of the renewable revolution" (Wikipedia).
As noted on Wikipedia, the Scottish Government is responsible in Scotland for all issues that are not explicitly reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster by Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998, including economic development and transport. Although energy is mostly a matter reserved to Westminster, administrative devolution of Sections 36 & 37 of the Electricity Act coupled with fully devolved planning powers jas enabled the Scottish Government to establish Scotland as a leader in renewable energy developments.
In the interview, Salmond discusses:
- How Scotland will achieve its ambitious renewable energy targets.
- The impact North Sea oil and gas revenues would have on an independent Scotland.
- How Scotland can become the green energy capital of Europe.
- Donald Trumps recent tantrum over offshore wind energy.
- The impact Independence would have on the Scottish economy.
- Why companies are continuing to invest in Scotland's renewable energy sector.
- Why Scotland would establish an oil fund and how it would be used.
- Why the shale revolution will not affect investment in Scottish renewables.
- The recent partnership between Scotland and Abu Dhabi.
- How Scotland will achieve its ambitious renewable energy targets.
If Scotland manages to gain its independence it would receive a 90% geographical share of North Sea oil and gas fields based on a division under international maritime law, roughly 81% of current oil and gas receipts, worth between $9.67 - $19.34 billion annually. Is this income crucial to the SNP's future economic policies?
Alex Salmond: Even without our offshore oil and gas reserves, Scotland currently has the third highest output per head in the UK, after London and the South-East. And when oil and gas output is included, Scotland's output per head is 15% above the UK average.
Energy is important to Scotland's economy. We have world class companies operating in the global oil and gas supply chain while we will benefit from Scotland's second energy windfall in renewable energy where we have around a quarter of Europe's potential offshore wind and tidal energy and some 10% of its wave energy resource.
What plans do you have for investing this revenue back into Scotland?
Alex Salmond: In contrast to other oil rich nations, successive UK Governments have failed to take the action necessary to ensure that future generations benefit from the economic windfall from Scottish oil and gas. An independent Scotland would use its oil and gas reserves far more responsibly. Specifically, the Scottish Government would establish an oil fund, once fiscal conditions allow. The development of an oil fund for Scotland would promote economic responsibility and stability. Revenues could be invested, rather than spent on current expenditure, during good financial times, and could counteract the effects of economic downturns.
You have stated that there is no chance of any new nuclear power plants being built in Scotland. Does this anti-nuclear stance go as far as shutting down current nuclear power plants? I saw that nuclear power currently provides up to 33% of Scotland's electricity generation needs - how soon would you hope to close the plants down, and where would you find the extra power?
Alex Salmond: We have always been clear that as long as the safety case can be made we are supportive of the possible life extension of existing nuclear power stations but that we are opposed to the development of new nuclear build in Scotland. New build nuclear power is vastly expensive and prone to delay - and shut downs in recent times have meant they have not been meeting 40 per cent of Scotland's energy needs. We do not support subsidies for new nuclear.
Nuclear power will also leave a legacy of waste and vast decommissioning costs for the next generation of Scots - we will not add to the issues of decommissioning by building new nuclear plants
|"Al Gore praised Scotland's commitment to renewables when he said: Scotland has not only provided inspiring leadership, you are exploiting one of the greatest resources anywhere on the planet"|
Scotland is famously doing very well in achieving its renewable energy goals with provisional generation statistics confirming that 2011 was a record year for renewable generation in Scotland, up 28.1 % from the previous record in 2009. Your well publicized target is 100% renewable electricity by 2020. How are you coming along with that? Is this figure really achievable?
Alex Salmond: Our Electricity Generation Policy Statement confirms that our 100% renewable electricity is technically feasible although we are not complacent and accept that it will be challenging. Delivery of the target will require around 16 GW of capacity. We currently have almost 5 GW operational. With a further 3.3 GW consented or operational and over 20 GW in planning or scoping we are confident that the target can be delivered.
If Scotland manages to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2020, will it continue to invest in renewable energy technology and look to become an energy exporter?
Alex Salmond: Scotland is fortunate in having a massive green energy potential. We have the best capacity for CCS in the European Union as well as a buoyant oil and gas regime, with record levels of capital investment. Our wind and seas hold some of the most concentrated potential not only across the UK and Europe, but in the world - our practical offshore renewables resource has been estimated at 206 GW. By harnessing around a third of this resource, installed offshore renewables capacity could reach 68 GW by 2050 - enough to meet Scotland's own domestic electricity needs seven times. Around 20 per cent of the electricity generated in Scotland is already exported to the rest of the UK and Scotland can go far beyond this to become the green energy capital of Europe.
How do you view the role of wave and tidal power in the overall renewable matrix?
Alex Salmond: The Scottish Government sees wave and tidal as playing a central role in the energy mix given their ability to complement and balance other forms of renewable energy generation. In the short term our priority is to develop the industry through small arrays to meet as much as possible of the ambitious plans for over 1GW of wave and tidal in the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters by 2020.
We have also consented a 10 megawatt tidal power array in the Sound of Islay; this is the world's largest consented wave or tidal stream project. We have launched the Saltire Prize, Scotland's £10 million energy challenge to the world to push back the boundaries of marine energy innovation, which will accelerate the commercial development of wave and tidal technology.
Offshore wind farms are an important part of Scotland's renewable energy future, but what do you say about the concerns of small fishing villages, such as those of East Neuk, who fear that their livelihoods will be threatened?
Alex Salmond: Communities across the country stand to benefit from the development of Scotland's huge offshore clean energy resources and clearly the fishing industry is right at the heart of many coastal communities, so we aim to strike the right balance between our renewables ambitions and other competing uses for the seas. That's why Marine Scotland (the government Directorate responsable for the management of Scotland's seas, editor) is actively engaged with the industry, for example, through a trilateral policy group, bringing together government, renewables and fisheries, and by ensuring fishermen are represented on two other renewable energy steering groups and where possible engaging them in an operational capacity such as undertaking fisheries liaison duties. It is also undertaking mapping and research into areas used by the fishing industry, including sensitive fisheries. At an individual project level, Marine Scotland is required by statute to fully consult relevant stakeholders, including the fishing industry, and the public, before any offshore renewable project can be consented or rejected."
Donald Trump has made a public complaint and set up a campaign to prevent offshore wind farms along the coast of Scotland. He may be more worried about the view from his luxury golf resort than the plight of the local communities, but the local communities do still back him. Do you believe his campaign could receive enough support to prove troublesome, or do you see this as the tantrum of a man who is used to getting his own way?
Alex Salmond: In terms of the local community, I'd simply point out that so far there have been some 460 representations from members of the public supporting the Offshore Wind Demonstrator project, compared to 137 against. Of course, as we have made clear throughout, each project is determined on it merits taking into account views of stakeholders, consultees and members of the public. In general terms, however, several recent surveys have shown strong public support for clean energy, including wind power.
Some 71 per cent of people in Scotland backed wind power as part of our energy mix in a Scottish Renewables/YouGov poll published around the time Mr Trump gave his evidence to the Scottish Parliament Committee. The development of the low carbon economy, driven by a renewables revolution
|"I'm confident that our support for Scotland's world-leading renewables industry is well welcomed across Scotland. Communities are already benefiting from thousands of jobs and tens of millions of pounds of investment"|
The partnership deal that your government signed early this year with Masdar, the Abu Dhabi clean energy company, could be hugely lucrative and beneficial for Scotland. We know that the agreement covers offshore and onshore wind, carbon capture and storage, investment in the low carbon economy, and renewable energy research and development, but could you give us a more detailed account as to what Scotland will benefit from, and what Abu Dhabi will benefit from?
Alex Salmond: Globally, we need to make the transition from an economy which largely generates energy from fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy. The issues that Scotland and Abu Dhabi will work on together are among the key challenges that confront the world as it moves to a low carbon future: how to develop commercial onshore and offshore wind projects of scale; how to reduce the cost of offshore wind; the implementation of projects for carbon capture and storage; smart grids; power electronics; bio-energy; building technologies and solar power. Both Abu Dhabi and Scotland know that countries which develop the low carbon technologies to power the planet in the future will gain significant economic benefits, whether it is from the sale of technology, the manufacture of turbines and machinery, or the export of clean electricity itself. The Framework for Action between Scottish Enterprise, Masdar, the 12 Scottish universities of the Energy Technology Partnership and the Masdar Institute for Science and Technology brings together a huge amount of accumulated expertise. Masdar is a very attractive partner because its basic premise is to invest in and develop low carbon technologies and Scotland has massive investment opportunities, for example in offshore wind. Masdar is making significant investments in markets outside the UAE and is ambitious to invest further in the UK. Masdar, which has a number of investment funds which take shares in hi-tech companies, will consider potential investment opportunities in the Clean Technology sector in Scotland. Both Abu Dhabi and Scotland are committed to using our existing expertise in the oil and gas industry to help us in the transition to a low-carbon economy, for example Scotland's North Sea experience can help cut the costs of offshore wind. Our partnership is also a wider statement of intent that it makes about the role that Scotland and Abu Dhabi intend to play in helping the world to meet its future energy needs.
Subsidies for renewable energy programs are losing popularity in many countries as expensive startup costs and the shale gas revolution make these technologies economically unfeasible. How are you attracting investors to your various programs?
Alex Salmond: Scotland has a natural competitive advantage in the transition to the low carbon economy given our vast renewable energy resources and our history of technological innovation. We believe that our competitive advantage lies in being at the forefront of technological innovation: this is achievable for a small nation. We want to make Scotland the destination for international investment in low carbon, and for the development of the financial architecture for a global low carbon economy, by operating at the forefront of development of clean energy. You also have to provide investment certainty.
|"We believe that our competitive advantage lies in being at the forefront of technological innovation: this is achievable for a small nation"|
Climate change campaigner and Nobel Laureate Al Gore praised Scotland's commitment to renewables when he said: "Scotland has not only provided inspiring leadership, you are exploiting one of the greatest resources anywhere on the planet, with wind onshore and particularly offshore, all sorts of variety of windmills - and the new renewable technologies are especially important". So clearly, major international figures think we have the framework right in Scotland.
A recent Citigroup research report estimated that to achieve your renewable energy goals you would need to invest between £6 billion to £7 billion a year. Where do you see this investment coming from, as green energy has not delivered good returns for investors in the past.
|Falck Renewables' Kilbraur wind farm in northern Scotland (c) Falck Renewables|
Is Scottish independence crucial to your renewable energy plans for the future?
Alex Salmond: The Scottish Government has a very strong vision of the opportunities that independence would bring to Scotland in the energy sector. We are aiming for a transformation - a re-industrialisation along the lines of a green economy. The Scottish Government strongly believes that the increasingly integrated EU energy market means it is in the shared interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK to continue with the Great Britain-wide energy and electricity markets after Scottish independence. This would be similar in principle to the many international sharing arrangements which already exist, for example the All-Islands Approach agreed by UK, Scottish and Irish governments. Scotland can continue to play a key role in ensuring security of supply for the UK. The costs of low carbon electricity generation, be it in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland, to allow us collectively to meet international obligations to reduce polluting emissions, would continue to be spread equally across the consumer base.
For the full interview Oilprice.com had with Alex Salmond, which also includes a discussion of monetary and economic issues, see here.
For an overview of Scotland's green energy plans, see this article published last year on European Energy Review.