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Rob Gibson: Global agreements are the only way to leave COP26 legacy

By Rob Gibson

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By Rob Gibson, former MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross

Tenerife wind farm.
Tenerife wind farm.

Progress to decarbonise power supplies is as uneven across the globe as the Covid-19 vaccination. Yet the potential in many parts for wind and solar could not be more enticing, with falling costs of renewables equipment.

At Hogmanay, a BBC headline proclaimed the SNP government had missed its 100 per cent domestic electricity supply target. Negative headline again? The truth is that the target set in 2011 was missed by 1.4 per cent. Quite some achievement from a base of 37 per cent 10 years ago.

Scottish sources now produce 12.2 Gigawatts (GW) – a rise of 0.5GW last year.

Of course, some other sources appear in our electricity bills, most notably gas and nuclear, but king coal is nearly dead. Symbolically, First Minster Nicola Sturgeon pressed the plunger to demolish the 600ft high Longannet chimney, the last biggest coal burner in Scotland. It was an early Christmas present for this renewables-focused nation.

Highland Council hosts one of the biggest blocks of onshore wind, as does South Lanarkshire and East Renfrewshire, while Orkney has the most production per head of population.

Readers of Energy North can be proud of the major role renewables development is playing to create new jobs here in construction and maintenance of wind farms, now augmented by huge offshore wind being built and deployed. Ports such as Wick, Cromarty Firth and Buckie service and fabricate, facilitate and generally find enhanced benefits for their hinterland.

Such is the top line news in the 2021 report card. Early this year the big prizes are contained in the Scotwind offshore auction. The old McDermott oil yard near Ardersier is being prepared for transforming steel from oil rigs to become jackets for offshore wind turbines.

SSE has full consent to construct Corrie Glas pump storage hydro in the Great Glen. But the go ahead for grid access and Contracts for Difference (CfD) legal agreements are deep in the bureaucratic maw of Whitehall. London continues to determine which schemes to approve with an agreed strike price (the rate to be paid from our taxes).

This is a guarantee to wholesale generators such as SSE to go ahead. It is critical and is skewed by the Westminster government’s preferred energy system. They are passing a nuclear power in the Commons to ensure that option. An option that Scotland’s parliament has serially rejected in favour of wind, tidal and solar power.

Early in January this year, EDF announced that its Hunterston nuclear power station on the Clyde coast is to shut down. This underlines how Scotland’s energy journey from centralised to dispersed sources of clean power is ramping up, which makes it doubly necessary for the opportunities of the best wind, wave and tidal resources in Europe to have top priority and the ability of the Scottish Government to decide.

In these times of increasingly frosty relations between pro-Brexit London and pro-European Edinburgh, the fate of renewables development sits uncomfortably. Most big projects involve international partnerships for Scottish developments and for other UK needs, so close collaboration with German, Danish, Norwegian, Italian and French input is essential. Make no mistake, these are strained by Brexit – and underscore the lack of actual major engineering work which should be seeded and working here.

Uneven development of renewables worldwide is down to the power of the big oil companies. They go slow at just transition in far too many countries. Spain, for example, has been a leader in wind power with major manufacturing developers featuring Iberdrola (which owns Scottish Power) and Gamesa, now a partner with Siemens.

Wind power became Spain’s leading source of electricity in 2021. It is the fifth largest producer in the world at 27.4GW having overtaken nuclear power in 2021. Photo-voltaic solar is also a big option in a sunny climate. Spanish government proclaims building renewables as the antidote to Covid economic blues.

You would think that Spain’s Canary Islands, the Atlantic archipelago west of Africa, would be a prime target for renewables development to end oil-fired power reliance for the holiday islands. Well, Tenerife reached only a 20 per cent share for wind power in the energy mix with the completion of an Iberdrola project near Tenerife South airport two years ago.

Rigs in Santa Cruz.
Rigs in Santa Cruz.

Located right next to the southern motorway at Chemiche, it can supply 15,000 homes and is good example of big business partnering with local investors – 50 per cent Iberdrola and 50 per cent by 600 local companies and families.

Meanwhile, evidence of continued oil and gas exploration off Africa saw a rebuff for Shell from a South African court, which campaigners against fossil fuels have hailed with the expulsion of a seismic survey off its wild, west coast. South African government policy disagrees as they seek locally sourced oil to feed its oil to gas plant. They are hugely dependent on imported gas for domestic and industrial power, but do not lack wind or sun.

Shearwater Geo said it had won a major 3D seismic exploration project in South Africa. The plan was to acquire just over 6000 square km of data, in a project that would have lasted about four weeks for Shell, the very company which claims to lead a just transition in the North Sea.

Last month, the Amazon Warrior survey vessel owned by Shearwater Geo left South African waters heading towards La Palma, the recent scene of that volcanic eruption in the Canaries.

Examples like these of oil industry behaviour make it all the more urgent that the COP26 agreements, made in Glasgow last November, become legally binding.

Rob Gibson.
Rob Gibson.


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