This article by Scot.E3 activists Brian Parkin and Pete Cannell was first published in the newsletter of the Scottish United Left. United Left is a self funded organisation for UNITE members, with the principal aim of promoting a socialist agenda within the Union
For the better part of a century Scotland has been energy self-sufficient. Since the end of World War 2 an ‘energy mix’ of coal, hydro, natural gas and nuclear provided an embarrassment of riches as far as power generation was concerned. Not only was Scotland power generation self-sufficient but it was also a net exporter of power to England and Northern Ireland via inter-connecter cables. But over the past decade, the picture has been changing radically.
Firstly, much of Scotland’s ‘thermal’ power plant- coal and nuclear has been retired– and the one gas-fired plant at Peterhead has been down-loaded; and without the fitting of carbon capture plant- it too, will be closed by 2025. Also, by 2030 Scotland’s remaining nuclear station at Torness should have closed. And despite a considerable investment programme in wind turbine construction it is conceivable that Scotland will be unable to meet its peak winter demand at times.
The November COP 26 Climate summit in Glasgow will present evidence showing a worsening picture of runaway climate change due to the failure to control and reduce CO2 and other greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere. But even before the summit begins, many scientists and environmental activists have expressed doubts about any targets on greenhouse gasses being met. This is bad news which suggest that fundamental political changes are required in order to bring the world economy in line in order to prevent a global catastrophe. But rather than just await a solution from upon high, it is essential that wherever possible, climate crisis abatement strategies are undertaken now.
Relative to much of the rest of Europe, Scotland is endowed with a combination of natural assets- which if harnessed responsibly- could turn the country into a showcase green energy economy. Scotland has one of the longest coastlines of any country in Europe- along with some of the most reliable wind resources- both on and off shore. Another exemplary energy resource is the Pentland Firth- the tidal stream straits between Northern Caithness and the Orkney Islands. It has been calculated that if a mere 20% of the straits energy could be captured then the power needs of Scotland could be met.
The social dimensions
Any radical shift in the economy is not possible without the jobs to achieve it and the democratic consensus to make it possible. But no such programme is possible unless there is a clear understanding that the status quo can no longer prevail. It is a status quo that is driven by a profit motive that denies both environmental responsibility and social justice. So while the planet overheats, the elderly and poor shiver. Therefore, we will need a Just Transition that will transfer and retrain workers from old sectors into building and maintaining the various component sectors of the green economy. There will be houses to upgrade to new thermal standards and new houses to build that incorporate those standards. New smart power distribution and supply systems will have to be built and maintained. Also the design and manufacture of new wind, tidal, wave technologies and supply systems will require a new generation of workers.
A truly green economy must also take into account the wider built environment- issues like clean free public transport and the redesign of energy efficient public amenities and enhanced cultural facilities. And Scotland which beyond its central belt has a dispersed population dependent on road transport- which raises the prospect of non-fossil fuel powered vehicles.
These and many other issues will present themselves as the transition towards a green energy economy nears. But it is essential that every stage of these transitions are the subject of truly democratic discussion that will at each stage raise the question of whether Scotland will remain part of a dire global problem- or a leading part of its solution.
Brian Parkin and Pete Cannell for Scot.E3