Scotland and the end of the Nuclear Myth?

Brian Parkin takes look at the past, present and possible futures of nuclear power in Scotland. If you want to read more on this topic do try the excellent paper by Simon Butler on ten reasons why nuclear is not the answer.

A MURKY MYSTERY

On a per head of population, Scotland has the highest concentration of nuclear installations in the world. Apart from the Advanced Gas Reactor stations (AGR’s) at Hunterston B, (Ayrshire) and Torness (East Lothian), both owned and operated by eDF, the other nuclear sites in Scotland are where nuclear power generation has ceased- but where licences remain for the continuation of nuclear power generation in the future.  In total the number of nuclear sites in Scotland is five- the 2 operating reactors plus Chapelcross, Hunterston A and Dounreay in Caithness. In addition to the civilian generating sites, there are military related sites at Faslane on the Clyde, Vulcan in Caithness and Rosyth near Edinburgh. (See map).

The Chapelcross and Hunterston A stations are the now decommissioning Magnox-type reactors, ten of which formed the UK’s entrance into the world’s nuclear power race. The Magnoxs were developed over a number of years and so shared little in design and operational characteristics- but what they all shared was a graphite (carbon) core which was gas (CO2cooled) and which moderated (controlled) the speed of the Uranium235 fission- which in turn provided the heat for the steam that drove the electric turbines. All Magnox reactors are currently in the hands of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority with the intention to render the sites decontaminated and safe- a process for which the technology is yet to be developed and the costs unknown.

The Dounreay site is the home to that ultimate nuclear fission fantasy- the Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR). The two FBR plants were intended to reproduce their own Plutonium fuel during operation- but in actual fact produced less power than consumed by their works canteens(!). The Dounreay plants present the greater decommissioning challenges due to the extremely high and extended half-life of their Plutonium fuel rods and the extreme levels of site irradiation.

GOING, GOING, GONE?

The remaining AGRs at Hunterston B and Torness, along with the other six such stations in the UK, both share a generic design fault in the form of micro and hairline cracks in their moderator block graphite cores. This has brought forward the AGR closure programme with the problem so acute that the Hunterston B station is due, on a 40% load to shut-down within the next 4 years. This will leave Scotland with the remaining Torness AGR at a 1360 MWe rating on declining load factor. According to current plans Scotland will have ceased to have any nuclear generated electricity within its borders by 2031.

But even after some 60 years of nuclear failure it might be premature to read the funeral rites.

PROBLEMS

From its very inception, nuclear power has been beset by problems. Its capital costs have historically been prone to going through the roof. Also, recurring safety issues have led to operational caution in the form of low load-factors with down-time and unscheduled outages leading to negative revenues from unreliability- all of which have made nuclear power the most expensive and unreliable on the system.

But in order to disguise the real cost of nuclear power, it has always been given a ‘first on the system/must run’ status to which in addition it has been covered by transferred subsidies from other forms of generation. In other words, nuclear power has historically inflated the overall cost of electricity to the disbenefit of the consumer. Nuclear power has been one of the biggest aggravating factors in the persistence of fuel poverty.

Also, despite a continuous torrent of glossy promotions, the nuclear industry has always hidden the cost and environmental hazards of the back-end matter of waste ‘management’; how to safely treat ‘spent’ fuel rods that represent a lethal radiological threat, plus hundreds of tonnes of reactor core material which must be ‘managed’- kept out of harms way in sealed containment for an incalculable number of years. At no stage in the planning and design of any reactor have such technological and economic challenges been factored in.

ECONOMIES OF SCALE 1: BIGGER IS BETTER

The continual economic failure of nuclear power has given rise to an enduring industry fantasy- basically by building bigger reactors with higher power densities and outputs, an ideal reactor design will become a generic model with large run replication and better reactor efficiencies. Hence some thirty years of shift-shaping a Pressurised Water Reactor of around 1,400 Megawatts output in the hope of a tooth fairy. So around the year 2000, optimum size thinking settled on the 1,600 MWe European Pressurised Water Reactor of the type now being constructed at Hinkley in Somerset- a sister of the Normandy and Finnish massive over-run and over-cost failures. So instead:

ECONOMIES OF SCALE 2: SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: THE SMALL MODULAR REACTOR (SMR)

This is the obverse; a Small is Beautiful alternative to the Bigger is Better doctrine. The big sell of the SMR is a reactor that it is small, therefore requiring a smaller site footprint. It is also a modular plant that can be factory assembled and delivered with each unit- the reactor, plus cooling system components, steam turbine, pressure vessels and steam generator that when assembled form a single module that just requires being bolted into an outer shell and utility services like an Ikea kitchen flat-pack- or so the promotional goes. Also, once assembled, the reactor core can be loaded with fuel and control rods- all without the need for refuelling during the lifetime of the plant- about 40 years. The concept of the SMR is derived from earlier military Pressurised (Light) Water Reactors that were developed during the 1950-60’s to power nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. Typically, such a reactor would be rated at around 30MW electrical output- and in the US and Russia such ‘mini’ SMR’s have been undergoing operational trials.But in many ways, the SMR is pretty well a conventional reactor sub-species in that its produced energy is derived from nuclear fission with Uranium235 as the fuel. 

However, in the UK Rolls Royce have been scaling up their SMR designs to much bigger out-puts to more conventional power station ‘set’ sizes of 330-440MWe. Initially, this would seem to contradict the aim of the objective of compact size units- which to some degree is illustrated with the image of a SMR reactor encased in primary containment shell on the back of a low-loader truck. Also, the slender diameter of the reactor primary containment promotes the impression of technical simplicity-an impression dispensed by the cutaway illustration- added to which is the reality of the most demanding of shell pressures and an internal temperature hotter than the sun.

Initially, the sales spiel regarding the relative simplicity of the SMR is based on a claimed design and operational simplicity and flexibility of operation- along with claimed low capital costs of some 30% less than ‘conventional’ Pressurised Water Reactors. And it is here that SMR is now being projected as the answer to the need for a‘baseload’ component in a mainly renewables- but largely intermittent generating capacity. And with outgoing AGR nuclear stations at Hunterston and Torness- plus declining output from the gas-fired station at Peterhead, a smaller, lower cost and flexible SMR has some attraction.

Scotland; now virtually at the end of its fossil power generation history faces a future of almost unlimited renewable energy power generation technologies. Wind, wave, tidal, hydro, geo-thermal and solar power has recently begun to combine in powering Scotland for whole days without fossil or nuclear inputs. That is the future; not with a nuclear component that as ever offers jam tomorrow- but in the present offers the highest cost and most dangerous energy on the planet.

Dr Brian Parkin. July 2021.

New Report – Green Jobs in Scotland

A report released today, written by Transition Economics for the STUC shows how the transition to a low or Zero carbon economy could create a large number of new jobs. The report’s findings underline the need for planning, public investment and public control and consequences if these steps are not taken.

New STUC report shows the potential for up to 367,000 green jobs in Scotland. However poor policy choices could see less than 131,000 jobs being created.

Written by Transition Economics, “Green Jobs In Scotland” looks at how energy, buildings, transport, manufacturing, waste, agriculture and land-use need to be decarbonised, and sets out how Scotland can maximise green job creation, as well as fair work and effective worker voice in these jobs. It finds:

  • Energy: The transition to zero-carbon energy could see 30,000 – 95,000 jobs created over 15+years. However, this will require a national energy generation company, local content rules, and upgrades to ports and manufacturing sites. Without policies like this we could see less than 16,000.
  • Buildings: Decarbonising buildings & broadband could see 61,000 – 136,000 jobs created over 10+years, plus a further 22,000 – 37,000 jobs over 3 years in building new social housing. This area holds the greatest potential for job creation but requires billions of investment – including in a street-by-street retrofitting programme run directly by Local Authorities.
  • Transport: Upgrading and expanding transport could see 26,000 – 60,000 jobs over 10+ years with a further 11,000-13,000 ongoing jobs in operations. However, this will require significant investment in municipally run electric buses, railways, shipping, cycle and walking infrastructure etc.
  • Manufacturing and Industry: Heavy industry is particularly hard to decarbonise but 5,000 – 9,000 jobs could be created in steel, CCS and re-manufacturing, while existing employment numbers in chemicals and refining could be protected. However, even achieving this will require investment in plant conversions and an industrial strategy to promote domestic manufacturing.
  • Waste: The circular economy and waste management could provide 17,000 – 23,500 jobs. But this needs policies to boost recycling capacity, improve waste collection, scale up the deposit and return scheme, develop tool libraries, expand reverse logistics services, and expand remanufacturing.
  • Land-Use and Agriculture: Greening land-use and agriculture could create 17,000 – 43,000 jobs over 12+ years. But this requires significant investment in reforestation and rewilding, alongside support for local organic farming and stronger enforcement of labour standards in Scottish agriculture.

The recommendations in the report span UK, Scottish and Local Government, with the scale of public investment required to meet climate targets and potential job levels exceeding what the Scottish Government alone can access under the current financial settlement. However, calls for a more active industrial strategy, far greater levels of public ownership and significant public investment noting that employment in Scotland’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy decreased in 2019.

You can read the full report here.

Why have the oil industry and the North Sea been ‘disappeared’ from the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan?

Ex North Sea oil worker Neil Rothnie asks why the Scottish Government’s updated climate plan is so quiet on North Sea oil and gas. This piece was published as a letter in the Herald newspaper on 30th December 2020

Image – Dornoch Firth, Pete Cannell CC0

SCOTTISH Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, has been giving her opinion on the Government’s updated Climate Change Plan. But nowhere in her Herald on Sunday article (“‘COP26 is a chance for us all to play our part in debate’”, December 20), or even in the plan itself, do we get a glimpse of the reality of climate change.

Climate change is increasingly experienced by people across the globe as extreme weather events that are already destroying lives. It’s experienced by the natural world as rising temperatures, the melting of ice and the destruction of habitats and the threat of species extinctions.

There’s no sense of this in the report. The term “climate change” is scattered throughout it like punctuation marks, and carries about as much meaning as a comma.

There is scientific consensus about climate change. It’s caused by burning fossil fuels which give rise to greenhouse gases (carbon emissions) that cause the atmosphere to heat, and progressively destabilise global climates.

The oil industry, and the North Sea where 75 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions originate, have been “disappeared” from the Government’s plan. It’s one area where the UK and Scottish governments are completely in step. Their plan for the North Sea is “Maximising Economic Recovery”. And if that isn’t clear enough, just think, “business as usual”.

Maybe you thought that a climate change plan might concentrate on how we might replace fossil fuel production with renewable energy production in a planned way, that protects the workers, their families and communities by helping them transition to work in a sustainable industry.

But no. Oil and gas must stay, and stay in the hands of the giant corporations, and suffer the vagaries of a basket case of an oil market that gives us periodic price collapses and catapults thousands of workers onto the dole. Twelve thousand have gone so far this time. Another 18,000 or so expected to go soon.

 Now it seems, our new future best friends are to be “hydrogen” and “carbon capture”. We’re to continue sucking the hydrocarbons from under the North Sea, then spend a fortune taking the carbon out, leaving hydrogen. Then we’ll pump the carbon back under the North Sea. Is this feasible at scale? Globally?

A third of North Sea gas comes ashore at St Fergus where by 2024 we “could” be able to remove 340,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year – a measly one 800th of the 280 million tons of greenhouse gasses that were produced by burning North Sea oil and gas last year.

Is Ms Cunningham going to be standing alongside UK Minister Alok Sharma to welcome the COP26 circus to Glasgow this coming year? If so, what leadership is she going to be showing Saudi, Russian, US and Nigerian delegates? Should they follow our lead and maximise economic recovery of their own oil and gas resources? And hope to decarbonise it and pump the carbon back underground?

The updated Climate Change Plan does not look like the Government has the measure of carbon emissions or the oil and gas industry. They all need public scrutiny.

BiFab goes into administration

Yesterday the Scottish Parliament Voted by 61 Votes to 60 to condemn the government’s failure to save BiFaband calling for specific actions to save the yards.  The motion is reproduced below.  Today the firm was put into administration.

A joint statement by trade unions GMB Scotland and Unite said BiFab’s administration exposed the “myth of Scotland’s renewables revolution as well as a decade of political hypocrisy and failure, in Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

GMB Scotland secretary Gary Smith and Unite Scotland secretary Pat Rafferty added that the workers and communities dependent on the yards had “fought so hard for a future”.

The Scottish Parliament vote calls on the government to take a number of actions – including that the government produces a report by January that sets out steps to ensure future renewable work comes to Scottish fabrication yards.  If BiFab is lost it’s a tragedy for the workforce and for workers in the sector more generally.  It’s also a major setback on the path to a sustainable economy.  Transition requires skilled workers and infrastructure.  BiFab should be part of that.  

Scot.E3 has argued consistently that the only effective way to develop a serious plan for transition is through public planning and public control.  Taking BiFab into public ownership could be a first step.  One thing is clear that to get the Scottish Government to take this seriously and to respond to the motion extra parliamentary pressure is required.  A new UN report shows how the big energy companies are doubling down on fossil fuel extraction.  It’s time to turn the tide – if not now when!

See recent articles on BiFab here and here.

Photo by Pete Cannell CC0

The motion

That the Parliament believes that Scotland has the potential to lead Europe’s green energy revolution over the coming decades; further believes that, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and job losses, green jobs will be central to creating new employment and training opportunities across Scotland; considers that, with the support of the workforce and their trades unions, the maximum effort has to be made to secure wind farm contracts for Scottish manufacturing companies; notes that, in open competition, BiFab won a £30 million contract to build turbine jackets for the NnG North Sea wind farm, work that could have started in January 2021, but has been prevented from going ahead with this; condemns the Scottish Government’s decision to withdraw the financial guarantee that was needed to enable this work to go ahead, thus risking Scotland’s reputation as a new green investment hub, and further condemns the Scottish Government’s failure to produce any legal opinion to justify its claim that support for BiFab was against the law; calls on it to act now to secure the future of the Burntisland Methil and Arnish yards, and the jobs that depend on them; further calls on it to talk to the workforce’s representatives and to ask for the help of the UK Government through the joint working party to urgently negotiate with EDF and Saipem to find a solution that ensures that the NnG contract for eight wind turbine platforms is carried out in the yards, and, with Glasgow being the venue of the COP26 summit in December 2021, calls for a concrete plan to be published in January by the Scottish Government that ensures that future work on renewables comes to Scottish yards, and further calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that these policy commitments on renewables are part of a coherent industrial strategy for the post-COVID-19 era.

Two critical responses to the EAG ‘recovery’ report

Yesterday we published Scot.E3’s case for immediate and radical action on climate and social justice.  We contrasted our proposals with the recommendations of the Scottish Government’s Economic Advisory Group (EAG), which were published on Monday.  Here two regular contributors to this blog give their personal reactions to the EAG report.  In the coming days and weeks we want o publish more on this topic, but not just on policies and plans, we need to discuss movement building so that we can apply the kind of pressure that is required to achieve the system change we need.

Mike Downham writes of the EAG report:

77 pages of neoliberal propaganda, with passing references to climate change, inequality and racism to soothe the voters – all empty rhetoric, devoid of any proposals on how to address these social injustices other than through increased, top-down private sector activity.

But what else did we expect from a group of eight people hand-picked by a Government wedded to ‘Sustainable’ Growth (sustainable for capitalists) and to extracting the last drops of oil and gas from the North Sea, and which put profit before people’s lives by obsequiously following the UK Government’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic? 4,878 people have died in Scotland as a result of the epidemic at the last count on 16th June. People are still dying as the report is published.

That Graham Smith, previously General Secretary of the Scottish trade Unions Conference, which represents more than 500,000 workers, has put his name to this report is an ultimate manifestation of the successful co-option by neoliberal governments of the trade union bureaucracy.

On Just Transition we’re given “There is the jeopardy, as well as the opportunity, of the transition associated with climate change”, along with carbon capture and storage in the North Sea, and “positive behavioural change”.

This is not the time to “recast a new model”, or to follow “abstract arguments around the creation of new institutions”. By which the Group presumably means a National Climate Service, consisting of the National Investment Bank, a publicly owned Energy Company, and the creation of 100,000 carbon saving or carbon neutral jobs essential for improving the quality of life for people across Scotland, with training opportunities for all those who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, the many more who will soon lose their jobs as the recession bites, and those who didn’t have a job to start with.

Instead we should rely on the “might of the private sector” to create more jobs, because (logically?) that’s where 79% of jobs currently are. The “backdrop” is “constrained public sector resources”, which we know is nonsense.

This has to be based, the Report says, on “transforming some aspects of the relationship between business and the Scottish Government” a relationship which is working “reasonably well for financial services, agriculture and renewables”, but not well enough in other sectors. “If one party in a relationship says it’s not working, it isn’t. This could be “an opportunity for the Government to draw on businesses to second senior executives”. The Group reminds the Government that an election isn’t far away, so it had better get on with improving its relationship with business if it doesn’t want to lose its voters. The tone is overbearing, arrogant and amounts to bullying.

Apart from the pressure of elections, and the need to create more private sector jobs fast, there’s no hurry. Change will take time and will rely on “patient capital”. We need to build an attractive prospectus for inward investment. We also need to develop a new “pragmatic approach to regulation and planning”, for which read privatisation.

Overall, “recovery” is taken to mean recovering growth, sticking to the 2015 Scottish Economy Strategy with its ambition for Scotland to reach the top quartile of OECD countries, as measured by GDP.

There is much further detail in the Report but given that the principles are set in the four pages of the Foreword, it’s questionable whether it’s helpful to study the proposals further.

The underbelly of the report which we can focus on is the triad of trusting the private sector to alleviate social injustice, which history has demonstrated time and again fails; the lack of urgency in relationship to global warming; and a top-down approach as opposed to grassroots leadership, which history has plenty to say about too.

So here, in the flesh, is the “madness”, that ScotE3 and many others have warned against. If we allow these recommendations to fool us, and don’t promote alternative, coherent and more attractive recommendations quickly, we will have lost any possibility of slowing down global warming, and of effectively addressing poverty, inequality and social justice in general. We know, already knew, that only a mass movement will save us against significant attacks from capitalism, of which this Report is the latest.

Matthew Crighton’s view of the report: Green Recovery – what a disappointment

Yesterday started with hearing on Radio 4 the Pope say that the recovery must be ‘just and equitable’. He called for integrity not hypocrisy from politicians. Then came Mark Carney on how getting to net zero is part of the solution to the crisis, for companies as well as countries. He reminded us that net zero is ‘the law of the land’. Would these two be the warm-up acts to the revelation of truly transformative recommendations from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery?

Image: Public Domain CC0

What a let down, then, to hear at lunchtime from ex-banker Benny Higgins who chaired the Group, set up “to advise the government on actions for economy recovery but also to build a fairer, greener and more equal society”(Nicola Sturgeon 17 April). There were lots of words from him and Nicola, but little useful content that I could find.

There are mentions of inequality in this report – but not one of them comes in the Recommendations! Nothing here for the Pope.

There is a section on prioritisation and delivery of green investments. It reads quite well – but it stands on its own and doesn’t permeate into any of the other recommendations. This is ticking the green box, not delivering a green recovery. The authors haven’t grasped the zero carbon imperative which Carney reminded us of. Instead of using the recovery to drive urgent decarbonisation action, they want to use green investments to boost the economic recovery which is the subject of the other 23 recommendations.

Left to Benny Higgins and his crew, that would be a very conventional recovery. One good thing is that it does call for a boost to investment levels, but it has no suggestions about how to do that apart from asking Westminster for more funds or borrowing powers. No plan for Scottish Green Bonds here, no call for a massive increase in the capitalisation of the Scottish National Investment Bank, just a suggestion that it should invest in housing – which looks dangerously like a dilution of its commitment to funding a Just Transition.

It’s a set of headings taken from the conventional economic development text book which has brought us to the dire state our economy was in before Coronavirus. Why set up an Advisory Group when you have Scottish Enterprise to write this stuff, and do a better job? It’s as if a Green New Deal had never been proposed!

One idea which got some attention is a business-led Scottish Jobs Guarantee scheme which would offer employment for at least 2 years to 16-25 year olds. This is a worthy objective but it misunderstands the challenge. It’s based on the Edinburgh Guarantee, an excellent initiative to address problems of a relatively small layer of young people not in education, employment or training at a time when unemployment was relatively low. We are, however, facing a scenario in which businesses of all sizes will be struggling to retain existing employees, let alone take on new youngsters.

The reference point has to be the mass unemployment of the 1980s and 1990s and the appropriate responses have to include a publicly-led intermediate labour market programme – a Future Green Jobs programme which funds rate-for-the-job employment in green projects to give people skills needed in decarbonising the economy. Not just for young people, there must be a clear offer to the adults who lose their jobs as recession bites. Apart from the expansion of PACE services, which support people facing redundancies, and platitudes about skills and lifelong learning this report offers nothing to them. The Advisory Group doesn’t even want to try a Universal Basic Income.

Disappointed doesn’t do justice to my feelings about this report! Instead of being the climax of a gig with the Pope and Mark Carney as warm-up acts, this was like an embarrassing local band trying to sound like they could share a stage with the stars but fumbling their words and striking some discordant notes as well.

Now that this report has come, and will probably sink without trace, we need to look forward to something sharper and more radical from the Just Transition Commission (it’s Call for Evidence is open until 30 June). And we need to continue to press for the Scottish Government to come forward with a list of specific programmes and policies which can make a difference, like a massive energy efficiency programme for our cold and draughty homes. Nicola Sturgeon can still bring on policies for a just and green recovery but she won’t find much in this report to help her.

Just and Green Recovery

Scot.E3 is one of more than 70 Scottish organisations that have added their names to a letter to the Scottish Government calling for a Just and Green Recovery. The letter was initiated by Friends of the Earth Scotland. You can sign the linked petition here. The five points that are central to the letter are:

  1. Provide essential public services for people, not profit. Expand public ownership of public services and boost investment, including in social care, strengthen the NHS and cradle-to-grave education, and create zero-carbon social and cooperative housing instead of buy-to-let.
  2. Protect marginalised people and those on low incomes by redistributing wealth. Provide adequate incomes for all instead of bailouts for shareholders, significantly raise taxes on the wealthy, ensure all public workers receive at least the real Living Wage and strengthen health, safety and workers’ rights, including access to flexible home working. Investigate and mitigate the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing on women, children and young people, disabled people, LGBTI people, people of colour, key workers, unpaid carers, private renters, and those on lower incomes.
  3. Provide new funds to transform our society and economy to meet Scotland’s Fair Share of climate emissions cuts and greatly enhance biodiversity. Create and protect jobs in sustainable travel, renewable heat, affordable local food and energy efficiency, with ambitious green employment opportunities for young people and support for retraining where whole industries are affected. Put measures in place to ensure all government programmes tackle inequality, public health and the just transition away from fossil fuels, excluding rogue employers, tax avoiders, major polluters and arms manufacturers from bailouts.
  4. Strengthen democracy and human rights during these crises. Withdraw new police powers, surveillance measures and restrictions on protest as soon as possible. Enable full scrutiny of planning and policy decisions. Create an independent Recovery Commission founded on participatory democracy to engage and empower communities, trade unions and civil society. Introduce fundamental human rights into Scots law so that safety nets are always in place for the most vulnerable.
  5. Offer solidarity across borders by proactively supporting an international Coronavirus and climate emergency response that challenges the scapegoating ofmigrants, centres on the worst affected, bolsters global public health, development and environmental bodies, and ensures equitable access to COVID-19 treatment. Use the UN climate talks in Glasgow to push for robust implementation of the Paris deal, platforming the voices of indigenous and frontline communities and advancing climate finance and global debt cancellation. Ensure coherence between all domestic policy and global sustainable development outcomes.

Decisions made in times of crisis have long-lasting consequences. After the 2008 financialcrisis, inequality grew and climate emissions spiralled. We want to see this moment seized for the common good, not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Survey

Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland are carrying out a survey to gather information on the effect of the oil crisis and COVID-19 on job security and work conditions and to understand how the campaign for a ‘Just Transition’ is perceived by oil and gas workers and what kinds of demands workers would like to see addressed by a transition to net-zero. 

The survey is directed at people employed in

  • The oil and gas industry
  • The supply chain (such as aviation, transport, car manufacturing and service industries)
  • Public bodies, unions or community organisations who regularly interact with the oil and gas industry and supply chain

If you fall in to one of these categories do take the time to complete the survey.

Scotland, Norway, Climate Jobs and Covid 19

The economies of Norway and Scotland have both been shaped by 50 years of exploitation of North Sea oil and gas. Both countries have governments that talk about tackling the climate crisis while remaining wedded to the further extraction of oil and gas from the North Sea basin.  There is however, a sharp divide between the two countries.  After 50 years Norway has the biggest Sovereign wealth fund in the world.  Scotland in contrast has no such fund and UK governments since the 70’s have pursued taxation policies that have resulted in massive net subsidies to the oil industry.  Right now job losses are taking place in the Scottish sector as companies respond to the overproduction of oil and the drop in price – in the worst-case scenario this could mean (including the multiplier effect) up to a quarter of a million jobs lost in Scotland out of a total workforce of 2.6m.

On the 24th May we were fortunate to hear from Andreas Ytterstad who is part of the Norwegian Climate Jobs Campaign – Bridge to the Future.  You can watch a video of Andreas’ introduction below.  This was followed by a very lively discussion in the course of which participants shared questions, ideas and links to resources.  It’s hard to do justice to such a rich discussion but in the rest of this post we have sketched a summary of the issues raised and included links to further reading and useful resources. 

Summary of the discussion

Andreas and others argued that state intervention and public control is essential for just transition. The door we’ve been pushing against is now slightly open – for example the growing scepticism in the Finance Department of even the right-wing Norwegian Government about further investment in oil extraction. All governments are now under huge financial pressure from increased expenditure and reduced receipts in the Covid-19 pandemic. This is an entirely new situation – we can push for things we couldn’t realistically push for before. Oil companies have no interest in funding transition, especially as they are led by men coming to the end of their working lives, not up for taking risks.

There was a lot of discussion about Climate Jobs, what they are and their relative importance in the overall economy.  Speakers noted the importance of studies by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign and the Green European Foundation in establishing a rigorous case for climate jobs.  Andreas noted that even if the current target number is too small it could act as the battering ram to break through to State acceptance of Climate Jobs and Just Transition.  He argued the need to win acceptance of the idea but that by itself it was insufficient.  The campaign also requires the agency of workers as active participants to ensure that ideas become implemented. Offshore workers’ skills will be important in new housing, energy efficiency retrofit of buildings and public transport. We are going to need huge numbers of Climate Jobs across all sectors, not just the energy sector. An aerospace worker added that there is also huge need for Climate Jobs arising from redundancies in the Aerospace industry.

Andreas noted that regional variation is important in planning and achieving Just transition. It will be most difficult in communities, which have grown and are now entirely dependent on oil.  Aberdeen is similar to Norwegian examples, but less remote and therefore more easily incorporated into a national plan. In the meantime we should support even defensive actions by these communities. One speaker noted that in England, Sheffield and County Durham for example, are both developing their own Climate Jobs / Just Transition plans. In both Norway and Scotland (and England) there’s potential for local and regional state authorities to join the Climate Jobs movement.  There were questions and contributions on the role of local authorities from contributors in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Other questions raised in discussion included:

How to fund the transition? Without a national investment bank how can manufacturing of renewables and other socially useful products for climate jobs be financed?

What are these green jobs?

Who will create them?

Who will fund these new jobs/businesses?

What is the response from Norwegian oil workers to transition jobs?

Will the jobs be from the private sector, or subsidised by national/regional governments, or state/regional publicly owned and financed?  Responses to this included ‘That’s fundamental  – I think the devil is not just in the detail of when or how much but also who will own it!  In Aberdeen the oil and local political establishment have ignored and then when they had to, slowly started to talk about transition but mainly to manage it and make sure they were still in control of transition!  What about pushing for transition without them in control?  Where all could the money be taken from.’

What does anyone think of case of Uruguay?  

More links and further reading

Andreas Ytterstad writing on climate jobs for the Open Democracy website

Scottish Government Energy Strategy

Aberdeen City Council consultation and net zero vision

Sea Change Report – the case for transition from North Sea Oil and Gas

In Scotland the Common Weal “Our Common Home Plan” outlines a way in which a six of passive measures to REDUCE energy requirements in buildings AND improve well-being. 

Call to Action

Read the call to action on global climate jobs

Just Transition Commission Interim Report

The Just Transition Commission began its work in 2019.   Established by Scottish Ministers its remit is to advise on how just transition principles can be applied to climate change action in Scotland.  It is tasked to complete a final report with recommendations for Scottish Ministers by January 2021.  The Commission published an interim report on 26th February 2020.

Commissio interim cover

The interim report has four main themes:

  1. Planning Ahead
  2. Public engagement
  3. Bringing equity to the heart of climate change policies
  4. Opportunities and the need for immediate action

The report notes that since the Commission began its work both the Climate Change (Emission Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act and Scottish National Investment Bank Bill include reference to just transition principles. However, it is critical of a lack of action by the Scottish Government and highlights opportunities that have not been taken.  The closure of the coal-fired power station at Longannet is cited as a case where the local community in Kincardine contest the view of Fife Council and other agencies that the closure was well managed and socially just.

There is a strong emphasis from the Commission on the need for strategic vision that cuts across sectors and for government leadership and direction.   It contends that the task of making strategic progress across sectors

… cannot be left to enterprise agencies or indeed companies themselves. There is a crucial need for Government leadership.

Further, it argues that the Scottish Government shouldn’t wait for its  2021 report before acting, stating that

We firmly believe that all decisions taken by Government in the year ahead need to be made with a view to supporting a just transition for Scotland. We don’t want Government to wait for our final report to begin planning how a just transition will be achieved.

It notes that current planning approaches are insufficiently rigorous and suggests that all Scottish Government funded investments should be prioritised against inclusive, net-zero economy outcomes.  Planning is essential if we are to avoid the kind of unjust transition that has characterised previous major economic transitions.

While arguing for a much more proactive role for the Scottish Government the interim report doesn’t make recommendations for how a state energy company could be used to drive transition. It’s to be hoped that the final report will say more about this.

While it is critical of lack of action and leadership from the Scottish Government, the interim report is weak on the role of public ownership and democratic engagement.  The former is largely neglected while the latter is viewed in terms of  consultation – there’s no real sense that system change is on the agenda.  This is most evident in the way that the report approaches North Sea Oil and Gas.  The  oil industry’s  Vision 2035 and associated roadmap are mentioned without criticism.  The truth is that aiming for the  North Sea to become the ‘first net-zero carbon hydrocarbon basin’  means continuing extraction and carbon capture and storage on a massive scale.

‘Just Transition’ was prominent at COP24 in Katowice – developed by the workers movement and climate activists – it has been partially co-opted by corporations and government agencies.  It’s critical that the climate movement defends the radical core of the concept.  If social justice is not central to transition then it will not be possible to build the scale of social mobilisation that is needed and the risk of a climate catastrophe is magnified.  Here in Scotland we need to put social justice at the heart of our actions as we build the climate movement and mobilise for COP26.  The Just Transition Commission is asking for civil society to submit their views as it works through 2020 and prepares its recommendations for Ministers.  We should do that.  But even more important is raising the level of mobilisation so that the pressure for action becomes irresistible, system change is on the agenda and corporate greenwashing is exposed as a desperate attempt to cling on to business as usual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on ‘Our Common Home’

Earlier this week we shared a video of Tiffany Kane talking about Common Weal’s plan for a Green New Deal for Scotland. This post is a review of the plan written by Pete Roche. It was originally published in the bulletin of Nuclear Free Local Authorities.

commonweal

The Common Weal think tank has published a revolutionary green new deal plan for Scotland that will cost billions of pounds and create thousands of new jobs. The most costly of the raft of proposals is the biggest overhaul of housing since the Second World War, with a plan to have greener Scottish homes by installing loft installation, double glazing and renewable technologies. That would involve setting up a national housing company and spend £40 billion to make every home in Scotland more thermally efficient, saving 40% off heating bills.

The Common Weal’s plan of action would be financed through public borrowing – and it is understood it could be paid off over 50 years. It would require no additional private spending by households – while creating a carbon-neutral Scotland and future-proofing the nation for generations. The think tank says it is one of the most ambitious projects they have ever organised and consists of a “fully costed” blueprint for how to bring about a net zero Scotland – the first in the world. It will also claim that all current projections about how much of Scotland’s GDP will be needed to tackle climate change are underestimates and that every year for the next 50 years Scotland will have to spend an annual amount closer to three per cent of GDP than to the two per cent often quoted. (1)

Guiding Principles:

Take responsibility to identify what can be done domestically rather than waiting for multilateral agreements.

The crisis can’t be solved through market forces alone.

The time for setting targets is long gone – these tend to emphasise what it would be good to achieve, not how to achieve it.

You don’t want to have to make any transformations twice. The scale of investment needed is so large it must deliver value for money for many generations.

The plan must be a once-in-many-generations fix for persistent social problems.

Above all this will transition Scotland away from a linear extractive economy to a circular participatory economy – more wealth would be retained and circulated round the domestic economy and much less exported in the form of corporate profits.

Because this is a collective task which will serve many generations, the cost should be met through low cost public borrowing paid back through progressive taxation.

The headline cost of £170bn may be a sobering figure, but it is less than double Scotland’s contribution to the 2009 UK financial bailout, and will only have to be found over 25 years, and gradually repaid over 50 years. And the investment will create new revenue streams, for instance there would be a publicly-owned energy system for electricity and heating which would generate an income. The plan would create around 40,000 direct jobs. Other positive impacts would be: warmer homes, cheaper to heat; healthier food; travel faster and more efficient; quality of life would improve.

Buildings

The thermal performance of all new build houses and other buildings should be up to Passivhaus standard. (15kWh/m2/yr) But the materials used should be healthy and organic mostly sourced in Scotland.

All new houses should be ready for district heating unless they are energy neutral.

A National Housing Company should be set up to retrofit all existing houses to achieve 70 to 90% thermal efficiency. Commercial premises should be retrofitted to a similar standard. All public buildings should become energy positive.

Heating

Moving to electric heating would roughly double the load on the grid which would require significant upgrades to cope. But peak load might increase by a factor of five. While better-insulated houses would reduce the problem much of the spike would come from water heating which would not be reduced by insulation. Ground source heat pumps require a substantial land area. Air source heat pumps struggle to provide sufficient heat in the winter.

Hydrogen would have problems with leakage. All household boilers would need to be replaced. Because of the difficulty of phasing in hydrogen, boilers would probably need to be dual use. Hydrogen would probably be expensive.

Solar thermal, geothermal and industrial waste heat recovery delivered via a district heating network are probably the most viable method of heat delivery.

Heat Budget

Scotland uses around 86TWh of heating each year. Firstly, we need to reduce demand by about 40% to about 52TWh. The next step would be to make the most of solar thermal, but this would also require inter-seasonal storage. This could provide around 20TWh via district heating. Geothermal from old mines could provide another 12GWh. Biomass could also add around 6.5TWh of heat to the mix.

A Heat Supply Act could be implemented to require all developers of large waste heat sources to recover and recycle heat to feed local homes.

An Energy Development Agency would plan the shift to renewable heating; a National Energy Company would install a national district heating system and renewable heat generation infrastructure.

Electricity

Planning the future electricity generation requirements involves replacing current non-renewable electricity generation and meeting the needs for the electrification of transport and the production of hydrogen for transport and heating.

The National Energy Company would progressively take over energy supply to customers and would develop and own all future large-scale energy generating facilities. It would also generate hydrogen for energy storage.

The Scottish Energy Development Agency would plan all new capacity and have responsibility for ensuring the lights stay on while meeting the decarbonisation agenda.

Oil & Gas

The Common Home Plan says Scotland must stop extracting oil and gas. By the end of the 25-year plan Scotland will no longer be using oil and gas.

Transport

One of the biggest unknowns is the development of driverless vehicles. On call vehicles, if deployed effectively, could displace a large volume of car ownership resulting in some major changes in urban planning assumptions.

The Common Home Plan calls for the establishment of a National Transport Company which would roll out a comprehensive charging infrastructure and develop a national transport transition plan.

The Company should integrate the ability to make more journeys by foot and bike with its overall transition plan.

Scotland has around 3 million vehicles. It is generally assumed that this number will increase as population rises. Most of these would be parked in residential streets which would imply the need for charging facilities in every residential street – an enormous task. But if other transport approaches develop this could be an enormous white elephant. The National Transport Company would have to make some decisions on which way forward.

Hydrogen could become the fuel of choice for HGVs, ferries, and trains on non-electrified lines. A strategy for air travel will need to be developed.

Food and Land-Use

The plan envisages the establishment of a National Food Agency and a National Land Agency. Amongst the proposals is the suggestion that 50% of Scotland’s land area should be reforested.

There are also chapters on Resources, Trade, Learning and Us. The plan calls for, for instance, a circular economy; and training for an appropriate workforce (there are only 140 plumbers being trained at the moment and yet we will need thousands to install district heating).

The Common Home Plan can be found at https://commonweal.scot/policy-library/common- home-plan

  1. Herald 9th Nov 2019 https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/18025538.radical-multi-billion-pound-green- plan-scotland-unveiled/