As last coal chimney falls, will green energy issue in Scotland break up the United Kingdom?

“We cannot trust the Tories with Scotland’s renewables sector and to get the best out of it for the people of Scotland."

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Image Credit: The National

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party, pushed the button last week that brought down the country’s tallest structure, the chimney of the massive coal plant at Fife. The plant was decommissioned in 2016, as Scotland replaced coal with renewables for electricity generation, but the demolition was symbolic of the passing of an age. The steam engine was invented in Scotland, a hungry monster that demanded so much fuel that it contributed to deforestation in Great Britain before people turned to coal. Scotland put billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the subsequent two centuries.

In 2020, however, Greg Russell of The National reports, 97% of Scotland’s electricity came from renewables, accounting for just over a third of the country’s energy use. Russell also notes that the Scottish government plan has been to get 60% of electricity from onshore wind, about 11% from offshore wind, and 18% from hydro, with 8% coming from other sources, including solar.

Ominously, however, Russell quotes SNP Natalie Don as saying,

“investment in Scotland’s world-leading renewables sector is being held back from its full potential as the Tories at Westminster continue to charge extortionate transmission rates in Scotland, making it more expensive for firms to have access to the grid to export electricity. “We cannot trust the Tories with Scotland’s renewables sector and to get the best out of it for the people of Scotland.The only way we can harness the full potential of the sector in Scotland is by becoming an independent country.”

Both the ruling Scottish National Party and its ally, the Green Party, are agreed on the importance of moving to net carbon zero quickly, and on the desirability of doing so without the albatross of the UK Conservative Party of Boris Johnson around their necks.

Scotland has with great efficiency and deliberation accomplished its goal of getting its electricity from renewables. In the US, only 20% of electricity is generated by renewables. This is important, because if this small country of 5.4 million can accomplish this feat, so can other countries.

Still, electricity is only one kind of energy. Transportation and home heating have to be decarbonized as well, along with agriculture.

Scottish Renewables writes,

“Despite the heating of buildings making up 42% of Scotland’s energy use, only 11% of our heat comes from renewable sources or electricity. With the technologies needed to decarbonise heat readily available, government must raise ambitions on fulfilling our national transition to low-carbon heat.”

Sturgeon’s government intends to get 50% of Scotland’s over-all energy from renewables by 2030, though Scottish environmentalists complain that this goal is not bold enough.

“Scottish Renewables” reports that there are plans to get an additional 11 gigwatts from onshore wind and a 12 gigawatts from offshore wind by 2030, Scotland isn’t great for solar much of the year, but there are plans for an additional gigawatt of solar, which will mainly be used in the long summer days. The country is seeking another gigawatt from wave and tidal energy.

Regarding offshore wind, a new 10 megawatt fixed bottom wind tower has just been installed off the coast of Scotland at the 1 gigawatt Seagrass facility.


Source: SSE Renewables.

Scotland is interested in green manufacturing, too. The BBC reports that a new factory is being built to produce enormous wind turbines and that “£110m facility has been proposed for Port of Nigg on the Cromarty Firth.”

But if UK electricity transmission tariffs are a centrifugal force, helping drive Scottish separatism, things like UK investment in wind turbine factories are centripetal, tying Scotland to the UK.

Likewise, Scotland exports a good deal of its extra wind-generated electricity to England, and is responsible for 25% of UK wind energy. If I were them, I’d be nervous about losing access to that enormous market for green energy. So in some ways the UK constraints on electricity transmission do impel nationalist politicians to dream of being shut of London. But in other ways the renewables energy industry is binding Scotland more closely to the UK.

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