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When I drive down the A92, I glance at the wind turbines that sit in front of Mossmorran.
The scene is a perfect visual depiction of where we are now, and where we want to be. A journey that will see us transition from fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas, to a renewable future of turbines, biomass and solar power.
But not all fossil fuels were created equal. Some will have a necessary role in that transition.
Whilst I may have been accused by some for being an “apologist” for Mossmorran’s operators, I’m not.
Let me be clear, the level of noise, vibrations and light pollution experienced by folk in the area is completely unacceptable. That’s why SEPA, quite rightly in my view, submitted a report to the Crown Office over the operators prolonged unplanned flaring. And why I welcomed the external review by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency into the regulations.
But let me also be clear on this, natural gas has an important role to play in our transition away from fossil fuels. As Oluf Languelle – a Norwegian academic and expert on climate policy – has argued, natural gas is an “important complimentary transition fuel”.
Of course, it would be easy for me to jump on the bandwagon and call for Mossmorran to be shut down. But the easy position is rarely the right one.
Shutting down Mossmorran would decrease local emissions immediately, but energy demand wouldn’t decrease in kind. Almost 80% of homes across Scotland would continue to use natural gas, so we’d just have to buy it from elsewhere.
That’s not transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables, that’s avoiding the challenge – and much could be lost in the process.
High-value employment for 700 people and their families in the local area.
Mossmorran’s £20m annual contribution to the Scottish economy.
Exxon’s £140m investment that will support 850 local construction jobs and benefit 40 local suppliers.
It’s easy to pontificate with self-righteous slogans and absolutes. But managing the challenges posed by Mossmorran, while benefitting from it now and through our energy transition, is not a problem fixed by the soundbites of opportunistic local politicians.
One day, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we will drive down the A92 and see the turbines standing alone. But getting from here to there, to net zero, will require a measured, well-managed transition. A transition that must swap one energy source for another, and one type of high-value employment for another.
And I promise that each step along the way, I’ll keep a close eye on Mossmorran – ready to constructively step in and step up when the community needs it.