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IT is “inevitable” that Scotland will have to move away from fossil fuels but still has the potential to be energy-rich in emerging industries, the Scottish Greens have said.
The National’s exclusive five-day series is investigating the impact of the McCrone Report, a secret government memorandum compiled 48 years ago by the Scotland Office, on energy policy, the cost of living crisis and a whole other host of issues affecting modern Scotland.
As we look to the future of Scotland’s energy industries, there are many on the horizon – renewables in wind, solar and tidal, as well as the emergence of green hydrogen as a possible export boost.
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Mark Ruskell, the Scottish Greens climate spokesperson, told The National that the declining oil and gas base in the North Sea means the reality is that supplies will run out in the coming years. Climate campaigners have also said there is “huge potential” for Scotland to be a booming renewables industry.
However, in October last year, the North Sea Transition Authority opened up a new licensing round, with the regulator preparing to issue more than 100 new licenses.
Amid the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia, the UK Government has moved to boost domestic production of fossil fuels.
However, numerous scientists and UN experts have warned that in order to keep global warming below 1.5C, all further exploration for oil and gas must stop.
Ruskell told The National that despite the climate crisis the “declining resources” in the North Sea mean that as time goes on it’s going to be “more economically difficult” to continue to produce oil and gas.
“There’s a transition that the industry is going to have to make almost regardless of climate change,” Ruskell said.
“The fact that climate change is real and we need to be weaning off our dependence on oil and gas, this is what the UN and the International Energy Agency are pushing for, just underlines the fact that we need to have this rapid transition.
“We need to get ahead of the curve.”
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Ruskell said there are advantages to being ahead of the curve in terms of tidal and wave technology, bringing down the costs of offshore wind production and developing supply chains, not only for Scotland but to export to mainland Europe.
The Mid Scotland and Fife MSP pointed out that Scotland lost its position as a first mover with onshore wind in the 1980s to Denmark due to the “failure of government investments”.
He added: “With the new technologies, wave and tidal, we need to make sure that we’re not just ahead of the curve in terms of technological development, but also in terms of commercialisation, and that we’re capturing all the IP [Intellectual Property] and the skills and we’re actually developing a global industry here.
“There’s an issue about how do we decarbonise our domestic emissions, but there’s also a much bigger prize which is about how do we become an economic world leader in these technologies, using Scotland as a springboard and our renewable resources here as a springboard to innovate, develop new technology, and then developed supply chains in manufacturing.”
Green hydrogen, made from renewables, has the potential to be a booming industry, Ruskell said, with export to mainland Europe, but blue hydrogen, made from fossil fuels, could keep Scotland tied to oil and gas for much longer than it needs to be.
Mossmorran, the petrochemical plant housed in Ruskells constituency, is one of Scotland’s top polluters and accounts for 10% of emissions. The MSP said the future of the plant is “integral” to the Just Transition and moving Scotland over to a new energy system.
However, he has concerns that without a specific plan for the area, with input from Exxon Mobil, Shell and the other firms that operate there, then emissions targets will fall behind.
He said: “We can’t meet the ambitious targets that we’ve got in Scotland without action in homes and communities, but also the big industrial polluters recognising that they need to be on the same trajectory to meet 1.5 as the whole industry does.
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“That’s the big question for Mossmorran. We don’t have clarity from the site operators about what options they’re going to invest in to decarbonize the plant. We don’t have an active engagement between, you know, unions, and the plant operators around the need for decarbonization and a Just Transition. So there isn’t a plan yet.”
Climate activists Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland have been campaigning against any further exploration of oil and gas and to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.
Freya Aitchison, the group’s oil and gas campaigner, said that the current energy system is “rigged” to benefit the fossil fuel industry and allows them to bank obscene profits.
Earlier this year, three companies operating in the North Sea posted record profits – Shell, £33 billion, BP £23bn, and Equinor £23.8bn.
“The Scottish and UK governments are still propping up the oil and gas industry through massive tax breaks, subsidies and political support,” Aitchison added.
“This money must be redirected towards the just transition to a renewable energy economy. Energy from renewables is already nine times cheaper than oil and gas, and Scotland is blessed with huge potential for producing renewable energy.”
Aitchison argued that the energy transition has to have workers and communities at its heart so “no-one is left behind”.
She added: “The Scottish Government should set up a publicly owned energy company that generates energy from renewables and drives energy efficiency.
“This would ensure that people in Scotland actually see the benefits of our renewable energy potential, and rather than allowing the inequalities we’re seeing now to simply be transferred to a new system.”