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Mossmorran has been a terrible neighbour. For many surrounding communities in Fife, it has not just been an irritant, but a living nightmare that has failed to deliver on the jobs promised when it first opened.
Yet, despite the huge local impacts, the plant, which is currently Scotland’s third biggest polluter, could still have a positive decarbonised future that uses the skills of its workers to benefit local people and our environment.
With the right levels of support from lawmakers and the multinationals who run it, Mossmorran could pivot to a future of skilled green jobs for the continued well-being of the local economy. The challenges posed by this 1970s plant are reflective of so many of the challenges that Scotland faces in our journey to net zero.
With our long history of oil and gas extraction, we have a lot of work to do to transform our economy while securing the jobs that are so vital.
There is important work that we are already doing and progress is being made, with a ban on new incineration, record funding for recycling and active travel and a £500 million just transition fund and a drive towards renewables.
Yet, every time we take a step forward, we are dragged back by a UK Government that is still wedded to the failed policies of the past.
There was more than a touch of Groundhog Day this week when Grant Shapps presented Downing Street’s latest ill-thought-out energy vision. There was nothing in it to address the biggest problem of all – our dependence on fossil fuels.
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On the contrary, this is a government that is already planning more than 100 new drilling licences for the North Sea and has announced the opening of the first coal mine for more than 30 years.
Instead, at its heart was a commitment to double down on nuclear energy with the so-called “Great British Nuclear” scheme.
But calling something “great” does not make it so. There is nothing great about nuclear energy.
On the contrary, it is extremely costly, dangerous and takes years – if not decades – to become operational. It will also leave a very long and toxic legacy for future generations to deal with.
If the controversial Hinkley Point C development is anything to go by, it will cost tens of billions of pounds and will take decades before it becomes operational and we begin to see any of the supposed benefits. Sinking that kind of money will only drive up bills further.
The debates about nuclear power are not new. They have raged on for decades, and the responses from the pro-nuclear lobby are as unconvincing as they have ever been.
It’s not as if we don’t have alternatives. Renewable energy is far cheaper, far cleaner and far quicker.
At the heart of the scheme, there is a financial sleight of hand. By classifying nuclear power as an “environmentally sustainable” energy source, the UK Government may well allow nuclear giants to access the same support and investment incentives as renewable energy projects.
There is also a big question of democracy. The Scottish Government has rightly opposed nuclear power in Scotland, and we must ensure that people in Scotland are not paying for a project that we have opposed time and again.
READ MORE: SNP slam Tory energy plan as Acorn Project still lacks ‘concrete plan’
The plan itself is too little too late, even on its own terms. The ambition is for nuclear power to provide a quarter of the UK’s energy by 2050, but even if it’s possible, that would barely scratch the surface of the change that is needed and the timeframe within which we need it. We simply don’t have time to waste on it.
Instead of hedging our bets on an unstable and money-haemorrhaging scheme to boost nuclear power, our focus should be on using the green technology that is already available and providing the best possible pathway to net zero.
Some of that means recognising the huge open goals around us. There are great renewables projects that could be delivering the climate action we need here and now, but they are stuck waiting years for a connection to the electricity grid.
It is a frustrating problem and one that can be fixed, but unless the UK Government acts to speed up grid connections, it will hold back Scotland’s renewable ambitions.
The reality is that we can’t wait. That was made clear by the recent UN climate change report that gave its starkest warnings to date and called for global climate action on all fronts, “everything, everywhere, all at once.”
Our communities can’t wait for the transition that is so vital. The people who live around Mossmorran can’t wait. Nor can our climate.
With Greens in government in Scotland, we are prioritising our environment and delivering the progressive change that is so badly needed. It is long past time for Downing Street to do the same.