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Coming down to Earth Day – with a bump

26 April 2021:

The day after the Earth Day before, 2021. The planet is careering towards catastrophic tipping points and the temperature is rising in more ways than one. All the main Scottish political party manifestoes for the forthcoming election are now out. So is it Douglas to the rescue? Is Willie’s shoulder to the wheel? Is Nicola radical enough? Is Anas’s army up to it? Or will Patrick and Lorna’s green machine make the difference?

I thought I’d take a look and pass comment, not on how many ‘net zeros’ there are or whether they are committed to this that or the other distant target, or whether they wanted a ‘Just Transition’ to a clean, green future of energy, or mentioned Hydrogen – there’d be nothing to say, it wouldn’t matter who you voted for, they’d all be amazing and rich in promise that they will take us to the promised land of net zero by various future dates, typically beyond the period for which election is being sought.

What about actual action on some of things that are closest to GreenPower’s heart – namely developing onshore wind and solar generating stations, in order to create the green electrons to seriously tackle the vast plume of pollution that heating and transport is pumping out every year. It’s not scientific, it isn’t comprehensive – but a snapshot on these fronts.

First up, solar – the SNP manifesto doesn’t even mention it once. Neither do the Lib Dems. And this is a technology that the UK Climate Change Committee recommends 80GW is installed across the UK. In Scotland today there is a only 370MW installed, just 3% of all Scottish renewable capacity. Solar Energy Scotland estimates 11-16 times this is deliverable in Scotland by 2030. I know Scotland can be a bit dreich, but solar works here. For example, on the east side of the country there are similar levels of irradiation as say somewhere way south like Birmingham – and a country like Denmark at the same latitude currently has over 3 times more solar installed than we do.

Scottish Labour – are they good for it? No. It only merits a fleeting mention name-checking a community solar company as an example of community energy initiatives. The Scottish Conservatives – absolutely nothing.  Maybe the Greens will do better? But no, nothing there either. How very odd! I suspect this is all just an oversight, albeit a pretty embarrassing one for them all I would suggest. But with the various generic manifesto commitments to ‘renewable energy’ there may be room post election for the party or parties in power to get their act together on solar.

How about onshore wind? First up the Scottish Lib Dems – nope, no mention. That’s disappointing. Willie appears to be all offshore on wind. The Scottish Conservatives mention it once – so all is not lost. They will support onshore as long as the local community agrees and benefits. The SNP and Labour manifestoes don’t mention it specifically, preferring to join Willie offshore, but there are some references to harnessing renewable energy generally so there may be some hope there.

The Greens are much less coy, making a clear commitment to doubling the amount of onshore wind by 2030 and improving the planning process to do so. That’s more like it. They also want much more of the investment in projects to come from the domestic supply chain. This latter point is a laudable aim, but to deliver it absolutely demands the quid pro quo of setting specific deployment targets and creating a planning system that can deliver volume and scale – so that industry can gear up the investment in the supply chain. Creating Scottish renewable jobs is something all parties want – part of the ‘Just Transition’ which all the parties namecheck with some gusto. Good to see at least the Greens getting the planning and deployment policy connection to maximising job creation.

What I was looking for was clear action on solar and onshore wind, and committing to actions in the short term to deliver the necessary volumes by 2030. All of them hopeless on solar. Only one of them appears to get onshore wind properly. 2030 is the key date. Deployment targets will drive all policy to deliver, especially in planning policy, and such policy will need to happen early in this next parliamentary term to do it.