Audit Scotland’s gently devastating report, which is published today, shows that the game is up for the Scottish Government’s renewable energy policy.
Only one Scottish offshore wind farm has been built*; no others have even been fully consented. No Scottish manufacturing base for offshore turbines is in sight. A host of environmental, engineering and geopolitical problems with putting turbines in Scottish waters has made it too risky and expensive for private investors. Like rats on a sinking ship, international corporations (such as Vattenfall with its 75% stake in the £230 million experimental offshore wind farm at Menie) are trying to offload their existing investments in offshore wind.
Alex Salmond’s grand promises of renewables jobs and investment have dissolved into discredited statistics and photo opportunities for politicians signing meaningless memoranda of agreements.
Worst of all, offshore wind not only fleeces electricity consumers whose bills will soar to pay for new infrastructure and 200% subsidies for every unit of energy produced by offshore turbines. The Scottish Government has also hit taxpayers for more than £40 million in its vain efforts to kickstart the industry.
The Government has only appeared to be on track to meet its 2020 target for 100% renewable generation because of the exponential growth in onshore wind. When offshore wind development failed to meet the bulk of this target as originally planned, onshore wind took up the slack. The price, though, has been a corresponding growth in opposition among voters, NGOs and local authorities, so there is little appetite left among many policymakers for further significant onshore development in Scotland.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has acknowledged the problems with onshore wind – next to no long-term economic gain or jobs, permanent damage to local environments and communities – but justifies its continued expansion as an essential means of creating the infrastructure and investor confidence necessary for offshore wind development. In other words, unless we keep feeding the jackals of the wind industry with ever more sites for onshore wind farms, we’ll never get the jobs and investment bonanza promised by offshore.
When Mr Ewing put this argument to me at last October’s anti-wind protest in Perth, I said it was a huge gamble. He said he preferred to term it “a calculated risk”. A year on with offshore investor confidence at an all-time low, soaring energy bills and the UK facing an energy crisis, it’s looking more like more like a busted flush.
The Scottish Government needs to stop throwing good money after bad and redo its energy policy from start.
*Robin Rigg in the Solway Firth; the other consented offshore turbines round Scotland are all experimental test facilities. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_the_United_Kingdom
Photograph by Kim Hansen