In a wide-ranging keynote speech at the Renewables After Brexit conference
at Dundee University, former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond
identified three main threats to Scotland’s renewable energy sector after
Brexit; namely; –
The Brexit ‘Brex-odus’ brain drain of skilled EU workers
The nuclear folly of building a new atom power plant at Hinkley Point, and the
‘Deeply-embedded’ and long-standing Tory party opposition to Scottish
He said: “I’d love to claim the credit for being the father of Scotland’s
renewables but that kudos really belongs to a former Dundee MP, Tom
Johnston, who as Scottish Secretary during the second world war, brought
‘power to the glens’ by leading the hydro power investment by a number of
means – including using powers of compulsory purchase from the
artistrocratic land owners who he had earlier savaged in his
ironically-entitled book, ‘Our Great Scottish Aristocrats’.
“While Scotland’s First Minister, I arranged to have a portrait to Tom
Johnston to be hung in my official reception room at Bute House (in
Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square)
“He provided me with inspiration to show that the people of Scotland can
overcome a powerful and vocal opposition – then as now – almost invariably
led by the Tories and/or Scotland’s land-owning aristocrats
“In the past 10 years, of the SNP’s Scottish renewables policy, we’ve gone
from generating less than 20% of our electricity to more than 100% on some
days – which is a renewable energy transformation similar to the
hydro-power transformation in the Glens.
“It is entirely possible to pick ‘winners’ in government – not in terms of
individual companies, which is a matter for markets, but certainly in terms
of which sectors are likely to succeed – and Scotland’s renewables sector
was a no-brainer in economic terms.
“Not only does Scotland have vast wind, wave and tidal power resource
potential vastly exceeding its population size (25% of onshore wind and 10%
of EU wave power resources) but it was obvious that that cost of wind
powered electricity was going to come down in pretty short order, and that
its price-competitiveness would increase equally rapidly
“You didn’t have to be a genius 10 years ago to see the huge comparative
environmental and economic benefits that renewable wind-powered (and now,
prospectively, offshore wind and tidal powered) electricity could bring to
“While onshore wind was opposed every step of the way by Tories, the SNP
Scottish Government made maximum use of the powers we have to considerable
effect – just look at the outcomes which include the £2 billion Beatrice
wind farm in the Moray Firth, the Eday hydrogen-fuel project on Shetland,
and Atlantis Resources’ Meygen tidal turbine development in the Pentland Firth.
“Of course, we’re not there yet, by tidal power will develop and will
become more cost-competitive – just like the wind-ustry cost of energy
curve – and Scotland can (still) be the Saudi Arabia of tidal power.
“Yes, of course, we should have onshore wind farms across Scotland and yes,
of course, we should have massive offshore wind farms off Scotland.
“The Tories in England are scared of onshore renewables in the shires, but
in Scotland we did – and should continue – to play our national natural
resources to our own economic advantage.”
As an example of what Salmond said is ‘deeply-embedded’ Tory opposition to
Scotland’s renewable energies, he cited the BP Millar carbon-capture plan.
Had this been funded as a ‘wind farm’ for ROC purposes – instead of being
rejected by the Tory UK government – Scotland could now be operating the
world’s first commercial hydrogen fuel station in Aberdeenshire.
“And,” added Salmond,, “a hydrogen fuel station would help bring
hydro-carbons more fully into the Scottish renewables energy revolution.
“DECC (the British government energy department, now called BEIS) never
liked the fact that we had the ability to set our own
ROCs – a power which Theresa May quickly grabbed back when she abolished DECC.
“There are Three Big Lies in the modern world. The first one is the
well-known phrase, “The cheque’s in the post’. The second is “Of course
I’ll respect you in the morning’.
“And the third is that BEIS will do anything to help Scotland’s renewable
Salmond then turned to the ‘folly’ of nuclear power in England, as
illustrated by the new Hinkley Point atom plant.
He said: “If it’s ever completed and generates electricity at the vastly
un-economic price agreed by the UK government, it will leave the public
finances in tatters as consumers will be unable to pay for its electricity.”
On Brexit, Salmond described the way the UK government is handling the UK
exit deal as being ‘collective madness’ with the prospect of EU funding for
renewable energy projects being cut off.
But the biggest challenge for renewables after Brexit, he said, is the
‘Brex-odus’ of human capital as the supply of skilled workers – engineers
and technicians – from the EU is also cut-off, and/or EU nationals
up-sticks and leave the UK.
He warned: “This Brex-odus is causing real damaged to Scotland’s renewable
“Wind-powered electricity is Scotland’s second greatest renewable energy
revolution (after hydro power) – which is substantial achievement over 10
years of government in Scotland.
“But we can’t stand still and must move forward. We need to develop and
install at-scale level battery storage to overcome the intermittency issue
with wind and solar power – as well as pump-storage hydro power, all
issues, again, that are opposed by the Tories.
Prof. Peter Cameron (PhD FRSE FCIArb) – who chaired the Renewables After
Brexit conference – is Director of the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and
Mineral Law & Policy at Dundee University.
He said: “A lot of the credit for where Scotland’s renewables sector is
where it is today goes to Alex Salmond’s vision for renewable energy in
Scotland and in the EU.”