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6 December 2016

S5M-02919 Renewables

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02919, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on support for Scotland’s renewables.

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15:51

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Jackie Baillie referred to the fact that David Cameron has not been very supportive of offshore wind. He is 100 per cent supportive of it—mind you, he is an SNP councillor in Aberdeen. That is perhaps not the David Cameron that Jackie Baillie had in mind.

Liam Kerr’s memory seems to be slightly shorter than mine. It was remembrance day when he and I were sitting round the table listening to Shell UK; I think that Lewis Macdonald was also there, and he might nod when I say that Shell indicated that it was considerably disappointed by the inadequate support that it was getting from the UK Government for many of the initiatives that it wished to pursue.

Another point that I would like to make to Liam Kerr is that Aberdeenshire has a higher concentration of onshore wind farms primarily because for many years the Conservative-led council there had a looser planning authority, which did not impose the same restrictions as the rest of Scotland on distance between wind turbines and communities, and I urged it to harmonise with others. Liam Kerr, who is new to us, is perhaps not as familiar with some of the history as others might be.

Some interesting things are said on the subject of renewable energy from time to time. Victoria Ayling was a Conservative Party candidate in the 2010 general election, when she nearly beat Austin Mitchell; she got within 714 votes of him. In 2015, when she was standing in the same constituency—Great Grimsby—for the UK Independence Party, she showed that startling insight that those on the right of politics sometimes do when she posed the question, “What happens when renewable energy runs out?” When it was drawn to her attention that that was perhaps not the most sensible thing to have said, there was a good deal of desperate back pedalling. On Thursday, she will make her third attempt to get to the UK Parliament when she stands in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, once again for UKIP. Appropriately enough, her name will appear on the ballot paper immediately following the Monster Raving Loony Party and immediately before Bus Pass Elvis, whose candidate appears to be a gentleman called David Bishop.

A lot of nonsense is talked on this general subject. Some of it is merely amusing, but some of it is really serious indeed. Some unexpected sources point us to the seriousness of climate change and why renewable energy has such an important part to play. I will quote no less a person than John Brennan, who is the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. On 16 November 2015, he said that climate change was one of the “deeper causes” of instability. He identified it as one of a handful of key challenges that were creating the unstable world that his agency would have to engage with. That is why we should take this debate on renewables and the debate on the broader subject of climate change extremely seriously.

We have made progress in Scotland—that is for sure. Beating our climate change targets six years ahead of the date that we set in 2009 is absolutely terrific, but our emissions are but one seven-hundredth of the world’s emissions. We can set an example, but we are not the source of the entire problem.

The UK Government’s contribution to climate problems is much bigger, so it is bitterly disappointing to see that it fails to understand the best economic way of tackling the issues that are before us. Contracting a price that is twice the market rate for nuclear power from Hinkley Point is not only foolish in relying on a technology that is unproven—and from the early attempts to implement the technology that Hinkley Point C would depend on, looking to be unsuccessful—it is economically benighted and unhelpful. The money could much more usefully be installed in proven technologies for renewable energy. The low-carbon contracts company that I referred to in my earlier intervention is part of the quite complex infrastructure that surrounds contracts for difference—there are six significant parties to those contracts, which makes things far from easy. That company certainly did not give us in its contracts for difference booklet for 2016-17 any prior insight into the UK Government’s volte-face.

I hope that the UK Government will listen to this debate and, more to the point, that it will think of not just the investments that are being made in renewable energy and the value that is derived from those, but the key opportunity to re-exploit the huge skills that have been built up in Scotland, the north of England, East Anglia and throughout the UK in offshore gas and offshore oil, which Lewis Macdonald and other members referred to. Both industries have been around for decades, and we can make much of them in the future.

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