Friday, 19 September 2014

Give more energy powers to the Scottish Government!

The Westminster parties may have promised some big new powers for the Scottish Parliament, but little appears to be promised to try to close the policy gap between Holyrood and Westminster on renewables and nuclear power. Where are the proposals to give the Scottish Government some influence on how to spend incentives for renewable energy? At the moment, when it comes to financing, Westminster decides everything whatever the Scottish Government thinks.

The Westminster parties are planning to spend a lot of money on building nuclear power stations after 2020, and the Conservatives are promising to stop incentives for onshore wind. So where does this leave a Scottish Government which opposes building new nuclear power stations and which wants some ability to make its decisions on what renewables should be supported rather than being dictated to by Westminster based Conservatives?

There is a plausible way of solving this problem, several in fact. But one way it could be done is simply to give the Scottish Government a portion of the 'Levy Control Framework' (a capped fund for renewables spending set up by the Treasury) to spend as they choose. Then renewables developers could choose whether to use the Westminster incentives (contracts) or the incentive schemes organised by the Scottish Government. If the Tories do cut off the funds for onshore wind then the Scottish Government could fund Scottish schemes instead.

Another way in which increased Scottish powers could help renewables would be to establish a Scottish Energy regulator who could have authority over rules governing investment in network distribution. Then pro-active work could be done to help community renewables and other schemes connect to a strengthened local network. This is rather than having the schemes stopped by them being given expensive demands for local grid strengthening which cannot be economic for one scheme on its own.

Then there is a wider case to give a Scottish Energy Regulator authority over incentives for energy efficiency, powers to help reduce fuel poverty and also to regulate energy prices for the domestic sector (where such competition as there is ineffective, opaque and self-defeating).

Westminster urgently needs to do something to change a situation where policy on energy is made in Westminster for English preferences, but not so much for Scottish needs. Generally, the Westminster parties will lose seats to the SNP at the General Election next May if they fail to have even a debate about shifting powers to the Scottish Parliament over energy (and other things). At the last election Labour won 41 Scottish seats and the Liberal Democrats 11 to 6 for the SNP. Labour and the Lib Dems are heading to lose a lot of these seats.......

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Energy After the Referendum Meeting

Energy After the Referendum

Wednesday October 1st

Robert Gordon University, Garthdee House, Garthdee Road, Aberdeen, AB10 7QE
Room N345 Riverside East. See

Regardless of the result on September 18th there is a big discussion on what increased powers for the Scottish Government mean. Can a Scottish Energy Regulator keep consumer prices down and boost renewable energy and fight fuel poverty? How can the Scottish Government increase control over the extraction and use of Scottish oil and gas resources? Come along to the 'Energy after the Referendum' event to find out.

12.00 Registration & Light Lunch

12.30 Professor Peter Strachan & Dr David Toke Opening Comments

12.40 Fergus Ewing. Minister for Economy, Energy and Tourism, Scottish Government

1.15 Andrew Faulk, former Senior Policy Advocate, Scottish Consumer Focus on prospects and impacts on consumer interests of establishing a Scottish Energy Regulator

1.45 Roger Cook, Research Director, Scotland Institute on what and how more energy powers for Scotland might make a difference

2.15 Norman Kerr, Director, Energy Action Scotland on how fuel poverty can be best fought in Scotland

2.40 Break & Light Refreshments

3.05 Martyn Tulloch, Tulloch Energy, The potential for offshore unconventional hydrocarbon production in the North Sea?

3.30 Dr David Toke, University of Aberdeen on prospects for renewable energy

3.55 Round Table discussion

4.30 pm close

Event organised jointly by Aberdeen Business School of Robert Gordon University and School of Social Science, University of Aberdeen

Is there a disinformation campaign to paint nuclear as 'green'?

Green groups in the UK are now being subjected to a withering assault on their anti-nuclear position, which is amounting at worst to a campaign of disinformation or at best wishful thinking by the pro-nuclear establishment.

Today's BBC4 report that Friends of the Earth has become pro-nuclear has been quickly denounced by FOE themsleves. See

But this reflects a growing recent trend to target green groups to get them at least to be neutral on the subject of investments or new research into nuclear power if not outrightly pro-nuclear.

The Green Party of England and Wales was the target of a well prepared effort to shift their position last Saturday, although of course the pro-nuclear amendment to the Party's policy was rejected by an overwhelming majority.

A worrying trend is that there is a drip, drip effort to insert support for technologies such as 'molten salt' (fast breeder) reactors, and thorium reactors as if such things were new. These technologies have been abandoned decades ago because they did not even function (if at all) as well as conventional nuclear reactors. But then people new on the scene do not know so much about the actual scientific evidence on the subject, allowing pro-nuclear advocates to pretend that such things are serious as economic and environmentally desirable'new' technologies.

The nuclear industry is now routinely described as 'green' in the British media, despite the opposition of actual green NGOs. Now there is a big campaign to get over that problem.

This establishment campaign is supported by various reports and studies which minimise (or in some cases entirely omit) the contribution of solar power, give exaggerated projections of future energy consumption and try and pretend that long-abandoned technologies such as fast breeders or thorium reactors (or small reactors come to that) are somehow 'new' and a serious force for the future.

Any apparent intellectual logic behind all this seems to have weight mainly because alternative scenarios do not get the same prominence or funding.

We in the wider green movement need to challenge this narrative. We have less resources, but we need to work harder. This is much more important than just opposing nuclear for its own sake, as important as that is. This is about stopping a massive diversion of resources away from real green solutions and towards dinosaur projects like Hinkley C.

See more coverage at

Friday, 29 August 2014

Is a European (nuclear?) war inevitable if Ukraine joins NATO?

Certainly we should deplore the Russian military intervention in Ukraine and the suffering in the East of that country, but is it worth risking a high likelihood that millions of people will die because the West ends up in a war with Russia? No. How can we save thousands of lives by a war that will kill millions? Yet we are running precisely that risk if we allow Ukraine to join NATO. This will mean that the West will have a duty to go to war with Russia if the Russians refuse an ultimatum to back down - and we should not trust the lives of millions on whether Vladimir Putin can stomach losing face over having to back down.

Certainly Putin is delusional. He is delusional to believe that if he succeeds in capturing large parts of Eastern Ukraine that there will be and end to fighting - it won't, and (unlike Crimea) he will find consistent armed resistance to his forces. Many in the East do not like the Kiev Government, but they do not want to be occupied by the Russian army either. Also Putin is delusional when he goads the west with statements such as: '"Thank God, I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers." See

The trouble is that this is precisely what is likely to happen if the Ukraine joins NATO. The road to the first world war was paved with such delusions - on both sides.

The West has long suffered under the logic of  'something must be done' without appreciating whether killing more people will actually make things better. Now I'm not a pacifist, but I do not think that we should take actions that make a bad situation into a catastrophe. Rather we should press the Ukrainians to settle for a solution that will eventually be more or less the same anyway - some sort of Federal relationship involving autonomy for the Donbas Region.

The Putin regime is very unsavoury, that is for sure, and he will come unstuck as he persists with his current strategy. But the best way to deal with him is to let have him have enough rope, so that he becomes more and more bogged down in a quagmire of an unwinnable war inside Ukraine. That way he either will have to come to terms or he will lose, but millions of people across Europe will not die in the process.

Friday, 22 August 2014

So why don't tidal stream projects get long contracts and loan guarantees like nuclear power?

Is the UK Government right to gain plaudits for the announcement of construction of a 6 MW tidal stream project in Pentland Firth? After all, they have come up with a £10 million grant. But, when you compare this with the deal offered to EDF for Hinkley C, there is a credibility gap.  There is talk of extending the tidal stream project from 6 MW to '398 MW', but there is very little chance of this happening unless the project gets conditions similar to that given to Hinkley C nuclear power station. First a much longer contract is required. The tidal stream project has to make do with a 15 contract during which time it will receive its premium prices. EDF gets 35 years. Second, EDF gets £10 billion worth of loan guarantees. That's not a grant of course, but it stands a very good chance of turning into one given the history of nuclear power construction cost overruns!  Tidal stream developers really need loan guarantees to turn their plans into reality.

But then, as we all know, nuclear power is much newer, more innovative, technology which needs much greater support than tidal stream technology (sarcasm implied here for anybody suffering a tinge of asperger-politics)

See the announcement at

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Onshore wind much more popular among public than nuclear or shale gas says DECC survey

The latest 'tracker' polls issued by DECC show that support for onshore wind among the public is 67 per cent, with just 11 per cent opposed. Solar power is the most popular renewable fuel (82 per cent support) with offshore wind a bit ahead of onshore wind in popularity. By contrast support and opposition for shale gas is tied at 24 per cent and nuclear power is supported by 36 per cent compared to 24 per cent opposed.

Once again this demonstrates just how out of step the Conservatives are with public opinion. The Conservatives, fond of fulminating against onshore wind and solar, want to cut off all funding for onshore wind after 2020. Eric Pickles delights in cancelling planning consents for wind and solar farms even when the planners have agreed to them.

Of course the Tories feel they are on the run pursued by UKIP who claim to oppose the alleged green frippery liked by the 'political classes'. The opinion surveys suggest things are the other way around. Right wing political classes are ignoring the voice of the people and subverting it in favour of what one columnist (in today's Financial Times) calls 'sour censorious provincialism'.

Hopefully the Conservatives will reap the rewards of their dash to the right at the polls next May, and lose political office. As the Conservatives tilt ever more towards the right, the future of civilisation as we know it is dependent on this outcome!



Sunday, 10 August 2014

Labour set to lose heavily to SNP after 'no' vote without strong devolution package

Labour's chances of being the largest party in the House of Commons at the General Election in 2015 are significantly blighted by the likelihood that they will lose several seats to the SNP - whatever the referendum result. Hitherto many Scottish voters who have voted for the SNP for the Scottish Parliament have taken the view that since Labour are likely to form a Government in London then they are more likely to be an effective champion their interest than the SNP. However, things are likely to change on May 7th  2010  when the voting takes place.

In the case of a 'Yes' vote in the referendum on independence the SNP will claim to be the most effective party in campaigning for a better deal for Scotland in the negotiations about terms for Scottish independence. In the case of a 'No' vote the SNP will claim they are going to be more effective in arguing for more powers for the Scottish Government and Parliament in the new devolution settlement that will be decided after the 2015 General election.

In the past many voters who would otherwise vote SNP for Holyrood elections have had a perceived common policy agenda with Labour and Liberal Democrats, in opposition to the Conservatives. Hence the need to vote SNP at Westminster elections to avoid Tory rule did not seem so convincing. But at the 2015 General Election a particularly salient issue for many Scottish voters will be more powers for Scottish Government - a specifically Scottish issue - and that is something upon which that the SNP will claim to focus more of their energy compared to the conventional UK- wide parties.

When it comes to reporting opinion polls most attention has been on the referendum, with the 'No' vote now heading for a win of 55-60 per cent for 'No' to 40-45 per cent for 'Yes'. But anything over 40 per cent will be loudly claimed by the SNP as a brilliant success, and without a major effort by Labour (and the others) to beef up their specific commitments for further devolution the SNP is likely to capture several more seats off both Labour and also a couple from the Liberal Democrats. The recent polls on party support within Scotland at the next General Election make pretty stark reading for the UK-wide parties. The SNP has a clear lead and has, according to the polls, literally doubled their support since the 2010 election. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are the biggest losers to the SNP. See :

A couple of dozen Labour (and even four or five) of sitting Liberal Democrat MPs are so well entrenched it is difficult to see the SNP displacing them but it is, giving the recent opinion poll figures, very plausible that the SNP will increase their MPs by a dozen, even taking into account the boost sitting MPs receive at General Elections to withstand swings in opinion. If Labour loses ten seats overall, and only returns 31 as opposed to the 41 seats it won in 2010 then this could well make the difference between there being a Labour as opposed to Tory led Government. The prize in the 2015 General Election is not so much who will win an overall majority, which will be difficult for either Labour or Conservatives to achieve, but who will have the most seats and who therefore is almost certain to form the next Government.

If one assumes that during the election campaign the Conservatives increase their vote moderately (thoughout the UK) then one could bet on the Conservatives coming slightly ahead of Labour in votes, but maybe just a few seats behind labour in seats. That is the way the system works since fewer people vote in Labour held areas (eg Merseyside) compared to Tory held areas (eg Surrey). So if Labour loses a few seats in Scotland ......... Currently in Scotland Labour holds 41 seats, Liberal Democrats 11, SNP 6 and Conservatives 1.

Of course the SNP will claim that in a tight, hung, Parliament it will be in a good position to bargain with other parties, and in the meantime there will be pressure on the other parties to come up with strong proposals for more devolution....and this had better be more than just saying the Scots can have power to increase taxes on themselves!

By focusing mostly on taxation powers the UK-wide parties are missing out on large areas of regulation and policy discretion. Take energy for example. It is very practical for the Scottish Government to be able to regulate to control nearly half of their electricity bills, including supply costs, network distribution, environmental and low carbon surcharges. But are they talking about this? No. Not a murmur. Sure, Labour are proposing an energy price freeze across the UK, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the SNP countered by saying that Scotland should be given its own Energy Regulator. And the Scottish Greens of course.

More on this issue to come....