Friday, 12 December 2014

Renewable Energy near top of SNP shopping list in case of minority Labour Government

The left's hopes of keeping the Tories out of office rose significantly when Alex Salmond implied that the SNP Westminster MPs would support a minority Labour Government after the May General Election, assuming a 'hung' Parliament. But the SNP would be demanding concessions, including some key renewable energy demands, for this to happen. Of course if the SNP is to be seen to be seriously about keeping the Tories out of office it has to make demands that Ed Miliband and his team might accept. Giving concessions on renewable energy policy would seem to be high on the list of 'plausible' demands. And of course this agenda would overlap mostly with that of the Green Party. But what sort of issues could that include?

An obvious one would be to make sure that reasonable incentives continue to be available for onshore wind, but, in contrast to the Tory/UKIP hatred of onshore wind, the SNP would be pushing at an open door as far as Labour is concerned - so this would not really count as a concession. Labour would continue to support onshore wind anyway. But the position on other issues is not so clear.

First the SNP is likely to demand a scheme to ensure there is 'proactive' investment in electricity distribution networks in Scotland. At the moment many wind schemes are stalled are stymied because of high costs and/or long waiting times to be connected to the grid. Smaller and community owned schemes are especially vulnerable here.

Second on the nationalist/green shopping list is going to be grid connections for renewable energy schemes on Scottish Islands. Currently there is an impasse on this, with transmission charges to high for the projects to pay and no wires to carry the power to the mainland anyway.

Third is support for Scottish offshore wind power. SSE has been given a contract for difference (CfD) for the 500 MW 'Beatrice' windfarm, but are the terms good enough to execute this project? SSE seems to be waiting until the election to find out and negotiate further.

Fourth is the issue of support for marine energy, wave and tidal power. There is quite an astonishing contrast between the sort of loan guarantees offered for nuclear power and the limited support offered for marine energy projects by the UK Government. The Scottish Government is having to bear the responsibility of funding much of the R&D for marine energy out of its discretionary funds. So the UK Government will be expected to come up with more support here.

Fifth will be more influence for the Scottish Government generally on renewable energy policy. Although the Scottish and Westminster governments have been actively cooperating on issues that directly affect Scotland, the trouble is that a lot of the main policies underpinning Electricity Market Reform have been discussed and implemented with little account being taken of the views of the Scottish Government. Given the fact that Scotland sites such a large proportion of UK renewable energy this sounds strange. This must change.

Of course we don't know if the Parliamentary arithmetic will allow such pressures to bear fruit. But if the arithmetic does suggest that a Labour Government is plausible (and this is highly likely to be a minority one) then the pressures on both the SNP and Labour leaderships to come to a deal, even though it will be a 'supply and confidence' deal, will be immense. The renewable energy demands should be obvious parts of an agreement between Labour and the SNP.

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