Renewable target achievable but only if a number of issues are addressed

23/11/2012

The Scottish Government’s efforts to develop the renewable industry are supported by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee as necessary if the Government is to achieve its generation targets. The Scottish Government target of generating 100 per cent electricity by 2020 is achievable, but only if a number of issues are addressed, a report by the Committee has found. The report also concludes that ‘there is a risk’ that the renewable heat target may not be met.

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Convener of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee Murdo Fraser MSP said:

“After a wide ranging inquiry, taking extensive evidence, our Committee has concluded that the electricity target can be achieved but only if the issues outlined in this report are acted upon.  Our recommendations are crucial to the success of the renewables industry in Scotland, and focus on issues such as access to finance, the planning system, infrastructure development and investment in skills.”

“Given the influence of the UK Government in energy policy, there are a number of recommendations that will require concerted effort by the two administrations if significant progress is to be made.”

Commenting on the skills issues in the report, Deputy Convener of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, Dennis Robertson MSP, said:

“The Committee was concerned to hear a number of witnesses question the achievability of the targets due to skill shortages. More work needs to be done to address our relatively low take up of subjects like engineering, maths and science.”    

“The Committee recommends that the Government works with industry to challenge any negative perceptions which may adversely influence career choices particularly for women. We recognise that the Scottish Government’s updated Renewables route map includes an equalities statement.

Commenting on the issue of access to finance, Murdo Fraser MSP said:

“The overwhelming message from investors was that strong leadership, and a robust and reliable investment climate and subsidy regime is critical for the targets to be met. The Committee regrets the reluctance of some banks to invest and in the current financial environment, is concerned that the renewables industry will not have access to the finance it needs to grow, which will ultimately put the targets at risk.

The Committee’s wide-ranging inquiry has made recommendations in the following areas:

  • Planning (page 12);
  • Finance (p26) and subsidy regime (page 29);
  • Skills (page 40);
  • Infrastructure (page 17);
  • Tourism (page 55);
  • Renewable heat target (page 50). 

On planning (p12):

  • Some local authority planning departments are under pressure due to high volumes of applications. Recent measures taken by the Scottish Government are welcome but further improvement is needed;
  • The Committee is supportive of higher fees for larger scale applications. In return for higher fees, the Scottish Government should explore if duplication of effort for developers could be minimised;
  • The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government, COSLA and the Heads of Planning Scotland produce a breakdown of renewable energy developments by local authority area.
  • The potential of community-generated renewable energy is significant. Adjustment of planning policy should be considered to give greater consideration of the local economic benefits.

On finance (p26) and the subsidy regime (p26):

  • Significant investment in infrastructure is needed to grow the renewables industry. The committee regrets the reluctance of some banks to invest, particularly in small and medium sized projects;
  • The Committee is calling on the UK Government to put an end to industry uncertainty by finalising their Renewables Obligation Certificate levels.  

On skills (p40):

  • The Committee found that skill shortages present a risk to the achievability of the target unless investment is targeted to science, technology, engineering and maths at school, college and university level;
  • To ensure the industry has confidence in the courses on offer, the Committee recommends the Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council engage with the Energy Skills Partnership and the Energy Technology Partnership to address quality issues.

On infrastructure (p17):

  • There are some challenges around the grid dealing with increasing electricity supplied from renewables and also around intermittency of power from wind energy. But these are not insurmountable;
  • The Scottish islands remain at a disadvantage compared with those on the mainland in terms of the transmission and charging system and this renders many projects uneconomic. The UK Government and OFGEM must remove this unfair disadvantage if they are to ensure that the abundant natural resources in these areas are harnessed.

On tourism (p55): 

  • No witness provided the Committee with robust, empirical evidence that tourism is negatively affected by the development of renewable projects;
  • However, given the significance of the tourism industry, the Committee recommends that VisitScotland and the Scottish Government continue to gather and take evidence from visitors to Scotland.

On the heat target (p50):

  • The Committee notes that recent progress with the heat target has been strong;
  • However there remains a risk the 2020 target for renewable heat may not be met as a result of the on-going delay in the introduction of domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, the controversy surrounding the combustion of biomass, and the hurdles associated with district heating schemes.

Background

The Committee began their inquiry in March to gather evidence on the achievability of the Scottish Government targets of generating 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity by 2020 from renewable sources; and 11 per cent of the demand for heat from renewable sources by 2020. The Committee heard almost 30 hours of oral evidence from 80 witnesses, and received over 400 written submissions. The Committee consulted businesses and organisations across Scotland during visits to Fife, Caithness, Orkney and Perth.