Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The next generation - which way now for the great Scottish energy debate?

By Adrian Shaw, Climate Change Officer, Church of Scotland. This article first appeared in the summer 2014 edition of the RSGS's magazine, The Geographer.

Speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival 2013, George Monbiot argued that we need nuclear power to help us respond to climate change. He argued that we cannot allow exaggerated misconceptions about its safety to blind us to its advantages. While he made it clear he was not a fan of the nuclear industry or its managers, he argued forcibly that nuclear power is a source of low-carbon energy we cannot afford to ignore. At the same event, Professor Sue Roaf of Heriot-Watt University argued with equal passion that advances in solar power meant that we should now embrace it more fully in Scotland. In the same week, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote an article in The Telegraph, declaring his support for fracking in Britain, arguing that it would lower fuel bills, create jobs and benefit local communities.

The energy debate is clearly well and truly underway, and we are approaching a time when critical decisions will have to be taken about the future direction of Scottish and UK energy policy.

The Scottish Government has set its face against nuclear, is distancing itself from fracking, but supports the continued development of offshore oil and gas in Scottish waters. It is also strongly supportive of wind power, both on land and offshore. The UK Government supports new nuclear power stations and fracking (and is responsible for approving and licensing all UK fracking rights), but seems less convinced about wind power, at least in areas where it arouses local controversy.

In part, this reflects our different circumstances. Scotland has the biggest wind resource and the lion’s share of North Sea oil and gas. But the decisions we take in the next year or two are critical. The Church of Scotland wants to see a clear, ethically-minded approach. We strongly support the Scottish Government’s climate change targets. Equally, we are concerned about the extent of fuel poverty in Scotland, and energy policy must seek to reduce or remove fuel poverty as an objective. We need this debate to be well-informed and we need it quickly, as the wrong decision could tie us in to developments we could be stuck with for decades to come