LIKE so much else in the debate around independence, how the energy industry would function in a post-separation Scotland is unclear.
The SNP has consistently claimed that, after a Yes vote, England and Wales would need Scottish electricity to keep the lights on and meet its renewable targets. The Unionist parties on the other hand argue that there are no such guarantees. Certainly, with our great open spaces and long coastline, Scotland is in a good position to exploit renewable source of energy but the balance of power in a post-independence world is by no means certain.
Now Tom Greatrex, the Shadow Energy Minister, has entered the debate with a claim that the UK would not have to rely on renewable energy from an independent Scotland to meet its carbon reduction targets – and he has an important witness in his support: the National Grid itself. In a submission to the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, the body which runs much of the UK's energy transmission system said England and Wales could meet their renewable and carbon emissions targets without any contribution from Scotland, although it acknowledged that Scotland's contribution would make it more likely that the UK as a whole could meet its targets.
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That last point is important. Scotland is already making good progress on meeting its electricity generation targets – although we are not doing so well on our targets for reducing emissions – and we certainly have the potential to produce renewable energy that is surplus to requirements and exploit the massive export potential of our electricity.
But something of a leap is required from this position to the assertion that, post-independence, England and Wales would rely on Scottish electricity. Firstly, although Scotland has world-leading targets on renewables, much of the technology needed to exploit it is still theoretical, particularly in the case of tidal and wave power. We may solve these problems in an independent Scotland; we may not.
Secondly, there is nothing that would require England and Wales to buy energy from Scotland, although they may want to buy clean wind power to boost their own renewable targets. The rest of the UK could simply buy cheaper nuclear energy from France – in fact, they are already doing so, and post-independence such commercial considerations would be just as important.
Whatever happens, no one is disputing Scottish renewables will be, and should be, an important part of the energy solution for the UK. But we must be wary in asserting that our neighbours will have to rely on it.