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Independence 'could mean lower power bills for Scots'

POWER bills could fall significantly under independence if the state broke the stranglehold of the private energy companies and took on many of their functions for the wider benefit of society, according to a new expert paper.

It argues the UK's energy market has failed customers since a wave of privatisation in the 1980s, with foreign-owned companies exploiting a monopoly to hike bills and profits, while failing to invest for the future.

With massive investment needed to generate green energy, it says it would be better for the state to plan and run these projects using bonds and cheap borrowing.

This would cut bills to consumers, with progressive pricing meaning the poorest paying least; achieve security of energy supply; help co-ordinate action on climate change; and see new models of public and community ownership, the report says.

Underlying the changes would be the principles, well-established in Norway and Denmark, that energy resources should be "commonly owned for the benefit of society, rather than vested interests" and that "resources should be geared to social need rather than private economic return".

Written by economists Professor Andrew Cumbers of Glasgow University and Mike Danson or Heriot-Watt, the paper, Repossessing the Future, will be launched today at the Scottish Green Party conference in Inverness.

It is part of the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation's Common Weal project, which advocates overhauling the economy to create a wealthier, more equal society using policies adopted from the Nordic countries.

The paper suggests creating a Scottish Energy Agency to overseeing the country's energy sector and set long-term targets.

Given the decline of North Sea oil, the paper says there is no point nationalising oil production, but says the state could take a 51% stake in all new oil and gas fields.

But it argues an independent Scotland should nationalise the electricity grid currently run by Scottish Power and SSE.

The electricity supply system to consumers would ultimately be transferred to councils and community energy companies, as happens in many parts of Europe and South America.

The paper concludes: "The UK remains wedded to distorted markets and private ownership. Only by breaking out of this policy regime and developing an alternative agenda around new forms of strategic planning and public ownership can Scotland fulfil its true potential and wider obligations as an energy-rich nation."

A separate Common Weal paper calculates that a state-backed off-shore wind company could produce electricity 6% cheaper from the outset, and up to 22% cheaper within a decade.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: "We should learn from countries such as Denmark and Germany where common ownership has driven a renewables boom.

"By taking responsibility Scotland could prioritise common ownership, create high quality jobs and move away from the fossil fuels we simply cannot afford to burn."

Tory economy spokesman Murdo Fraser said: "It seems increasingly that the case for Scottish independence is being built on a hard-left platform which will be unattractive to millions of hard-working taxpayers."

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