Discover more from A letter from Scotland
The world has a limited time to deal with the climate emergency - Scotland has a part to play. There is urgency. Glaciers are melting fast. And yet what seemed like good news - a successful auction of deep-sea sites for floating wind off Scotland’s coast - went down like a bucket of cold seasick with many commentators last week.
The amount of power that could be generated across all of these projects is 24.8 gigawatts - just to put that into perspective, the recently closed Hunterston B nuclear power plant generated 1gw - so this is potentially a game changer. Floating turbines in the seriously windy Atlantic is an emerging technology which still faces many hurdles - and it won’t produce much power until the 2030s.
But this is huge news for the Highlands and the North-East right now. Nigg recently announced it is building the UK’s largest offshore wind tower facility. The mothballed harbour Ardersier Port, once the largest oilrig manufacturing site, in Europe is undergoing a multi-million pound revamp to turn it into Europe’s first fully circular energy transition site. Kishorn is building a range of facilities for the sector. BP is looking at placing its renewables hub in Aberdeen. The success of the off-shore wind farm Beatrice show what can be achieved - it is a central plank of the transformation of Wick.
However the response to the auction in the Scottish press was somewhat bizarre. “Is Scotland Moving From Big Oil to Big Wind?” asked a writer in the Herald while another - on the same day - called the auction “servile” and “cretinous.” The Herald report of the action was headlined “Scotland is set to lose billions in profits every year from a new round of offshore wind projects.” It quotes what it called “The respected think tank Common Weal” saying this is "arguably the greatest economic failure of the last decade".
The report by the Common Weal saw the auction in terms of the auction price rather than what it could mean for the climate emergency. The main question it asked was - could the Scottish Government not have charged more for this? The Labour Party leader Anas Sarwar went further, seeming to say that rather than dealing with multinational energy businesses, the Scottish Government should undertake this work on its own behalf.
The Scotsman front page headline was “Offshore Wind Project sold for “pittance” of 700 millions”. The Scottish Daily Express reported the Labour party line: “You've sold off Scot jobs, sold off Scot assets' - Anas Sarwar pulls apart Sturgeon at fiery FMQs”
Neil Mackay in the Herald wrote: “Nicola Sturgeon talks of leading us into a glorious tomorrow – yet she’s throwing Scotland’s money into foreign exchequers and the pockets of private corporations…We’ll be gathering up pennies flung from the pockets of rich overseas companies exploiting our natural resources.”
Alba deputy leader, Kenny MacAskill tweeted: “this offshore wind giveaway is selling the family silver cheap” In the National, Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh detected a secret Unionist plot to impoverish Scotland.
She wrote: “Crown Estate Scotland licensed up to 24 g of wind power for a one off auction price of £700 million. In contrast round four in England last year licensed one third as much for an annual 800 million .. the cunning plan of the Baldricks in Crown Estate Scotland is to estimate Scotland’s wind power at 1/15 of the value of English generated power!” (1)
Should the state have a role in innovative deepwater energy production? Using devolved Scotland’s limited borrowing powers it would take generations to gather up the cash needed to invest. And while many EU countries do have national power companies these are mainly responsible for sourcing and supplying energy - not creating it, using experimental technology.
Falck renewables is part of a consortium which won options in the auction in three places - east of Aberdeen, north of Frasebrugh and east of Caithness, Falck Renewables have partnered with Energy4All for the past 15 years, during which period thousands of people have acquired an ownership stake in eight Scottish onshore wind farms.
Richard Dibley, managing director, said: “Local people own a stake in eight of our Scottish wind farms through co-operatives and the community of Fintry also own a turbine at our Earlsburn Wind Farm which we operate on their behalf. These innovative schemes have evolved over time but have ensured that communities across the country have benefitted from onshore wind energy and we are now committed to extending that to offshore wind.” They intend to continue this model in the new fields.
These businesses employ highly-skilled people who have huge knowledge and experience. Taking up these options will represent a major commitment of their resources, probably for decades to come. Challenges lie ahead. But one major difference between Big Oil and Big Wind is that the latter has the potential to help rescue the planet from the climate emergency.
I approached the Crown Estate Scotland, which generated £700 million for the Scottish Government from the ten-year options on the sites, for a comment. They said:
“Comparing the approach north and south of the border is like comparing apples and pears.
Scottish waters tend to be less commercially attractive than the rest of the UK because of factors such as challenging sea and seabed conditions, and grid connection charges.
Many of the proposed projects are for floating wind, which is a technology yet to be proved at scale.
“The ScotWind process was designed with different objectives than The Crown Estate’s recent leasing round: establishing a pipeline of development in Scotland, and subsequently developing the opportunity for supply chain investment in Scotland, as a key element of our just transition to net zero and the associated transformation of the Scottish economy.
“The Supply Chain Development Statement mechanism was adopted for ScotWind to ensure engagement from the outset on supply chain commitments and ambitions - and it has produced a leasing round focused on quality and deliverability of bids, rather than determining them solely on price through an open auction.”