Scots energy bills 'no higher' under independence, says Aberdeen academic

Scots energy bills 'no higher' under independence, says Aberdeen academic

UK Government claims that Scots consumers will face steep energy price hikes in an independent '100 percent renewable' Scotland have been described as 'highly implausible' by an Aberdeen renewables expert.

Dr David Toke of the University of Aberdeen will discuss his written evidence at a hearing of the Scottish Parliament’s Economy Energy and Tourism Committee meeting in Edinburgh on April 30. The evidence is based on many years of research in energy policy.

Dr Toke has concluded that the Scottish Government’s ‘100 percent’ Renewable Energy target can be achieved with prices for Scottish consumers no higher in an independent Scotland than they would be remaining as part of the Union. He also suggests benefits for Scotland by staying in the Union under a ‘devo plus’ arrangement, which could offer an optimum solution for developing renewable energy in Scotland.

Summarising his evidence, Dr Toke says: “From my earlier work, and the views of other experts, I find implausible the recent claims by the UK Government that Scottish energy consumers would face steep price increases to fund the achievement of the whole Scottish renewables target under independence. The UK Government’s claim implies that – in the event of independence - it would enact retrospective legislation to remove the incentives from renewable energy schemes that have already been installed, or are about to be installed, in Scotland. This would be judged illegal by the courts.”

In considering various scenarios, Dr Toke states in his evidence that the best option could result from a ‘devo plus’ solution for electricity and renewable energy policy. “This would include devolving control over energy regulation to Scotland in a continued Union,” he explains. “The Scottish Government could be given control over the spending of a dedicated portion of low carbon incentives proportional to Scotland’s share of the UK land mass (and thus renewable resources).”

Last year an offshoot of the research collaboration led by Dr Toke entitled ‘Delivering Renewable Energy Under Devolution’ (DREUD) and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, had argued that it would be considerably more expensive for Scotland to achieve its target of 100 percent of electricity from renewable energy through independence, compared to remaining in the Union.

However the authors changed their minds in December 2013 following the new investment programme in nuclear energy announced at Westminster. The researchers concluded that there was now a plausible case that Scottish renewable targets could be achieved at lower price rises for the Scottish consumer compared to doing this within the Union when Scottish consumers would have to share costs of this programme with those south of the border.

Their new conclusion was also influenced by indications that fewer offshore wind farms would be built in the UK than previously anticipated, with very little offshore renewable construction being financed in Scotland. However there is already enough renewable capacity installed in Scotland to deliver half of the Scottish renewables target, and a rapid build-up of onshore wind farms in Scotland makes it likely that the remaining half could be met mainly from relatively cheap onshore wind power.

Dr Toke explains the cost benefits of this to Scotland, saying “We concluded that an independent Scotland could fund the incentives necessary for the new renewable developments that would achieve its target without prices rising any higher than they would within the Union to achieve the UK target. And we assumed that the Scottish Government could also provide its own incentives.”

The evidence submitted to the Committee details a ‘devo plus’ arrangement which Dr Toke believes could offer significant benefits to Scotland. He explains: “Neither the UK nor the Scottish Government have so far considered ideas for greater devolution of powers over energy markets to Scotland. But there are two possibilities that would devolve power within the rubric of a continued Union and achieve the combination for Scotland of regulatory powers and also more resources for spending on renewables than would be possible under either independence of the status quo.

“In summary, these are firstly the option of Scotland having control over a portion of low carbon incentives, and, secondly, greater Scottish autonomy over regulation of energy markets and ‘green energy’ incentives.”