The SNP have said that they will increase the target of renewable generation in Scotland to 100% by 2020. The previous target, of 80%, was also considered tough, but can we really reach 100%? Now the target is actually net of transfers in and out of Scotland, which makes the figures look better, but the simple fact is that there is a long way to go. In 2009 (the last year for which figures are available), Scotland generated 51,325 GWh of electricity. Of this, 10,744GWh, or just under 21% was from renewables. To give you an idea of what that represents, a typical large wind turbine, such as the ones located at the Michelin plant in Dundee, will produce approximately 6,500MWh a year, so we would need in excess of 6,000 of those turbines to reach our target.
Now no one is suggesting that we simply build that many turbines across Scotland, but what we do need to do is to use every avenue at our disposal to reach it. We also have a problem with increasing fuel poverty in Scotland. Someone is described as being in fuel poverty when they spend over 10% of their income on fuel – either for heating or power. This affects Scotland more, because of course we have a greater demand for heat, and we have large numbers of people living in uninsulated homes.
There is one thing that can be done, which helps solve both problems. Local authorities have the capability to borrow money at low rates of interest – the public works loan board. They should use this facility (called Prudential Borrowing) to fund the fitting of Solar PV panels to all suitable council and other social housing within their areas. With the feed-in tariffs currently available, these panels will pay back within about 10 – 12 years, amply satisfying the legal requirements for council borrowing.
These could a) help meet our demanding targets for renewable generation b) by giving householders free, green electricity substantially reduce fuel poverty across Scotland, especially amongst the most vulnerable groups in society c) generate large numbers of jobs across Scotland in fitting the equipment. There’s even the possibility that a manufacturer would set up a new plant in Scotland simply to satisfy the demand.
This is a win-win-win scenario. So why isn’t it happening? And how about this as a policy for a Scottish Labour local government manifesto next year?