ALL Scotland’s electricity needs could be met from renewable energy sources by 2050 under a bold vision for a greener future unveiled yesterday by Nicol Stephen, the deputy first minister.
In an hugely ambitious pledge, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats vowed to go further than the Executive’s existing commitment to meet 40 per cent of the country’s electricity requirements through renewable sources by 2020.
“This is a long-term target, but a very achievable one,” Mr Stephen said at the Lib Dems’ conference in Brighton.
The policy will be one of the Lib Dems’ central manifesto commitments ahead of next year’s Holyrood elections, and it threatens to steal the thunder from other parties also espousing green credentials.
Mr Stephen later told activists his plans were “deliberately bold”, adding: “Apollo to the Moon was a challenge.”
Despite his commitment to green energy, Mr Stephen refused to rule out a coalition with any party that insisted on a new generation of nuclear power plants. “We are not going to split our manifesto into points that are negotiable or non- negotiable,” he said.
However, the deputy first minister’s 2050 target was met with scepticism from political opponents. Shiona Baird, the Scottish Green Party’s co-convener and its speaker on energy, accused the Lib Dems of flagging up a long-term goal to avoid scrutiny of their current actions.
“The Lib Dems have utterly failed to take serious action to fast-track renewables,” she said. “You only have to look at their record in office – of expanding motorways, aviation and even campaigning against congestion charging – to see that they will run a mile from the tough decisions that are really needed urgently.”
The Greens have pledged to make Scotland “fossil-fuel free” by 2050, and such vehement criticism of the Lib Dems could threaten their position as potential kingmakers in any coalition government next year.
Richard Lochhead, the SNP’s energy spokesman in the Scottish Parliament, said the Lib Dem policy lacked ambition as it was limited to electricity – his party has also said Scotland could be an “all-renewables” nation by 2050. “There is no reason why this can’t be met. If you are serious about tackling climate change, you need to look at all types of energy, not just electricity, but heating and road fuel as well,” Mr Lochhead said.
The Conservatives were more dismissive, with Alex Johnstone, their energy spokesman, saying the policy was “pie in the sky”. He said: “This will have damaging implications for industry and the economy, particularly as the technology is nowhere near ready to achieve that.”
Those close to the renewable industry disagreed, however.
Ross Henderson, of the renewable energy company Ocean Power Delivery, said: “It’s absolutely possible, but it requires a complete change in Scotland’s infrastructure. We welcome the pledge, and it’s not such a wacky suggestion. The technology is now starting to become available and a lot of progress has been made on renewables in the last ten years. Scotland has the potential to become a world leader in wave energy.”
Martyn Williams, of the campaign group Friends of the Earth, welcomed the pledge. He said: “It’s very ambitious, but it is possible. For this to work, it would have to be done as a mix of onshore wind farms, solar power, offshore turbines and hydroelectricity. Studies have shown that it could be done and we have the space in Scotland to do it.”
But Anne Douglas, Scottish secretary for the union Prospect, which represents workers in the energy sectors, described Mr Stephen’s comments as nothing more than a “political soundbite”. She said: “I think given what we know about renewables currently, I’d question that. It’s a case of ‘who can be greenest?'”
Ms Douglas added that renewables were currently unable to supply to a steady flow of power – or base load. “Renewables are important to Scotland, and we are best-placed to exploit their potential, but what we know of them at the moment doesn’t support the base load in energy terms and it’s this that is needed to support the basic supply to keep the country going.”
Meanwhile, John McNamara, a spokesman for the Nuclear Industry Association, insisted the sector had an important role to play.
“Nuclear has to be the bedrock, but we can work in partnership with renewables,” he said. “If you’re trying for a low-carbon economy, you really do need nuclear power.”
by Gerri Peev and Tanya Thompson
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