Government has duty to back wind-farm project
LEAKED news that the Scottish Government is "minded to refuse" plans to build one of Europe's biggest wind farms on the Isle of Lewis has emerged in the very week that the European Commission published plans for a massive switch to renewable forms of energy production. Therein lies the contradiction that lies at the heart of the Scottish Government's evolving energy policy.
No-one suggests that the Lewis project is easy to determine. The scale of the development – 181 large turbines – is significant, while the rural location is highly sensitive. The 400-plus jobs that construction may bring must be weighed against the negative impact on tourism and crofting. The community is split over the issue: the local council voted by 18 to eight last February to support the project, while the local MP, Alasdair Allan, is against.
However, like virtually every other large-scale, on-shore wind-turbine scheme, the Lewis proposal is neither wholly good nor wholly bad. In the end, it will have to be judged on the gain for society as a whole (clean energy) versus the loss to the local community (visual intrusion and threat to flora and fauna). That is the dilemma facing the Scottish Government.
Since the publication of the findings of the latest UN Climate Change Panel, no-one seriously doubts the fact of man-made global warming. Even the Bush administration signed up to this at the Bali conference in December. The EU countries have responded by agreeing to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. On Wednesday, the commission hardened these targets by issuing limits on individual countries. The UK has to supply 15 per cent of its entire energy needs (not just electricity production) within 12 years – the current level is a tiny 1.3 per cent. For the UK to comply with this target will require a massive expansion of renewables, combined with a simultaneous drive to increase energy efficiency, especially in the home.
In theory, the SNP Government should have no trouble in implementing this plan as it is already committed to a massive expansion of renewable energy, both as a replacement for existing nuclear stations and because it believes Scotland is well placed to export green electricity. However, as seen in ministers' presumption against giving the Lewis wind farm planning permission, there is a tug-of-war inside the government between its grassroots populism and its commitment to renewable energy. Some day, and some day soon, it is going to have to come off the fence.
No amount of references to micro-generation in local communities, or to off-shore turbines, will change this reality. Micro-generation is too costly at present to be in place for 2020, and anyway requires a massive investment in equally controversial transmission lines. Off-shore wind farms have similar drawbacks. If the SNP wants to meet EU greenhouse-gas targets and to scrap nuclear stations, it has no alternative but to back on-shore turbines.
Our weather not to be messed with
IN HONOUR of Robert Burns's birthday yesterday, Scotland was drowned in torrential downpour and buffeted with gale-force winds. Sadly, it is to be remembered that the Bard himself came to a premature end at the age of only 37, having contracted rheumatic fever after falling asleep outdoors in a similar rainstorm. Admittedly, his need to sleep by the roadside may well have been caused by imbibing too much John Barleycorn.
Not everyone in Burns's day was so casual about the weather. His friend Lord Monboddo would protect his wig from the elements by sending it home in a sedan chair by itself while he walked home from the law courts in the rain.
Lord Monboddo might have appreciated the efforts of one of our reporters, who – with great fortitude and professionalism – tested a new umbrella reputed to be able to withstand hurricane-force winds. Alas, the results were such as to recommend a call to the local sedan chair company as a surer method of keeping the rain and wind out of one's hair.
Yet possibly the Scots have become a little too laid back about their wet climate. Yesterday, police cameras spotted a driver on the M80 risking his life (and other people's) by doing more than 90mph through the monsoon. One suspects that Lord Monboddo would have been less than amused.
Manufacturing still a key industry
FROM one perspective, the takeover of Scottish & Newcastle brewers was inevitable – regional players, no matter how good, simply do not generate the economies of scale in marketing and manufacturing to survive in today's global marketplace. Yet, as the example of RBS shows, it is not beyond the whit of Scottish companies to grow internationally through acquisition, rather than be sitting ducks for foreign takeovers.
There is a sense of fatalism in the Scotland that thinks it is impossible to create a strong manufacturing base in this country. As a result, one third of Scottish manufacturing jobs have disappeared in the last decade. Of course Scotland cannot compete with the lower wage costs and weaker regulatory environment found in developing economies. But the continuing success of hi-tech, high value manufacturing in Scandinavia and Germany suggests that it is myopic for a country with Scotland's research base and engineering skills to abandon these markets without a fight.
Last year Scottish manufacturing still accounted for more than 15 billion in exports. Despite the job losses, productivity in what remains of Scottish manufacturing has soared – in marked contrast to the service sector. The proud S&N brand may be about to disappear but Scotland should think again about giving up its manufacturing heritage without a struggle.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west