THE history of renewable electricity targets in Scotland is instructive in considering how credible the current crop of manifesto promises are.
In 2000 Labour environment minister Sarah Boyack set a target of 17.5 per cent of Scotland's electricity consumption to come from renewables by 2010.
This was only a 5 per cent increase on current production, but at the time her civil servants told her this was "very brave". This is Sir Humphrey-speak for something that can't be done.
However, technology advanced rapidly and the 2010 target was met years early. The Labour-Liberal Democrat government went on to set a target for 2020 of 40 per cent and by 2007 the Lib Dems were proposing 100 per cent by 2050, which was impressive at the time.
When the SNP came to power they set the 2020 target at 50 per cent. Again because rapid progress was being made, they raised the 2020 figure to 60 per cent and only recently raised it again to 80 per cent, the same level promised by Labour and the Lib Dems in their manifestos, with the latter also promising 100 per cent by 2025. The SNP and the Greens both promise 100 per cent by 2020.
By the end of 2010 the actual figure was around 25 per cent and the figure for 2011 is likely to be 33 per cent – a third of all the electricity we consume being created from clean, green sources.
Politicians often set targets that they struggle to reach but the lesson of the last decade is that targets for renewable electricity soon go out of date because the technology is moving so quickly.
Moving to renewable energy is an essential part of tackling climate change and Scotland, with her huge natural resources in wind and waves, should be leading the world. Our own research shows that 100 per cent by 2020 is possible. Massive job and export benefits would arise from hitting this milestone.
As offshore wind, wave and tidal power start to come on stream, Labour and the Lib Dems' 80 per cent is eminently achievable, and with a bit of political will, 100 per cent by 2020 is certainly possible.
• Dr Richard Dixon is Director of WWF Scotland