Scotland’s weather is economic godsend we must not squander – leader comment

Given its expertise in marine engineering, Scotland’s renewable energy industry should be a world beater.

Sunset over Black Law Wind Farm, near Shotts . Picture: Ian Rutherford /TSPL

It will be a bitter irony for the staff of the mothballed BiFab plants in Methil, Burntisland and Arnish if a £2 billion windfarm planned to be built off the coast of Fife ends up providing work for people on the other side of the world, rather than them.

And, for Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, it would also be “nothing short of a betrayal”.

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He also pointed out that the rumoured plan to ship turbine jackets manufactured in Indonesia to Scotland would produce a vast amount of fossil fuel emissions, which is hardly in keeping with the whole idea of producing zero-carbon energy – preventing dangerous climate change.

However, regardless of the carbon accounting and economic considerations about this particular wind farm, it is without a doubt true to say that Scotland needs to work harder to develop its renewable energy industry.

North Sea oil and gas has only a limited lifespan even if we were to burn it all – an idea that is at odds with meeting targets set by the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Scottish Government’s declaration of a “climate emergency”.

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But decades of experience in the fossil fuel sector has enabled Scotland to build up considerable expertise in marine engineering that is needed for offshore renewables.

Scotland is also blessed – or battered, depending on your outlook – by vast amounts of wind and wave energy, while tides in places like the Pentland Firth are frighteningly powerful.

So it seems like a no-brainer that we should look to create a major marine energy industry in Scotland. Denmark has long demonstrated that countries with relatively high wages and other costs can prosper from heavy engineering by becoming a world leader in wind energy.

Both the UK and Scottish governments – and, for now at least, the EU – need to factor this into their thinking when setting policies, creating legislation and approving licences for new developments.

It is important to strike a note of caution. Energy costs have been a source of considerable public discontent in recent years. If favouring local businesses means adding household bills, politicians will need to tread carefully. There is only so much that people will accept.

However, Scotland has a golden chance to create a replacement industry for North Sea oil and gas as it gradually declines.

And we must not blow it.