Leaders: Balance is all in meeting our energy needs

SCOTLAND, it seems undeniable, is now where the action is in terms of renewable energy.

Last year, according to statistics from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), only Yorkshire and the Humber region of England saw more investment in renewables (£1.9 billion) than Scotland (£1.7bn).

But with Scotland having £8bn of further investment in the pipeline, it looks set to head the investment league table for some years to come.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This is not simply a matter of Scotland having the geographic resource advantage of lots of wind, waves, and tides to harness for electricity generation. Credit is also due to the Scottish government and Alex Salmond’s championing of the sector which has provided a politically reassuring environment for companies to invest huge sums of money in what are, with the exception of onshore wind, technologies that are as yet unproven on a commercial scale.

Critics complain that even after years of improvement, onshore wind still needs a subsidy while the offshore technologies will need even more, pushing up electricity bills rather than reducing them. Supporters contend that the long-term threats of climate change are such that we cannot afford not to invest in renewables and they are a sustainable long-term future.

But the two views are not mutually exclusive. The fact that big companies are spending tens and even hundreds of millions of pounds to invest in renewables says that they are confident it can be achieved. But until – or if – we get to the point that all energy needs can be met from renewables then there will still be the need for fossil-fuelled or nuclear generation.

Just because we don’t know the way now that is no reason not to invest in research into better technologies for the long term. In the United States, hydraulic fracturing has boomed, producing a near glut of natural gas, which has inevitably fallen in price to the point where it is displacing more carbon-intensive fuels such as coal in power stations and fuel for vehicles. The US government is about to start subsidising haulage firms to convert their trucking fleets to run on gas rather than diesel.

European, including the British, governments could well start moving in the same direction, driven by the enticing goal of reducing carbon outputs and electricity prices.

The choice does not need to be one of either/or right now. We can use short term changes in energy supply and exploit them and at the same time work on longer term sustainable energy technologies.

Scotland could be in a very enviable position of being able to import cheap gas to meet a substantial portion of domestic electricity needs while being able to export renewable technologies that will still be part of the balanced energy portfolios most countries need.

Unpaid fines mock justice

Imagine the outcry if two-thirds of prison sentences handed out by the courts were never served. But that is the position in some parts of Scotland, with on-the-spot police fines. These were mean to be a quick and easy solution to dealing with low-level offences which were too time- and money-consuming for the courts to deal with, but nonetheless were a serious concern to people in many communities.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In the past four years, police officers have fined offenders, mostly youngsters engaging in antisocial behaviour such as rowdiness and vandalism, some £7.2 million. But £2.7m, or a third, remains unpaid, and in certain places, such as Glasgow, the unpaid proportion rises to between 65 per cent and 80 per cent.

The public rightly expects that punishments meted out to people who offend against society are actually enforced and do not remain a mere entry in a notebook somewhere. The Scottish Court Service is now taking a variety of actions, from the arresting of benefit payments to the clamping of vehicles, to ensure that there is greater likelihood that fines will actually be paid.

This is good, but some questions remain. Does the effort put into this cancel out the intended savings to court time and costs? Is there a point at which the police are spending more time chasing up offenders they have already dealt with than in trying to detain new transgressors?

Ultimately, the public needs to have confidence that the justice system enforces the penalties it imposes. And those who are inclined to break society’s rules also need to know that if they are caught, they will have to pay a penalty. But right now, on-the-spot police fines seem to be doing neither.