Now as the renewable revolution kicks in, she’s being ripped off yet again and this time cabled up. For high-voltage electricity cables are being laid that will take the newfound bounty south, with neither revenue nor work benefitting either the country or communities.
Anyone walking on East Lothian’s beaches may have seen ships out on the Forth, not container vessels heading to Grangemouth but other craft, often nearer the shore, that are checking the sea floor. Indeed, I’ve hosted meetings between fishermen and operators as arguments have ensued. Similar work will be ongoing further north.
The Eastern High-Voltage Direct Current (EHVDC) link is the rather clunky name for what’s one of, if not the biggest, infrastructure projects in the UK. One cable will run from Peterhead to Drax in North Yorkshire and another from Thortonloch, near Torness, to Redcar, on the north-east coast of England. It’s a big project costing billions and won’t be completed for several years yet.
The sites make sense in many ways as they’re located where existing energy infrastructure lies, as indeed does the logic for the project. Scotland has a surfeit of energy and the Berwick Bank offshore wind farm alone, which will come ashore in East Lothian, will provide sufficient power for every home in Scotland and then some. So, providing the cable south, as opposed to simply adding it to the existing National Grid isn’t the problem.
The issue’s simply this: where’s the benefit to Scotland or communities such as East Lothian where it’s coming ashore? Will it pass us by as happened with oil and gas or will the land and people benefit?
Oil and gas saw revenues go south and whilst Norway now possesses an oil fund worth billions Scotland can only look and lament. This resource, stated at the time of the 2014 referendum to be virtually worthless and finished, is now vital for the UK for decades to come.
The new cable should see revenue ticking up as energy flows south to England or even on through the European network to the Continent. Instead, a modest sum will be gained by Crown Estate Scotland for the use of the foreshore, but beyond that as the gigawatts ratchet up, it’s going to go the same way as oil and gas.
As for jobs, where’s the work? Turbine manufacture is largely going south or abroad and onshore there’s hardly any. The sites being built onshore in East Lothian are mainly being done by contracted labour brought in from the west of Scotland or south of the Border. Maybe a security guard or two lives locally and some hotels and guest houses no doubt get added custom. But additional jobs there are none. It’ll be the same in Scotland’s north-east.
At least Shetland managed to negotiate a deal for a modest revenue from Sullom Voe but requests to the Treasury to address a legislative gap on offshore wind, allowing local community benefit, have so far been ignored.
It’s perverse that energy-rich Scotland is seeing so many Scots fuel poor. But sold out by London and let down by Holyrood, we’re being ripped off and cabled up.
Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian