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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, February 21, 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Delivering Sustainable and Renewable Transportation, Budget (Scotland) (No 3) Bill: Stage 3, Decision Time, Correction


Delivering Sustainable and Renewable Transportation

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-15696, in the name of Jamie Greene, on delivering sustainable and renewable transportation for Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes its responsibility in improving access to and facilitating the delivery of sustainable and renewable transportation in Scotland; acknowledges the important role that low-emitting transportation methods such as low and ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) have toward meeting the Scottish Government’s climate change target to reduce carbon emissions by 90% before 2050; notes the view that, while low-emission cars have the additional benefit of reducing air pollution and improving public health, tangible increases in the take-up of such vehicles will require significant increases in, and wide geographical spread of, suitable charge point networks; recognises that emerging hydrogen technology will play an additional role in delivering a sustainable and renewable transportation network in Scotland; acknowledges calls for new rail technology to also be explored and developed, such as hydrail, which, it understands, has been introduced in Germany and is used as a viable alternative to electrification of tracks; believes that hydrogen technology can also play its part in sustainable marine transportation, and notes the calls to explore all available technologies that have the potential to ambitiously alter infrastructure to help deliver an affordable and truly sustainable transport network in the West Scotland region and across the country for future generations.


Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank members from across the political spectrum, some of whom are not in the chamber, for supporting my motion, which has allowed the debate to take place.

Delivering a sustainable and renewable transport network is an absolute necessity if we, as a Parliament and as a country, are serious about meeting our climate change obligations, which is something that I feel has wide cross-party support. The premise of the debate is to stimulate a sensible conversation around how we can use technology, specifically, to help to get people moving, make public transport more sustainable and cost effective and ensure that the investment that any Government makes in transport infrastructure depends less on expensive, carbon-reliant power.

According to the Government’s Scottish greenhouse gas emissions report, transport emissions accounted for 37.3 per cent—or more than a third—of our country’s total emissions in 2016; that is a lot. The report also highlighted that road transport was the largest source of transport emissions in Scotland, with the figure growing by over 7 per cent since 1990. Admittedly, that is probably due to the increase in the number of vehicles on our roads.

I know that many members spoke in the recent excellent parliamentary debate on efforts to roll out ultra-low-emission vehicles, and I want to reiterate some of the challenges that were highlighted in that debate by members across the board. For a start, there is still an insufficient number of charging points, especially in remote and rural areas, and there are still substantial issues with range anxiety—in other words, people being worried about running out of power and having nowhere to charge the car. Concern was also expressed about the lack of standardisation of charging points. I appreciate that Government is not necessarily in control of what business does, but surely it can take the lead in improving standardisation. There is also the issue of the significantly higher costs of these vehicles, which are, at the moment, anything from 10 to 30 per cent more expensive—although they are becoming more affordable as the days go by.

I hope that we can also look at some of the great work on ultra-low-emission vehicles that is happening in other countries. For example, on charging points being a barrier to uptake, we should look at the excellent job that Amsterdam is doing to improve such uptake. Residents have to register their electric cars; the Dutch Government collects that data in order to know the quantity and scale of electric car ownership in particular streets or areas; and, as a result, it can target investment in charging points instead of having some arbitrary or sporadic roll-out. I am sure that when he winds up, the minister will tell us about the number of charging points that exist at the moment, but the issue is not how many there are, but where they are. If people cannot charge their cars outside their front door but have to park streets away to do so, it is very unlikely that they will buy these vehicles. In our party’s recent publication, “Global Challenge, Local Leadership: Environment and Climate Change Position Paper”, we set out a number of what I think are very useful measures that we would like to be introduced to increase uptake and ownership of these types of vehicles.

In the brief time that I have left, I want to touch on some other important technologies, specifically hydrogen technology, which we have not had much of a conversation about in the Parliament. Such technology is a reality and can deliver almost carbon-free transportation. In Germany, which I think is the world leader in this respect, the technology is being used on light-rail projects and main-line services; increasingly, it is taking over from diesel-powered passenger trains. Indeed, I have many examples of its use, but I will not list them all today.

As we know, Scotland can be a pioneer in this type of technology. I recognise the great work that is being done on hydrogen marine technology—indeed, a ferry service that will use it is being introduced—but that kind of power needs a source, which will require infrastructure. How will we get that fuel into the country so that we can use it day to day? Welcome progress is being made, but more needs to be done.

Another type of technology that I am learning more about every day is battery power, especially its use on rail services. Members might not be aware of this, but battery packs can be added retrospectively to existing electric trains. I am thinking, for example, of the new class 385s that are coming on board in Scotland—I welcome that move to electrification. Battery power means that such trains can go off grid, if you like, by moving from tracks that are reliant on overhead lines to tracks that are traditionally used by diesel trains. In other words, an electric train can get to where it needs to go by using battery power to operate on non-electric lines. The range is increasing as the technology gets better. That technology is used extensively in Japan, where a train will pull into a station, charge for a few minutes and then head back out on its journey.

There are many technologies out there—liquefied natural gas, for example—that we as a country could be focusing investment and working hand in hand with industry on. As industry makes progress in this space, Government, too, can intervene.

If we truly want to tackle climate change, we need to lead the way in the world on emerging technologies. That will mean increasing our research and development capacity, increasing targeted investment of the right sort in new technologies, and fostering a country that inspires new businesses to come here and work with Government to introduce new technology. If we want to remain ahead of the rest of the world—and, indeed, the rest of the UK—in tackling climate change, we need to stop talking so much and start doing more.

I believe that the Scottish Government is committed to its obligations, as are our party and our Parliament, but we need to take tangible steps to introduce the necessary measures.

I appreciate that it is lunch time for many members, so I will leave it there, but I thank members again for supporting my motion. I hope that our debate—short though it may be—will stimulate conversation about how our society can introduce technology to meet our climate change objectives and make transport safer, cleaner and more cost-effective.


David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I thank Jamie Greene for securing this important debate on sustainable and renewable transportation in Scotland. The transport sector contributes more than a third of the air pollutants emitted into Scotland’s atmosphere, so any progress that can be made towards reducing its emissions is worth while.

The grave effect of air pollution on our environment is well documented and causes global temperature rises, shrinking ice sheets, sea level rises and extreme natural events. Long-term exposure to air pollution can also affect public health: it is known to cause respiratory issues and heart disease and to be linked to a wide variety of illnesses. It is clear that steps must be taken to tackle carbon emissions and reduce the harm caused to our environment.

Scotland has always had a forward-thinking attitude towards reducing carbon emissions and we are currently on track to outperform the interim emissions reduction target of at least 56 per cent by 2020. Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow have been named the three greenest cities in the United Kingdom, based on everything from recycling and air quality to the number of electric vehicles and green spaces.

The Scottish Government continues to encourage emissions reduction, particularly in public and private transportation. Significant investment has been made, both by the Scottish Government and by local authorities, in infrastructure for alternative fuel vehicles. As part of the process of dualling the A9—Scotland’s longest road—electric vehicle charging points are being placed at various points along it, adding to more than 2,000 connection points across Scotland and helping to tackle range restrictions on electric vehicles and break down perceptions of long-range electric travel as an inconvenience. Scottish Power is also helping to encourage private citizens to make the switch to electric vehicles by introducing a new tariff aimed at electric vehicle owners, allowing users to access discounted charging during off-peak hours and, for the first time, to take advantage of cheaper electricity rates through their smart meter—all with 100 per cent renewable electricity.

As part of the steps that they are taking to address carbon emissions, local authorities are increasingly turning to hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles to reduce transport emissions. Hydrogen is a sustainable, zero-emission fuel that can be compressed and stored for refuelling fuel cell vehicles. The only waste products from combustion are water and heat; no greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere. Fuel cell vehicles are also more comparable to conventional cars than electric vehicles, because they take less than 10 minutes to refuel and have a driving range of between 200 and 300 miles, depending on the model. That makes them more appealing to drivers with long commutes, to those who lack plug-in access for an electric vehicle at home or outside, and to organisations with commercial vehicles that have long-distance requirements.

The Bright Green Hydrogen site in Methil has allowed Fife Council and local businesses to use lower-emission vehicles. Bright Green Hydrogen’s energy storage system uses excess green energy generated by its on-site wind turbine and solar photovoltaic system to create hydrogen for storage. The stored hydrogen powers the site’s microgrid at times when there is a deficit in green energy production, but it also powers the 17 hybrid vehicles that were deployed in the Methil area in 2017. The fleet includes 10 hydrogen-electric vans, five hydro-diesel vans and two specially adapted hydro-diesel refuse lorries, thought to be the first of their kind in the world. The energy storage system supplies hydrogen to two mobile hydrogen vehicle refuelling units, which are based on International Organization for Standardization shipping container dimensions, so that they can be readily transported and easily relocated from site to site. An additional hydrogen storage and refuelling station is located at the council’s Bankhead vehicle depot in Glenrothes, off the A92 trunk road.

Fuel cell vehicles are also being used to reduce emissions from public transport networks in our major cities. Aberdeen already has one of the most advanced municipal hydrogen-powered fleets in the UK, including 10 buses, with another 10 due to be introduced. The buses are not only emission free but quieter than conventional buses, reducing air and noise pollution.

By the end of 2019, 60 fuel cell vehicles are set to be operating in the Aberdeen area. Additionally, the city’s refuelling centre is now open to the public, so anyone wishing to cut down their carbon emissions can make the switch to an emission-free vehicle.

I encourage everyone to consider the option of electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles when thinking of replacing their car. I would also like to see a faster move towards environmentally friendly bus services across Scotland, especially in our cities.

The various projects around Scotland that utilises renewable energy and alternative fuel sources in transportation are beneficial not only to the individuals that use them, but also to the local communities that they serve by improving the quality of the air that everyone breathes. As CO2 remains in the atmosphere for up to 100 years after emission, the effects of the reductions will be felt for generations to come and our efforts will continue to cement Scotland as a leading player in the renewable energy industry.


Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Jamie Greene for lodging the motion, which has enabled today’s debate on what is an important issue.

Transport accounts for 37 per cent of Scotland’s emissions, so it is clear that we will not meet our environmental obligations without radical changes in our transport system. The fact that Jamie Greene’s motion covers such a wide range of technologies that can contribute to helping to meet those obligations emphasises the need for a multi-faceted approach, where every mode of transport has a part to play.

On our roads, the Scottish Government’s target to phase out the requirement for new petrol and diesel cars by 2032, combined with the introduction of low emission zones, makes the expansion of ultra-low-emission vehicles a priority. The number of such vehicles has increased in recent years, which is welcome, but electric and hybrid cars still make up less than 1 per cent of road vehicles in Scotland.

There is a need to address the financial and practical barriers that prevent people from using ultra-low-emission vehicles. UK-wide research by the Department for Transport found that most private electric vehicle owners are middle-aged, well-off men in urban areas. The department estimated that that demographic is unlikely to change in the near future, with affordability remaining a significant barrier to the take-up of ultra-low-emission vehicles. More needs to be done to ensure that the use of greener vehicles is not a luxury that is available only to the better-off, particularly as cities begin to introduce low-emission zones.

In January, when we debated the issue of ultra-low-emission vehicles, I raised concerns that there remains a lack of a comprehensive, long-term plan from the Scottish Government to break down the barriers that I have mentioned, incorporating the incentives, infrastructure and technological developments required to meet the 2032 target. The minister replied by saying:

“the national transport strategy and the network vision statement, which I will publish later this month, will give more detail on the necessity for investment in infrastructure to support EVs and their roll-out more widely.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2019; c 58.]

The end of January has come and gone, so I hope that the minister will be able to update members on the publication of that statement in his summing-up.

The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands (Paul Wheelhouse)

I am happy to do so now. The publication of the network vision statement was delayed in order to take on board more information about hydrogen, which is the subject of today’s debate, and it will be helpful for me to reflect on today’s debate in that document. It has been held back with good intent, which is to ensure that we reflect recent developments in the hydrogen economy.

Colin Smyth

I hope that we will see the publication of that statement sooner rather than later. The clock is ticking when it comes to developing and supporting vehicle technology.

Of course, reductions in transport emissions will not all be met by a move away from diesel and petrol cars, because that in itself will not tackle congestion. We need a modal shift from cars towards environmentally friendly public transport and active travel.

Hydrogen-based technology has an important role to play, as we have already heard—from hydrogen ferries to the new hydrogen buses that are being rolled out in many parts of Scotland; there has also been a suggestion that the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train will be running by 2022. The role of electric vehicles will also be important—from electric buses which are now a familiar sight in our communities, to more electrification on our railways.

As Jamie Greene has already highlighted, we should also be doing more to explore the use of battery-powered trains. As we have heard, those trains have the advantage of running and being charged on the electrified parts of the railway as well as being able to continue to run, using battery, on the tracks that have not yet been—and never will be—electrified. That opens up huge opportunities for many parts of our network.

Such greener public transport will require support and the will to deliver. With buses, that means public subsidies being set up in a way that incentivises investment in a greener bus fleet. With ferries, we need a long-term ferry strategy and a national shipbuilding plan to replace and upgrade the fleet in an environmentally friendly way. With rail, we need a greater focus on delivering greener trains by vigorously pursuing options such as hydrail and electric batteries, so that we are not solely dependent on electrification, which is a slow and expensive process.

Across the board, one of the most effective ways to improve public transport would be to take our railways back into public hands and promote more publicly owned bus services. That would ensure that profits are reinvested back into providing services that are not only greener but more reliable, more affordable and more accessible. Ultimately, that would ensure that our public transport puts passengers, not profits, first.

I will end on that consensual note.


Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

I believe that any move to build sustainable transport systems must include at its heart a transition to electric and low-emission vehicles.

The case for cutting transport emissions is stronger than ever, particularly given that emissions have remained broadly unchanged since 1990. Moreover, it would boost public health by cutting air pollution, which it is estimated contributes to 2,000 deaths every year. Finally, it would help all drivers, especially low earners, given that running costs for electric vehicles are about a tenth of those for petrol vehicles.

It is only fair to recognise the steps that the Scottish Government is taking. Designating the A9 as Scotland’s first electric highway is to be welcomed, both as a practical means to help adoption and as a statement of intent.

The same can be said of the 500 new ultra-low-emission vehicles that the Scottish Government has announced for the public sector. The Scottish Conservatives recognise the role that the public sector can play in that, and we have already proposed conducting cost benefit analyses of replacement, and we have proposed mandating consideration of electric vehicles in future procurement.

The commitment to expand the electric charging network, with extra funds being committed to that effort, echoes the Conservative policy of expanding the network across our rural communities. It is understandable that many people might have range anxiety about being stranded having run out of power with no charging point nearby, so expanding the charging network is a vital step to remove that barrier to adoption.

Welcome though the measures are, unfortunately we are not yet seeing the progress that we need. For example, between 2010 and 2016, chargeplace Scotland installed just 13 charging points in Renfrewshire and only three in East Dunbartonshire. There is also the unresolved issue of standardising of charging equipment, which is a must if we are to facilitate mass adoption and minimise costs for consumers and businesses.

Costs are an issue: even with support, electric vehicles remain prohibitively expensive for many people. That point is underscored by the fact that the Scottish National Party electric vehicle loan scheme has received just 416 applications, with under 500 vehicles having been purchased over seven years. Added to that is the fact that no serious consideration has been given to how to nurture the second-hand market to widen access.

The reality is that fewer than 1 per cent of Scotland’s 2.9 million cars are electric, and the same goes for new vehicle registrations—fewer than 1 per cent were for electric vehicles in 2016. Projections show that even by 2030, electric vehicles will constitute just 27 per cent of new car sales, with the deadline for reaching 100 per cent coming a mere two years later.

None of that is said to be critical; it is to highlight the scale of the challenge. As I said, there is political common ground and a role for the public sector, but we must not forget the private sector. A good example is Scottish Power. Having met its representatives, I know that it is working hard to improve the grid system that underpins efforts to expand charging networks. On the consumer side, it has introduced a new smart meter tariff to make vehicle charging cheaper.

If the political, public and private sectors work together, we will have the road to success. We just have to take it.


The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands (Paul Wheelhouse)

I thank Jamie Greene for bringing this important issue to the chamber for debate.

I agree with members from across the chamber that decarbonising transport is one of Scotland’s biggest challenges in meeting our greenhouse gas emission targets. It is a challenge that we are tackling head on. Our plans for the transport sector will see the greatest emissions reduction in absolute terms of any sector over the lifetime of the climate change plan, so it is important that we start to make progress.

Decarbonisation is vital work. It is good for Scotland’s health. David Torrance made some excellent points about the impact on health of air quality. It will help to protect our precious environment, which we all care about. Innovative approaches to low-carbon transport have the potential to bring economic benefit to Scotland. Our focus and, I am sure, that of every member in the chamber, is on harnessing as many of those benefits as possible for the people of Scotland.

When opening our debate last month on ultra-low-emission vehicles, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity described the various forms of support that we are providing to encourage the transition to electric vehicles. Many colleagues from across the chamber highlighted the importance of having a charging network that provides comprehensive coverage around Scotland, which will give people the confidence to buy and run battery electric vehicles. That point has been repeated today.

Provision of that confidence is a priority for us, but we should reflect on what we have already achieved and be sure that we focus our attention on the most important issues. That is not necessarily to big ourselves up, but it is important to get the information out there about how many charging places there are, which will give the confidence that members seek.

Jamie Greene made the fair point that the chargeplace Scotland network already provides 1,000 publicly available charge points, which means that we have one of the most comprehensive charging networks in Europe. On average, the nearest charge point is just 2.78 miles away in Scotland—there are longer distances to travel in some localities—whereas in Great Britain as a whole the nearest charge point is, on average, 4.09 miles away. There is still an issue to be resolve for the whole of Great Britain, but we are making relatively good progress.

In addition, a number of independent providers have put in place chargers at various locations. Taken together, more than 2,800 publicly available individual connectors around Scotland are listed on Zap-Map, which is one of the leading listings of publicly available charge points. In some cases, there is more than one connector at a single charge point, which underscores the fact that there are probably more charging points than people might imagine. Even taking that into account, the numbers show that Scotland is well ahead of the European Commission’s recommendation of one public charge point for every ten plug-in vehicles.

Through the Energy Savings Trust, we supported the installation in 2018-19 of 350 workplace chargers, in addition to the 461 that had already been installed, and of 1,200 domestic chargers, in addition to the 1,928 that were already installed.

There are perhaps more charging points than we have given ourselves credit for in the past. As Jamie Greene, Maurice Golden and other members acknowledged, some businesses already have their own charging points, and organisations and individuals are likely to have made their own arrangements without public support, so there will be more charging points than we are aware of. A lot of the public debate has focused on the chargeplace Scotland network, because it is the main publicly operated network, but most important is overall accessibility of chargers for electric vehicle owners.

We are committed to continuing to fund the public EV charging infrastructure, and to working with local authorities and others through programmes such as the switched on towns and cities challenge fund. However, we have to be sure that we are providing the right kind of investment. I take the point about ensuring that we get investment in the right places, which is important. We will continue to add charge points to the network where there is a need to ensure coverage. Our commitment to the electric A9, which was referenced by Maurice Golden, is an example of that. Equally important will be the focus on ensuring that the current network is well maintained and supported by excellent customer service, and that it keeps pace with changing technology.

The burden of charging EVs in Scotland will not fall on chargeplace Scotland’s network alone. Analysis suggests that, on average, EV drivers use the public network for 10 per cent or less of their charging needs, with the rest of the charging being done at home, work or another destination. There is a mix of charger usage. We will continue to talk to the sector to make sure that we stay ahead of developments and ensure that installation of chargers on trunk roads, and at workplaces, destinations and at home happens as smoothly and effectively as possible.

I turn to other points that were made about the wider transport system. Support for EVs and charging is just one of the most visible demonstrations of our activity, but our support goes far beyond that. A number of examples have been referenced by colleagues from across the chamber.

We are tackling freight emissions through support for local authorities to deliver the ECO Stars programme for heavy goods vehicles. We have set Network Rail challenging but achievable regulatory targets to grow rail freight, which produces 76 per cent less carbon dioxide than road freight per tonne of cargo.

We will introduce an improved bus service operators grant low-carbon vehicle incentive from 1 April this year, as well as a new Scottish green bus fund, with money being available over years, and for infrastructure for the first time, which will be weighted towards the lowest-emitting buses.

We will also continue to promote a shift towards active and sustainable travel to combat health issues related to poor air quality, as referenced by Mr Torrance.

Hydrogen was mentioned by Colin Smyth and other colleagues from around the chamber. I mention our forthcoming network vision statement because I am trying to listen to stakeholders about reflecting the need for hydrogen. We will probably do more detailed work on that throughout the year. We are on the verge of a transformational shift in use of hydrogen. Scotland has the natural assets, skills and experience to exploit fully the potential for hydrogen to help to decarbonise our transport and heat systems.

We have supported a number of world-leading hydrogen demonstration projects. I will not go through them all, but I will make sure that a list is available to colleagues who have taken part in the debate. We have given more than £6 million in support for procurement of hydrogen buses in Aberdeen, which Mr Torrance mentioned. We have provided £1.3 million for the Orkney surf’n’turf project on Eday, which is using tidal and wind energy to power the production of hydrogen for use in Kirkwall and potentially for the hydrogen ferry that has been commissioned to service the route there. We have provided £4.3 million for the Levenmouth community energy project—also referred to by Mr Torrance, because it is in his constituency—which is demonstrating the role that hydrogen can play in a low-carbon energy system. We need to seize the moment and to build on those and other projects that are developing economically sustainable models for production and use of hydrogen.

From providing support, to grid balancing and utilising constrained renewable energy, to direct use in heat systems, through which we can see the currently very low percentage of hydrogen that is injected into the grid being increased over time, and to transport applications, hydrogen presents an opportunity to decarbonise our energy use significantly, while releasing the potential for new technologies, businesses and economic benefit across Scotland. The role and value of hydrogen in our future energy system will form part of our electricity and gas networks vision statement, which we will publish shortly.

As the First Minister said at First Minister’s question time, the Scottish Government wants the transition to a low-carbon economy to be a just one that ensures that no one is left behind as our technological and economic landscape develops. That is why we have established the just transition commission, which met for the first time on 31 January and will consider how the benefits of transition to a low-carbon economy can be shared widely across Scotland.

Although the emergence of new technologies provides an opportunity for Scotland to become a world leader in low-carbon innovation, it also has the potential to provide high-quality job opportunities for people across Scotland. An element that has not been mentioned in the debate, but which is very important as we roll out low-carbon transport, is skills. The energy skills partnership and Skills Development Scotland are working to support Scotland’s learning institutions to develop the skills base that is needed to deliver and maintain a sustainable low-carbon transport system that provides economic and environmental benefits for Scotland, as well as for individuals. I know that that includes provision of electric vehicles to colleges so that they can train the apprentices of the future and retrain people who are already in the workforce in order to adapt their skills to service a growing fleet of electric vehicles.

The shift towards low-carbon transport has the potential to unlock massive opportunities for Scotland. It is great that there is a great degree of consensus on that point. We believe that businesses will benefit from access to burgeoning new markets, and that individuals will also see huge benefits. However, we are already seeing encouraging progress in the uptake of battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars, and in the first steps towards the adoption of hydrogen bus fleets, rail and ferries.

I commend the Scottish cities alliance and its partners for the work that they are doing to encourage their members and neighbouring local authorities to adopt a more collective approach to their work on low-carbon transport and energy.

The Scottish Government will work closely with all colleagues in the chamber who have an interest in the matter. I thank everyone for their constructive tone in the debate and look forward to working with them as we decarbonise our transport system.

13:18 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—