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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 28 October 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Miners’ Strike Review, NHS (Winter Preparedness), Energy Inquiry, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Reunification of Germany (30th Anniversary)


Contents


Energy Inquiry

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

Before we start, I should say that there is absolutely no time in hand, so members must not overrun their timings for their speeches—I am sorry.

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-23100, in the name of Gordon Lindhurst, on behalf of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, on its energy inquiry.

15:59  

Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

We have all faced a dilemma before, and at times we may even have been tested by a trilemma, but how many of us have had to contend with a quadrilemma? That is the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s term for the puzzle that is our energy policy. The RSE says that it is crucial to strike a balance between a quartet of potentially competing concerns: climate change, security, affordability and acceptability. The RSE’s work, which has been two years in the making, has provided the springboard for our own committee inquiry. The two areas that we focus on are electric vehicles—or EVs, if you will—and local energy.

I will touch on a handful of the recommendations that we make under those headings, but first I will reflect on the RSE’s findings, as set out in its “Scotland’s Energy Future” report. The report breaks things down to the fundamentals—it asks where our energy comes from, how we use it and how responsible we are for what we consume. It works from the premise that we must reduce carbon emissions, and it considers the options that are open to us as policy makers and decision takers, the private sector and the public sector, and individuals and communities—in short, the nation as a whole.

The RSE acknowledges that the paradoxes of demand and supply present a profound challenge for any energy policy, however well put together. The “energy quadrilemma” is one way of looking at that challenge. As an example, what if workers in the oil and gas sector lose their jobs and find nothing to replace those jobs? That is the concern of the chair of the Economic Development Association Scotland. He says that the onus is on key, and often competing, players to come up with win-win scenarios and to learn to collaborate. He likens the situation to

“a Rubik’s cube of horizontal (energy), vertical (industrial) and spatial (regional) positions that must be managed, if not mastered, by Scottish policy makers.”

Given the complexity of the task—a quadrilemma, a Rubik’s cube and a whole-systems approach—we are sympathetic to the RSE’s call for an expert advisory commission. Such a body would cover all aspects of energy, including policy, economics and technology, and it would take an independent, continuous and—yes—whole-systems approach.

This is not the first time that the committee has considered the matter. In 2017, we reported on the draft energy strategy and asked whether a national agency was needed to oversee the transition of the energy system. We returned to the issue a year later, when we looked at the case for a publicly owned energy company, and now here we are again. Our recommendation is that a long-term strategic framework be put in place—a framework that is based on good governance, policy expertise, cross-party buy-in and long-term ownership, and which could include the establishment of an independent expert advisory commission on energy policy.

I am sorry to say that the Scottish Government’s response has been somewhat underwhelming. It points to the existing Scottish energy advisory board, a forum that, according to its own website, last met in June 2017. It undertakes to review its membership by the end of the year.

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

I am grateful to the member for taking an intervention, and I will keep it brief. This is just to correct the record: the Scottish energy advisory board has met a number of times since 2017. I will provide details to the committee convener.

Gordon Lindhurst

I am delighted to hear that, and I stand corrected, if what I have said is incorrect.

It was two years ago that the committee made the case for an

“independent body, one that can provide oversight, continuity and a long-term framework … positioned at the heart of energy policy and market transition, strategic in its long-term thinking and planning while prepared and flexible enough to react to change as it happens.”

I am grateful to the minister for his intervention, if it indicates that that is what the Government is seeking to move towards.

The minister may not have read this quote from P G Wodehouse, who said:

“Routine is the death to heroism.”

That is perhaps what the committee would like us to avoid in our approach to this matter.

Strategic oversight is something that we also need more of when it comes to EVs. The Scottish Government is committed to phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032, and it is rumoured that the United Kingdom Government will bring forward a ban to 2030. We asked how that transition will be nationally co-ordinated, strategically planned and supported by reliable infrastructure. We put that point to the Scottish Government and to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

We heard of considerable variation at local level in the quality of provision. Dundee won praise—Edinburgh, not so much. Councils are doing their best with the resources that they have, but staff leading on infrastructure planning often do so as an add-on to their day job.

COSLA’s response to our inquiry came as little surprise. COSLA stated,

“we wholeheartedly recognise the importance and intent”

of one of the committee’s recommendations: that examples of innovation and best practice be collected from around the country. I could pick out a few other phrases: “progressive mainstreaming”, “sustained collaboration”, “critical junctures” and “intrinsically multi-agency”—we get the idea.

Local energy was the third and final strand of our report, and that brings us on to public awareness and community engagement, which was a recurring theme of the inquiry. Some of our witnesses found the scorecard to be less than impressive. The RSE underlines the need to develop policy that is acceptable to the public and that is sustainable and just, and to be up front about the choices available, about what is achievable and about the changes that have to happen. Otherwise, what chance do we have of changing our habits—be it the kind of car we drive or how we heat our home?

The refrain is that we need to start doing things with people, not to people, and that we need to move beyond a top-down approach. No longer is it enough simply to focus on technocratic and engineering solutions; we should view the broader policy agenda alongside “local happenstance”, as it has been called. Whether it involves ground-source heating for homes near local parks, flooded coal mines or brownfield sites, or solar energy for new builds, what works for one community may not work for another.

Two of my committee colleagues visited the ReFLEX project in Orkney, and they saw for themselves what is happening to connect electricity, transport and heat—the aim being not only to deliver affordable locally generated energy and to decarbonise the islands by 2030 but to export the model elsewhere in Scotland, the UK and beyond.

The Committee on Climate Change advises the Scottish Government on green recovery. One of its six principles is to lead a shift towards positive long-term behaviours, which it sees as

“an opportunity to embed new social norms, especially for travel.”

It suggests that the Scottish Government should lead the way with its own work, with public communications and infrastructure for example.

According to Tacitus—I refer to the ancient Roman historian with whom all members are familiar, not to the cat of the same name, who lives in Kirkliston—

“good habits are here more effectual than good laws elsewhere.”

The context was public virtue in the first century, but the point still stands. If we can change how we think about energy, we can change how we consume it. Smart meters are not so smart if they teach us only that the kettle uses a lot of electricity but not the necessity of heating our home better.

The fourth aspect of the quadrilemma—public acceptability—becomes ever more critical.

I now have a quadrilemma in the sense that I am over my time and the Presiding Officer is indicating that I should finish up, which I shall do at this point. I look forward to hearing what the minister has to say on the matter when he rises to speak.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the findings set out in the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee's Energy Inquiry, which were published on 8 July 2020.—[Gordon Lindhurst]

16:11  

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

I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in today’s debate and to discuss the committee’s inquiry into energy policy in Scotland in more detail. I do not have any PG Wodehouse or Tacitus—feline or human—quotes to give the chamber, but I welcome the convener’s comments.

I welcome the findings of the committee’s report, and I assure the members of the committee that consideration has been given to all the recommendations that were made to the Scottish Government and to addressing the quadrilemma that the convener mentioned, which our Scottish energy strategy flagged up.

Before I turn to the inquiry, I would like to give my thanks and appreciation to the many individuals across the energy sector who have made significant efforts in maintaining the energy supplies and the critical national infrastructure that delivers our energy during these most challenging of times. Those efforts have been important in supporting all parts of Scotland’s society and economy and in enabling us to continue to function as we have focused on dealing with our new set of priorities and ways of life.

Although we know that the pandemic is by no means over, we need to start to think about how to drive urgent recovery across our economy—and to act now. It is critical that we work collectively to create a supportive environment for the energy sector as we strive to recover from the economic shock.

The report from the advisory group on economic recovery represented a clear call to action that went beyond the Scottish Government and the public sector. In our response this summer, we underlined how committed we are to ensuring that our economic recovery is green, fair, sustainable and resilient, but we cannot achieve that on our own.

The Scottish Government is fully aware that its hopes of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 and a 75 per cent reduction by 2030 will require a national endeavour. It is key that we engage communities and citizens across Scotland and support them as best as we can in driving a positive step change in attitudes to and behaviours in climate change.

Moving on to the committee’s inquiry, I reiterate my earlier point that the Scottish Government gave great consideration to the recommendations that the committee provided. The first recommendation suggests that the Scottish Government has a long-term framework in place that covers all aspects of energy. As the Scottish Government continues to move forward with its net zero ambitions, it remains guided by the three core principles that were set out in “The future of energy in Scotland: Scottish energy strategy”—its 2017 publication.

Those principles are that we take a whole-system view, which the convener referenced, and that we deliver an inclusive energy transition and a smarter local energy model. Early next year, the Scottish Government will demonstrate how those principles underpin the programme of work that it is delivering, with the publication of its energy policy position statement. The Scottish Government’s intention, if re-elected, would be to refresh the energy strategy in 2021 after appropriate consultation of stakeholders, the Scottish energy advisory board and the strategic leadership groups that underpin that.

The statement will coherently set out how our policy actions across the energy sector collectively support delivery of the climate change plan update and will address how the Scottish Government’s efforts in respect of energy will ensure a green economic recovery as it remains aligned to its net zero ambitions. I am also delighted that I was able to publish today our new “Offshore Wind Policy: Statement”, a key component of our strategy that sets out our ambition to have 11GW of offshore wind capacity in Scottish waters by 2030.

Turning to the key themes of the committee’s inquiry, I welcome its recommendations on electric vehicles. I hope that colleagues will recognise that we are beginning to make real progress in that area. In the 12 months leading up to March this year, we saw a 45 per cent growth in the number of ultra-low-emission vehicles registered for the first time in Scotland, and we are supporting that growth by investing in world-leading infrastructure. For example, since 2011, the Scottish Government has invested over £30 million in ChargePlace Scotland. That investment has provided almost 40 public charge points for every 100,000 people living in Scotland, which compares with 30 charge points per 100,000 people in England and fewer than 20 per 100,000 people in Wales and Northern Ireland.

In these challenging economic times, it is essential that we explore as many partnership working opportunities as possible. Our £7.5 million strategic partnership with Scotland’s electricity distribution network operators is a good example of that. The partnership has been put in place to ensure that Scotland has access to a world-leading electric vehicle charging network and to the electricity infrastructure that is needed to support that. Working collaboratively will help to achieve the best outcome for electric-vehicle users, electricity networks, energy consumers and wider society.

Although our effort to achieve our ambitious climate change targets is a national endeavour, it is also important to consider the benefits and challenges on a local level, as the convener outlined and as is addressed by the committee’s inquiry. The Scottish Government, through our community and renewable energy scheme—CARES—remains committed to supporting the growth of community and locally owned energy in Scotland.

Our recent CARES funding call focused on green recovery across Scotland, making up to £4.5 million of funding support available. That call, despite the UK Government’s removal of the feed-in tariff regime, received over 170 expressions of interest—a record number—and a wide range of projects aimed at improving the services provided to local people were approved. In the future, there will be a greater focus on decarbonisation as a driver for community-led action to bring new and exciting opportunities to communities.

Initiatives such as CARES and EV charging infrastructure are not the only steps that we must take to drive positive societal behaviour in response to the climate change crisis. We know from analysis that was carried out by the Committee on Climate Change that over 60 per cent of the changes that are necessary to achieve our ambitions will require at least some element of societal or behavioural change. That is why we are pursuing an ambitious approach to considering and implementing the social changes that are required to achieve net zero.

The publication of our public engagement strategy has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but we will publish that as soon as is practically possible and it will help us to adapt the way that we engage with the public in the light of our changed social and economic circumstances. In the meantime, we are developing the tools that are needed to support that work, including our recently launched public-facing website Net Zero Nation.

I again welcome the committee’s report. I look forward to hearing members’ contributions and to responding to them as best I can in the time that is available for my closing remarks. I reiterate the point that I made to the convener. The Scottish energy advisory board has met. It is going through reform and a review of its membership, which we will communicate to the convener and to other interested members in due course, but it has provided valuable advice to Government, not least during the coronavirus outbreak. I look forward to engaging with members on its valuable work.

16:18  

Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

I direct members to my entry in the register of members’ interests regarding renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Although members across the chamber will agree that our focus should be on tackling the coronavirus, it is vital that we do not let the virus undo our commitment to tackling the climate emergency that our world faces.

If anything, the recovery from the pandemic will give us further opportunities. Drax Power, which operates—among other assets—Cruachan power station in Argyll, which provides 35 per cent of the UK’s storage capacity, has noted that, from an energy perspective, Covid has provided a glimpse of how our system will work in the future, when we will have an even larger supply of renewable energy.

That is why the energy inquiry by the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee has been so important. However, this is not the first time that an economy committee of the Scottish Parliament has put forward detail on how to tackle Scotland’s energy future. In 2009, the then Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s seventh report outlined its determination to deliver on Scotland’s energy future. The Scottish National Party was in power in 2009, yet here we are, 11 years later. It is worth looking at a couple of points from that report.

The report states:

“The Committee reaffirms its call on the Scottish Government for a rapid publication of its detailed energy efficiency action plan. Delay beyond 2009 is not acceptable.”

It continues:

“The Committee recommends the rapid introduction of heat initiatives”.

It also says:

“On heat, the Scottish Government has committed itself to an objective of 11% of heat demand being produced by renewable energy by 2020”.

However, here we are, in 2020, still debating energy efficiency action plans and still to pass a heat networks bill.

In fact, it took several months of working with Opposition parties to ensure that energy efficiency plans for homes were introduced by 2030 and not a decade later, as the SNP initially proposed. Currently, the SNP Government is on course to miss its renewable heat target, with only 6.5 per cent of heat demand met from renewables in 2019, which is a 5 per cent increase on the 2018 figure. At that rate, the 2020 target will not be met until after 2040—some 20 years too late. [Interruption.] I cannot take an intervention, as I am short of time.

The déjà vu feeling of a wasted decade and failed targets is nothing new when it comes to this tired SNP Government. It has been in power since 2007, and Government ministers have nobody but themselves to blame for missed targets and opportunities wasted. There is no use in setting the most ambitious targets in the world—just to get a headline—when the ambition is matched only by an inability to understand the businesses that are needed to deliver them.

The latest in the list of disappointments lies in the incompetence of the SNP and is Derek Mackay’s legacy to Fife. A failure to back up £40 million of taxpayers’ money with any consent requirements for local employment or training strategies has made the future of Burntisland Fabrications bleak. Although Scotland will still see the benefit from the offshore wind projects through their contribution to our energy mix, SNP ministers will not be forgiven for failing to deliver on their promises of what the green energy revolution would mean for the Scottish economy.

Just yesterday, Renfrewshire Council abandoned its £4.5 million investment in improving the energy efficiency of 75 homes because only one suitable bid was received and it was too expensive.

In my constituency of Aberdeenshire West, the admirable but underresourced Warmworks Scotland, which delivers the Scottish Government’s flagship programme, recently told me that it had improved 147 homes, but that was over the past five years. With more than 68,000 homes in Aberdeenshire requiring improvements, the work will take 465 years at that rate.

We find local companies losing out on contracts and local projects not being delivered because the SNP Government does not understand that warm words in Holyrood are not turning into warm homes around Scotland. The energy industry itself has been ready and willing to work with our Governments to move forward, but the green jobs are not being created at the speed that is necessary to tackle the issue.

However, none of those failures should detract from the hard work that the committee has done on its inquiry, and we must recognise that many organisations, including the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scottish Renewables, Ombudsman Services and Smart Energy GB, are supportive of the committee’s recommendations. The broad support for the committee’s report should be a driving force for the Government to make changes and implement the recommendations, because we do not want to be back here in 11 years’ time, reviewing recommendations that were—yet again—not taken forward.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you for keeping to your time.

16:23  

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

The Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee’s energy inquiry is based on the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s “Scotland’s Energy Future” report. The committee also considered electric vehicle infrastructure and locally owned energy. If anything, that tells us about the complexity of our energy systems from generation right through to supply to the customer.

We know that we need to decarbonise and that we need to take industry, communities and customers with us. A just transition is about not just the workforce but customers. The costs of various schemes are included in consumers’ bills. Unfortunately, it is only those with resources who can access schemes to insulate their houses and install microrenewables. Those in fuel poverty cannot afford to do that, but they still have to pay towards the schemes. I am not against the schemes, but I am concerned about the unfair distribution of funds and the inability to use them to tackle fuel poverty. That is why I am keen that, as we scrutinise the Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill, we ensure that tackling fuel poverty is at its heart. Ombudsman Services tells us that

“to achieve a just transition to net zero, we need confident, engaged and empowered consumers. Decarbonising our economy will require a high level of trust from consumers”.

I cannot speak of a just transition without speaking about the lack of a just transition for our workforce. We are home to some of the best renewable energy in the world, yet where are the jobs? BiFab workers in Fife and on Lewis are seeing their futures disappear, while multinational companies line their pockets from our natural resources. That is simply not right, and I call on the Scottish Government to put it right. The actions of a Government should never lead to the decimation of an industry. On Lewis, the community is clear that it wants to cut loose from BiFab—a company in which the Scottish Government is a shareholder—because it believes that it can do a better job in attracting work to the island. Frankly, I cannot see how it could do a worse one.

We must also encourage community generation, and that is why communities must be at the heart of the Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill. However, we cannot simply impose solutions on communities without buy-in.

This is all interconnected. I will use an example from my own region. The subsea cable from Skye to Harris has broken down, and that means a return to using the old diesel-powered generator to provide electricity for the islands. Because that connection is down, the renewable energy that is generated on the island cannot be distributed. That means that clean energy is going to waste while fossil fuels are being used to generate electricity. That has a knock-on impact for many of the small-scale community generators that feed into the system, because they no longer have a market for their clean energy.

For many years, I have been pushing for an interconnector to those islands, which would have distributed energy, had it been built. The campaign will go on, while a new cable is laid to replace the damaged cable. That just shows just how disorganised our system is. Surely the replacement cable should provide additional capacity, and surely there should have been a better back-up than a diesel-powered station from the last century—yet that is what serves us.

Someone once told me that our distribution network is pretty much as good as wet cotton strung between poles; it certainly cannot cope with Scotland’s potential for renewables. It also seems that we cannot harness—

Paul Wheelhouse

Will the member take an intervention?

Rhoda Grant

I think that I—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I was about to intervene, myself. Please conclude, Ms Grant.

Rhoda Grant

It seems that we are unable to harness our natural resources for a just transition. I welcome the committee’s inquiry but recognise that there is much to be done.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Andy Wightman to open for the Scottish Green Party. You have four minutes.

16:27  

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

I welcome the committee’s findings. I thank the clerks for their work, and all those who gave evidence.

Energy is a bit of a wicked policy area as it involves geopolitical, environmental and economic issues; legacy infrastructure; new technology; and, particularly in the Scottish context, an unsatisfactory mix of devolved and reserved powers.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh has already been cited; its report was a very helpful springboard, as the convener said. It highlights how interconnected this area of policy is to others such as transport, housing and climate. In his opening remarks, the convener mentioned Professor Little’s comment that it also requires a whole-systems approach.

I regret that we do not have more time to debate such a vital topic, but the inquiry revealed that some excellent work is happening on the ground. The committee visited the Alexander Dennis bus factory in Falkirk, and had a very inspiring visit to Orkney to look at the smart grid ReFLEX project, which I am sure Liam McArthur will say more about.

I want to focus on a few of the committee’s key findings. The first that struck me was the RSE’s recommendation of a reduction in energy consumption. We know that that is possible through modal shifts, and we also know that it is possible to build houses that consume no net energy. The RSE report makes it clear that that is the most effective way of tackling the quadrilemma.

The committee also makes the case for a national body to co-ordinate action on such things as decarbonisation, resilience, infrastructure and behaviour. I think that that will be a key issue, which the minister has already said something about in relation to his forward plans.

Electric vehicles was the second area that the committee was interested in. As an owner of an electric vehicle, I have a personal as well as a political interest in the subject. There is a growing number of such vehicles in Scotland. However, to tackle climate breakdown, we must push for them to be the default choice as soon as possible. As we discovered in Orkney, electric vehicles also play a critical role in smart grids as storage available to balance supply and demand in local grids. Modern technology exists to do that automatically, with automatic markets where consumers can buy and sell electricity.

As Mr Lindhurst was talking about Tacitus, I was observing on my smartphone a member of my family driving into Edinburgh. Electric vehicles, being electric and having computers at their heart, are at the core of the autonomy movement. Indeed, in Beijing, electric vehicles speak to traffic lights and traffic lights speak to electric vehicles to work out when it is best to let traffic through. Beijing also has systems that can prioritise public transport. It is therefore about more than just the energy question.

We heard from a number of witnesses that the EV charging network here remains something of a lottery. Even the new Electric A9 chargers are unreliable. I think that the minister said that they were world leading, but I used one recently that delivered two seconds of electricity before cutting out and displaying an error message, and such incidents are far too common.

The final element of the inquiry was local energy systems. It is regrettable, as others have said, that so much of Scotland’s renewable generation is controlled not by local co-operatives and businesses but by large corporations, including state-owned corporations of foreign Governments, such as Vattenfall from Sweden. For all that we like to compare ourselves with similar-sized European countries such as Denmark, the minister will know that the Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill is a reminder—certainly in my opinion—of how far we have to travel. For example, Denmark’s district heating schemes are the responsibility of the municipalities, which also own most of the pipe network, with consumer co-operatives owning the rest. In addition, all suppliers of heat must, by law, operate on a not-for-profit basis. In contrast, the proposed arrangements in Scotland exclude local authorities and are designed to attract investment from large corporates, and there is no not-for-profit requirement. What is normal in Denmark should be normal here.

The brief inquiry generated a lot of fascinating evidence and there is broad consensus among experts about how to proceed, but we have a long way to go before we have a properly integrated, long-term energy policy in place.

16:32  

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I start by acknowledging that I am in receipt of feed-in tariff payments and renewable heat incentive scheme payments.

I warmly welcome the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee’s findings and recommendations. I know that the inquiry has been a considerable undertaking for the committee and I congratulate Gordon Lindhurst and his colleagues on their efforts, not least in ensuring that a visit to Orkney took place as part of the evidence-gathering exercise. I understand that the visit took place in February, so it was not like ministers’ fair-weather summer tours in recent years. Andy Wightman said that the visit was inspiring, and it is clear that it profoundly influenced the committee’s findings.

Given the brief time available to me in the debate and Mr Wightman’s spoiler alert, I will focus my remarks on what is going on in Orkney that chimes with the committee’s findings, not least that on the need to draw on examples of best practice from around the country.

The committee makes clear the importance of the Scottish Government adopting a long-term strategic framework that covers all aspects of energy and takes a whole-systems approach. In that respect, Orkney offers some timely lessons and can help lead the way as we strive to achieve our climate change ambitions.

As the committee heard from the Association of Decentralised Energy in its written evidence,

“Smart, decentralised energy systems will be absolutely crucial to achieving net zero by 2045.”

The association explained:

“In a net zero electricity system, most of that large centralised plant will have been replaced with variable renewables ... As a result, we will depend far more on small-scale peaking plant, storage, interconnectors and demand-side response to balance energy and maintain the operability of our networks.”

In that context, the work that is being undertaken in Orkney through the ReFLEX and SMILE project is highly relevant. The project will look to connect electricity, transport and heat networks in an overarching system, using advanced software to balance supply and demand. That work draws on recent experience in Orkney and strong local buy-in. It aims to deliver affordable locally generated energy and decarbonise the islands by 2030, further burnishing Orkney’s reputation as a leader in innovation, development and applied solutions.

I give credit where it is due, as the project is supported by the UK Government’s industrial strategy challenge fund, although that does not excuse the wider lack of support and direction at a UK level. The project is also an example of how innovation often emerges through adversity. Despite Orkney having significant renewable energy resources and producing 130 per cent of its electricity needs through existing installed renewable generation, the local grid is constrained, resulting in significant curtailment. That limits efficiency but also the capacity that is needed to meet inevitable increases in demand to support electric vehicles and electrified heating systems.

Given that Orkney has some of the highest energy prices and levels of fuel poverty in the country, the ReFLEX and SMILE project is about addressing more than just environmental challenges, and it does not diminish the urgent need to secure a long-awaited interconnector for the islands, to which Rhoda Grant referred.

The project will last for three years and will include the installation and operation of technologies, including hydrogen fuel cells for electricity and heat; domestic and commercial energy storage; vehicle-to-grid charging infrastructure; ground-source heat pump systems; building management systems; and integrated grid-smart community-led transport systems.

A new local energy company will be established to offer advice to consumers and businesses on their energy needs, as well as providing affordable leasing options for new domestic and commercial batteries, electric vehicles and charging points in Orkney, with reduced up-front costs for users. I just hope that the Government’s new ChargePlace Scotland contract is up to the task—I certainly echo Andy Wightman’s concerns.

Orkney is an ideal location for demonstrating how self-contained smart energy networks can work, connecting hydrogen storage, huge batteries and electric ferries and cars with clever software to remove fossil fuels from an entire energy system and reduce costs to consumers. There is no reason why the lessons learned in Orkney cannot inform decisions made elsewhere in Scotland, as well as the Government’s long-term strategic framework. Islanders and the Scottish Liberal Democrats are up for meeting that challenge. I look forward to working with others to make sure that it happens.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you. I ask members to keep to time, please. The speeches in the open debate should all be four minutes long.

16:36  

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I start by reminding Liam McArthur that some ministers [Inaudible.] bad weather, especially snow.

However, to move to the subject in hand, I join others in thanking the committee for its work on this subject; as Brexit approaches and the economic impact of Covid-19 is felt, these issues become even more important than they were at the beginning of the year. The focus on electric vehicle infrastructure is important, because transport continues to be such a difficult sector to decarbonise; getting the right infrastructure in place is essential.

However, dealing with the engineering and technology is only part of the challenge; a change in the behaviour of people in the population is also required. Such things require that little phrase, “buy-in”. The report recognises that, and I believe that we cannot guarantee that buy-in; if we do not get it, we will have a problem, so how do we generate buy-in?

The report references the idea of local energy in Scotland and of active community buildings—places where people could go to see, touch and experience technology. Familiarity with such things and understanding why and how certainly play a role in motivating people to action. Therefore, these are the types of ideas that we should continue to support. However, buy-in can also take the form of ensuring that people are, at the very least, no worse off and, at best, better off, than they were before.

One way to ensure that is of course the just transition that others have referred to. There are huge opportunities for things such as carbon capture and storage in my constituency. Carbon capture and storage represents an excellent transition technology. Indeed, it would ensure many jobs for those skilled workers who are currently working in the oil and gas sector. However, there are many ways in which we can create buy-in beyond that. We should simply ensure that we work the equation from the various angles that it lends itself to.

Finally, I will briefly mention the idea of energy security, which is considered in the report. The report mentions the implications of exiting the European Union and the fact that 40 per cent of Europe’s gas comes from Russia. Both circumstances present the possibility of complications with energy issues but there is also the issue of the carbon cost of having to import from countries that are perhaps not as well established in their own climate change goals. It is not just a question of the lights going out but a question of potentially exacerbating the climate change issue. Therefore, once again, I believe that increasing our levels of energy independence is an important part of energy security. In other words, we should import carbon-neutral fuel. However, the basis of our expansion into that ideal position would first be built on the strength of our own energy security.

16:40  

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I congratulate Gordon Lindhurst on making what was probably the most entertaining contribution that I have ever heard him make in this chamber. I also congratulate the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee on its energy inquiry and its subsequent comprehensive report. It made for fascinating reading. I also want to praise the Royal Society of Edinburgh for its report of last year, “Scotland’s Energy Future”, which, in itself, followed a two-year inquiry. A lot of work has gone into this.

First, I want to talk briefly about two of the RSE’s 10 findings, which are around housing. It said that enforcing higher standards of energy efficiency in new-build housing and infrastructure should be a regulatory priority and that building regulations around energy efficiency, and their enforcement, should be regularly reviewed to ensure that they are more responsive to research and development and are consistent with policy targets. It went on to say that reducing Scotland’s energy demand could play an important role in meeting many of its energy goals and that improved energy efficiency will be key to achieving that. It said that reducing demand for energy could assist in significantly reducing Scotland’s carbon emissions and that improved energy efficiency would require substantial investment and faces a serious obstacle in Scotland’s ageing and varied housing stock. It is right about that.

Members will know—unless they have not been paying attention—that I chaired the tenement maintenance working group, which was a cross-party group, although it was not a CPG. Crucially, it included experts in the field and, last year, we produced a set of recommendations aimed at dealing with a property condition ticking time bomb. Nearly a fifth of our housing—467,000 homes—is pre-1919, and 68 per cent of those have disrepair to critical elements. We called for three things to be done. First, there should be regular building inspections; secondly, there should be compulsory owners associations, so that there are bodies that take responsibility for maintaining properties; and, thirdly, we should establish building repair funds. There was a lot of detail behind all three recommendations.

The issue that we were dealing with is exactly what the RSE was talking about in relation to Scotland’s ageing and varied housing stock. Dealing with property maintenance is essential, and improving energy efficiency is part of that. I have seen at first hand, as part of work that was done by the Local Government and Communities Committee when I served on it, the difference that that can make. We visited Dundee, Lewis and Harris, and saw how retrofitting not only has health benefits—physical and mental—but keeps the bills down.

I want to briefly touch on electric vehicles, which the committee also wrote about. Michelle Ballantyne will have more to say on that, and she speaks from first-hand experience as one of the growing number of MSP converts to electric cars—there is a bit of a Tesla army in this place. The UK and Scottish Governments have introduced quite stringent and challenging policies, but I just say this: if we want to persuade people to ditch petrol and diesel cars, we are talking about them using electric vehicles—or hydrogen vehicles, but electric seems to be winning that battle at the moment. However, as we have heard already, there are challenges with the charging network—I see you asking me to close, Presiding Officer, and I am going to do so. We need to make things reliable and we need to make it easy for people to use an electric vehicle.

Once again, I congratulate the committee and my good friend Mr Lindhurst.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I was trying to be subtle, Mr Simpson; you did not have to mention it.

16:44  

Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

As others have observed, the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee mentioned in its report the need to be honest with the public about the changes that people will have to make over the coming years when it comes to dealing with what has been called “the energy quadrilemma”. That is no mean balancing act, but members will not be surprised to hear me say that, in Scotland’s case, our islands have a role to play.

That fact is illustrated—perversely enough—by the failure in the past few days of the cable between Skye and Harris, which leaves the northern half of my constituency suddenly detached from the national grid. To a great extent, that leaves Lewis and Harris reliant on their old diesel power station; even in the past few hours, people have got in touch with me to express concern about that. The islands also produce their own power from renewable sources, which will pick up a bit of that strain until the cable is replaced, but I earnestly hope that SSE will replace it soon and ensure that the new cable is big enough to be future proofed.

One lesson from that episode is that, increasingly, the islands are looking to their electricity connections to the mainland as a means of exporting and not merely importing power. The loss of the cable poses just as many challenges about how to keep community wind turbines turning profitably as it does about how to keep the lights on.

The potential that exists in the islands for renewable power, including wind, is phenomenal, as is our virtually untapped and limitless source of wave energy, if the technology can be developed to exploit it. Meanwhile, hydrogen technology could also provide an income stream for community turbines, while enabling the development and use of hydrogen ferries, as others have mentioned.

The Arnish construction yard in Lewis continues to be one of the best places in Europe to build major components for offshore wind. It is a matter of deep concern in my constituency that long-hoped-for contracts are not coming the way of Arnish, despite the significant investment that the Scottish Government has put into BiFab. I make no apology for using this debate to make the case for Arnish.

The Scottish Government has shown a great deal of commitment to all those issues, despite many of the big questions about energy being reserved to the United Kingdom Government.

I end by making the case again for the long-awaited interconnector between the Isle of Lewis and the mainland. SSE, Ofgem and the UK Government all now have a duty to make it a reality, ensuring that, in the future, the Western Isles are in an even stronger position to contribute to solving the same national energy challenges that the committee has rightly outlined to us today.

16:47  

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

This is a valuable debate, in which we can all learn from each other about local energy experiences, successes and challenges. I commend the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee for its work in looking at the Government’s energy policy.

I stress that, in my view and in the view of Scottish Labour, there is no equitable path to protecting the climate without an industrial strategy for sustainable energy. The 2013 interim target for a 75 per cent emissions reduction is stretching by design and had cross-party support in our Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. It inspired bold and radical transformation of our economy and society. The energy sector has already reduced its emissions considerably, which is commendable, but sustainable energy output is the linchpin to decarbonising many other sectors and there is no time to spare to get it right.

As we have heard, the RSE calls it the energy quadrilemma and rightly acknowledges the economic, environmental, social and reliability needs of the sector. However, climate action is not just a defensive play; it is a chance for Scotland to have a world-leading future-proofed power sector. It should be the Government’s priority to enact a strategy to deliver that vision; that has been a long-term call from the Scottish Labour Party and is recommended in the committee report. The recommendations lay out the many areas in which the Scottish Government must make its position clear and act faster.

Scottish Renewables notes that an overarching and long-term strategy must be key in building investor confidence, which would in turn make for the private investment that the sector needs so badly.

As others have said, the immense disappointment about BiFab undermines any of the SNP’s warm words that give the climate ambition or just transition their true worth. The chance for a vibrant renewable energy manufacturing industry is slipping through our fingers, and I am afraid that the SNP Government’s excuses are becoming empty.

This new industry requires proper public and private investment at a scale and pace to compete. It feels like the SNP has surrendered before trying, quite frankly. I hope that today’s Scottish Government announcement about offshore wind will push that forward.

In his closing remarks, will the minister tell me whether the just transition commission was consulted? Also, will the Scottish Government set out all the avenues that it tried and tested before seeming to give up on workers at BiFab and in Scotland’s offshore fabrication industry? As Rhoda Grant said, those who are working there could not do worse, and I am sure that they could do a lot better.

The committee recommends better prominence for public engagement, which is absolutely welcome. Friends of the Earth Scotland and Platform found that 91 per cent of their survey respondents had not heard of the term “just transition”. They also found that a high level of concern about job security existed, and a low level of confidence in Government support.

Embedding equity into our emissions reductions pathway remains a challenge, and it is one that my party argues needs a long-term, statutory just transition commission. I ask the minister to highlight whether the Government will consider extending the commission’s lifetime in view of the excellent work that it has done so far in relation to the green recovery more widely.

Looking at the rest of the report, I welcome the recommendations for decarbonising transport. That sector is in dire need of intervention through technology, long-term behaviour change and modal shift. Ombudsman Services state that confident, engaged and empowered consumers and communities will be key to moving in a fair way to net zero. That is relevant to transport as well as to home energy providers. Covid-19 has meant that people are heating their homes more during the day, that they have more cost challenges and that they are often using cars instead of public transport to stay isolated.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Can I ask you to wind up, please?

Claudia Beamish

I will do.

A national energy company could take on the energy quadrilemma with vigour and could be a key part of our climate future—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Ms Beamish, you are a star, but that is not winding up. I am just going to move on. Thank you very much.

16:52  

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I welcome the important work that has been done by the committee in conducting a health check on Scotland’s energy policies. It is particularly encouraging that the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s “Scotland’s Energy Future” report, as well as the interlinked issues of electric vehicle infrastructure and locally owned energy, were considered.

Today it is beyond any doubt that the monumental challenge of global warming has forced us to continuously rethink and adapt our energy policies. Achieving a net zero economy that is fair to all is an all-encompassing task that will affect all areas of our daily lives. I therefore strongly agree with the committee’s conclusion that an independent expert advisory commission, as recommended by the RAC, would be a step forward.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government has already signalled its willingness to establish an effective advisory and monitoring body to assist in making the right decisions when progressing energy-related policies.

I also share the committee’s conclusion that we must give public engagement greater prominence as we transition to more sustainable energy. Scotland underwent a previous energy transition when the coal industry vanished, at a significant social cost to many people and their communities, including in my constituency. We must learn from the social problems that other countries have faced recently, including the yellow vest protest in France that was partly a reaction to Government measures that were taken to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

It is therefore cause for optimism that the Scottish Government has commissioned new research, via the climate exchange partnership, on how to communicate climate policies effectively in a post-pandemic Scotland and also on how to engage the public and raise awareness about the need to act on global warming.

To ensure continued public support for Scotland’s energy transition, it will also be essential that we reduce any negative economic impact. That is especially important at present, considering the devastating impact that the pandemic is having on employment. Where energy production industries face closure, we must ensure that they are replaced with new, greener energy sources that provide jobs in the same area.

In my constituency, Hunterston B nuclear power station will cease generating power in January 2022, before moving into defuelling and then decommissioning. Currently, Hunterston B employs 520 highly skilled staff and 250 contractors on the site, contributing more than £54 million to the North Ayrshire economy every year. Although the defuelling and decommissioning process will provide jobs to the workforce for years to come, the Scottish and UK Governments must work in partnership with North Ayrshire Council to ensure that we create a new employment future for local communities. I am therefore delighted that the First Minister has made a strong commitment in that regard.

Hunterston A, which closed in 1989, and B station, as well as the neighbouring Hunterston Port and Resource Centre, with its deep-water port, provide prime sites for investment, with excellent energy grid, road, rail and sea links. Given the site’s unique infrastructure to support technological advances in new power generation, manufacturing and aquaculture, along with a strong local skills and talent base, developing Hunterston presents us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

To help the area’s transition, funding through the Ayrshire growth deal to support a centre for research into low-carbon energy and circular economy at the Hunterston strategic west Scotland industrial hub will be a significant step forward. The Scottish Government is determined to drive a green economic recovery with investment in renewable energy at its heart, so our priority must now be to ensure that we attract additional private sector interest in clean energy, to guarantee the presence of sustainable jobs at Hunterston and, indeed, elsewhere in Scotland. Developments at Hunterston and elsewhere will be a boon, especially for young people, who are overwhelmingly supportive of achieving a net zero economy and who need more opportunities to secure high-quality local jobs in renewable energy.

We will be able to successfully deliver Scotland’s energy transition only if we have the wider public on board. We can achieve that by attracting innovative and sustainable industries to Scotland and creating opportunities for future employment in areas where we already have fantastic infrastructure and a skilled workforce, such as at Hunterston in North Ayrshire.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That, Ms Beamish, is how to keep to your time.

16:56  

Michelle Ballantyne (South Scotland) (Con)

Dealing with the energy quadrilemma in four minutes seems to be a real gallop, so I will try to focus on one area, to which Graham Simpson alluded. I am a recent convert to being an EV driver. I have recently gone from being a petrolhead to whatever the new terminology is—nobody has yet told me, but I am looking forward to it being dubbed by the younger generation.

I am very keen that we move to EVs, not least because I have discovered all their merits. However, I have also discovered some of the problems that come with them. What has become clear is that we need a joined-up approach, with a consistent national framework. The reports by the RSE and the committee are great at identifying some of those things. I want to gallop through a few of them.

How we deliver the framework is probably one of the biggest issues. Will it be private, public or a hybrid? Who is co-ordinating it and how will it come together? Who should pay for installation and who is responsible for the maintenance? The Royal Society noted that we need to amend the powers that councils have, especially where planning is concerned. Lesley Deans, from Clackmannanshire Council, highlighted the issues well, particularly those regarding flatted or private developments. Planning requirements already cover parking and other standards. Now we should be considering making charging points a requirement for private developers, otherwise nobody in cities will be able to drive EVs.

Let us face it: if we do not do it, the risk is that ridiculous situations will arise, with people stringing charging leads down communal stairs or out of windows. I have to say that I am a person who has plugged in my car through somebody’s window—that is not where we want to go.

We also need better data gathering. Ms Deans told the committee that she did not know how many EVs were in her local authority area. Instead, she bases her estimates of usage on information from residents who contact her directly. There is no centrally available data to help decision makers with their choices. Ms Deans told us that the situation is further complicated in a small local authority area such as Clackmannanshire by trying to work out whether EV drivers from other areas are using the charging points in that area. I was certainly one of those drivers; before I had my charging point installed at home, I drove into Edinburgh to charge up most days. For the first six weeks that I drove my electric vehicle, I never paid for any energy. It was free everywhere that I went. I am not recommending that, but it is something that we need to consider.

It is a shaky foundation on which to try to drive forward a non-combustion-engine future. It requires people like us to make the transition—there are quite a few of us in the Parliament who are already doing that, and I have friends who are too. However, a lot of people tell me that they are worried about whether and how they will be able to charge, and whether it will be reliable. We need to get the foundation right if we are going to get everybody converted.

There is also the matter of local authority finances. Obviously, our councils were struggling before Covid; now, with the pandemic, things are even worse for a lot of local authorities. They are finding that upkeep is costing them huge sums and that charging points that are currently free to use with the council picking up the tab are not sustainable. We need an appropriate sustainable model, otherwise questions will start to arise from people who are not benefiting.

If a private developer installs a charging point as a result of planning requirements, who will pay for its upkeep? Will that fall to the residents, the council or the private developer?

Councils do not require funding just for upkeep, of course. As part of the net zero 2045 strategy, local authorities will be changing their fleets to environmentally friendly vehicles. The roll-out of hydrogen-powered refuse trucks in Glasgow, for example, required £6.3 million of funding. That was for just one arm of Glasgow’s council vehicle fleet. A lot of investment is due.

The evidence that was presented to the committee on the subject of maintenance pointed out that charging points have only a 10-year lifespan. That means that, in theory, some charging points will have to be replaced twice before we hit 2045. The funding from Transport Scotland covers warranty and maintenance agreements, but it does not seem to cover replacements, and warranties on charging points last for only four years. Councils are already banking money for future replacements. Is that the best way to go about it?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I will have to pull the plug on you. I am sorry.

Michelle Ballantyne

So my talk is short.

I am enthusiastic, but the minister must look at some of those points.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you.

To avoid curtailing the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice to move decision time to 5.30. I invite the business manager, Graeme Dey, to move such a motion.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 11.2.4, Decision Time be moved to 5.30 pm.—[Graeme Dey]

Motion agreed to.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Excellent. I hear that Mr Lyle is present.

17:02  

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today, Presiding Officer.

I was not on the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee when the inquiry took place, but I have been involved in other work on energy that that committee has done. I suppose that I have read the report with fairly fresh eyes, and I wanted to comment on a few points that struck me as I read it.

One of the RSE’s 10 guiding principles concerns energy security, including the need for diversity of storage options. It seems to me that, although we are focused on Scotland and the UK, energy is an international commodity, as the report points out in paragraph 25. Therefore, we need to look at energy security as a local and a world issue.

There is no point in relying heavily on interconnectors if there is energy insecurity at the other end of the cable, and electricity is, of course, notoriously difficult to store. Pump storage, such as at Cruachan, was designed for the smoothing of supply and demand, and it is unlikely to provide a greatly increased capacity for storage. Battery technology moves forward gradually, but generally not as fast as its most optimistic proponents hope for.

That is why hydrogen seems to me to be an inherently good solution to a number of the issues that we face. Hydrogen is easier to store than electricity. It can refuel a vehicle more quickly, and it can be used, at least to some degree, in the existing gas network for properties. However, I accept that there are challenges with it. Those challenges include the space that is required to store hydrogen and the inefficiency and cost of converting wind power to hydrogen and then to electricity. At a recent ScotRail briefing that some members attended, we were told that German railways are trying both hydrogen and batteries in trains but that their present thinking is that batteries are the better way ahead.

I very much agree that reducing demand is a key part of the answer to our energy strategy for the future. We need to find ways of doing our present activities using less energy, but we also need to look at whether we need to do all our current activities. Covid has helped us to see that we may not need to travel to the office as often as we used to. Although I love to visit other countries, including by flying, maybe many of us need to look at doing that less often.

Still on transport, I noted in the Government’s response to the report the warning of potentially increased car use and reduced confidence in public transport because of Covid. That concerns me after many years in which all of us have been encouraged to use buses and trains as much as possible. There needs to be careful messaging on that, especially in order not to discourage use of public transport more than we already have.

The RSE report and the committee report refer to the energy quadrilemma. As I understand it, the new factor is acceptability to the public. I think that that is right. As I have just been saying, we all need to look at changing our behaviour, but there is also a place for Government, whether national or local, to lead the way in order to change public opinion.

One example of that would be district heating networks for new properties. The Commonwealth games village in my constituency was built for the 2014 games and is now a mixture of bought and social rented houses and a care home. Frankly, I do not think that the public were consulted too much on whether that development should have district heating or not. However, the housing is high quality and was snapped up quickly. Yes, there were teething problems with the district heating but, on the whole, it seems to be positive and I welcome the plans for a future licensing regime.

That is an example of a different kind of housing development. The public will gradually get used to the concept as more of their friends and neighbours experience that kind of heating. Just the fact that we see so many more electric cars being charged on our streets and in our car parks increases confidence among people who are realising that more drivers out there are successfully living with electric cars.

I commend the committee for its report and I am sure that we will be returning to the subject many times in future.

17:06  

Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

As a member of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on the important subject of energy and the energy transition. My thanks to my fellow committee members, the clerks and participants who gave evidence for their hard work on the inquiry.

The committee’s aim was to conduct a health check on Scotland’s energy policy and the inquiry looked at a rich variety of areas. The subject is very close to my heart, as I have long advocated making better use of our natural resources to provide the energy that is needed to run our heating systems. I will give an example from my constituency, Midlothian North and Musselburgh, where there is an abundance of flooded mine shafts that are considered to be a threat and a danger. On the contrary, I consider them to present opportunities to develop geothermal energy from the water that they contain, which would provide my constituency with both jobs and relatively cheap heating sources.

I believe that it is important that we examine the impact that our energy supply has on the environment and consumers, which is why I welcome discussions on the topic and collaboration to find innovative, renewable and effective routes to securing our energy. We need to look at how we achieve Scotland’s energy transition and how Scotland’s electricity and gas network infrastructure will continue to support that. It will be necessary to look at the whole picture and to find creative, smarter models that will make that possible.

Despite the quadrilemma that was posed by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and so eloquently expounded by Gordon Lindhurst, progress has been made, although there are clearly challenges ahead of us. Technology tends to move swiftly and sometimes unexpectedly. The committee looked extensively at electric vehicles, or EVs. The challenges of providing sufficient physical power to support that means of transport is not insignificant. Although a number of alternatives were explored, such as hydrogen power, there clearly needs to be a greater level of confidence among consumers in the availability of charging points—or whatever the alternative fuel for vehicles may be. Electric vehicles scarcely make up 3 per cent of vehicles that are on the road. Not enough charging units are yet available to provide that confidence for the public.

It is interesting to look at locally owned energy, in which the creation of local energy systems is clearly linked to a reduction in the pressure on electric supplies. That would enable existing electric supplies to better cope with the potential exponential demand from EVs. A major grey area that was identified was how to substitute our current gas-fired heating systems with a low-carbon alternative. The alternative was not easy to identify, although work is clearly continuing at pace. The most obvious alternative is hydrogen, but its low calorific value and tendency to explode need to be overcome. I am sure that we will see great strides on that in the future.

The committee achieved its aim of conducting a health check on Scotland’s energy policy, as covered by all those strands, as complex as they are. The energy transition opens new opportunities for industry and local communities. However, it is extremely important that we progress in a joined-up and cohesive way, and that all the different strands of energy production, including technologies that are not yet developed, are brought together and are capable of having systems that speak to each other and can provide a joined-up energy network across Scotland.

One key consideration is how that transition can address fuel poverty, and it was encouraging that the Scottish Government and the committee were significantly focused on that element. It is to be hoped that new energy sources will open up new opportunities to improve that key policy area.

Genuine behavioural changes in society must be hoped for and nurtured to support these energy initiatives. We need the public to embrace new technologies, but we need them to do so voluntarily and with a degree of enthusiasm and an acceptance that, frankly, there is little choice if we are to protect our environment.

I am glad that the Scottish Government is continuing to work with Scotland’s electricity distribution network companies to identify how innovation and smarter management of our electricity networks can reduce the need for grid upgrade and reinforcement and the associated costs and disruption.

It is important that we look to the future on this, and make sure that we are thinking ahead. Overall, I think that the committee carried out a thorough and comprehensive investigation into energy, which is particularly commendable given the disruptions that were caused by Covid-19 and its fallout. I know that the Scottish Government will be keen to consider all the points that the committee raised, and that that will result in effective and workable legislation, which will enable Scotland to take the lead in developing the abundance of opportunity that is available to this nation.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

We move to closing speeches.

17:11  

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

The RSE’s report on Scotland’s energy future has underpinned the debate. As others have done, I want to reflect on its conclusions:

“Energy continues to be unaffordable for a sizeable minority of the population, communities are concerned over what a transition will mean for their jobs and families, and recent events have highlighted concerns over how secure our supply of energy truly is.”

Those are big challenges, and recent events have particularly highlighted the challenge of achieving a transition that sustains communities and jobs, nowhere more so than on the Isle of Lewis and in Fife, where—as Rhoda Grant and Alasdair Allan have both said—BiFab appears to be facing an existential crisis once again.

If energy transition means anything, it means redeploying people and skills from existing energy industries to the energy industries of the future. The yards at Arnish on Lewis and at Methil and Burntisland in Fife, which did so much to equip Scotland’s offshore oil and gas industry in the past, now face the risk of closure because BiFab has failed to compete for contracts to supply the offshore wind industry of the future. The committee report highlights the importance of a long-term strategic framework for energy policy and of independent advice on our energy future. The BiFab situation is surely an urgent and topical example of what those things are needed for.

Policy papers, advisory groups and vision statements are not enough; there must also be the political will to take the decisions and make the investments that can turn vision into reality. Securing renewable energy jobs cannot simply be left to market forces, and I hope that when the Government makes a statement on Bifab next week, it will support that view. What we need instead is decisive action to secure the investment that Scotland’s yards require, not only for their own sake, but as a first step in a strategy to secure future jobs as part of our energy transition.

The RSE also said:

“There are many options available to Scotland to meet our energy needs. There is, however, no single solution to all of our problems and all of them will require acceptance of trade-offs and a willingness to compromise.”

Those are wise words, and they express the scope and scale of the challenge in taking forward energy policy in the 2020s.

We have heard today about the need to step up the pace of providing charging facilities for electric vehicles. Over 100 years of growth in the manufacture of internal combustion engines might already be coming to an end, but ambitious targets for phasing out new petrol and diesel cars and vans over the next 12 years can be met only if we have comprehensive charging infrastructure across the country.

At the same time, we must not lose sight of the longer-term options. Investment is bound to focus on the targets for 2030 and 2032, but Government must also lead and enable investment now for the period beyond those dates.

Electric vehicles might be a transitional solution instead of a permanent one, as fuel cell technologies and hydrogen-powered transport become technically and financially more competitive, as John Mason and others have mentioned. More likely, as the RSE report suggests, is that electric vehicles will be part of a mixed economy in the 2030s and 2040s, so we need to invest in that infrastructure now but also have an eye to what else we will need in 10 or 20 years’ time.

Hydrogen already offers solutions for larger vehicles. Aberdeen led the way on hydrogen buses with support from the Scottish Government, among others, and it will shortly take delivery of the world’s first fleet of hydrogen-powered double-decker buses.

Road freight also needs a more sustainable long-term solution than electric charging. Hydrogen and fuel cells could offer that solution. The electrification of mainline railways, such as Aberdeen to the central belt, would make a lot of sense, but electrification will not be the right answer everywhere. Scotland should also to seek to take the lead on hydrogen power for trains, and for ferries.

The minister also rightly focused on behaviours and culture, and referred to the importance attached to them by the Committee on Climate Change. As has been mentioned, the Covid crisis has made that challenge all the greater. More people are using more heat and power at home, more people are driving to work instead of taking the bus or the train, and those things will make energy transition all the more urgent and behaviour change all the more important. Those are challenges for housing policy and transport policy, as well as in the energy field, and it would be good to hear from the minister a renewed commitment to working across policy areas to meet those challenges in the future.

17:16  

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank the committee and RSE for their work. The current crisis has highlighted the need to build back better, with improved health outcomes, reduced inequality and more resilient communities. A green recovery that has climate change at its heart is a means of achieving all three, and our energy policy will be key in making that happen.

We have heard a range of views in today’s debate, but there is consensus around the need for a green recovery. Gordon Lindhurst, speaking on behalf of the committee, highlighted the variation in the provision of charging points across Scotland and the need for improvement in that area. He gave a witty and interesting speech—which was somewhat unlike him—centring around the idea of a quadrilemma, which was very helpful in informing the debate.

Paul Wheelhouse talked about the intention to expand offshore wind capacity. That is to be welcomed, but we should also be thinking about decommissioning capacity for turbines.

Gordon Lindhurst

I wonder whether the member would share of his own largesse of witticisms and excellent speeches and assist me on future occasions.

Maurice Golden

I think that Mr Lindhurst’s scale of improvement has been such that he does not need my help.

I want to highlight to the minister that there is also a need to look at decommissioning capacity for turbines, because this is an opportunity to develop high-skilled jobs in Scotland.

The minister also recognised the importance of behaviour change in achieving our ambitions, and that is an aspect that I warmly welcome.

Rhoda Grant spoke about the need for communities to be at the heart of our decision-making process, and said that our network needs to be improved. Liam MacArthur spoke of the inspiring committee visit to Orkney and the excellent work that is being carried out in his constituency on ReFLEX and the smart island energy projects. I still think that there is an opportunity to develop an anaerobic digestion facility that would help with the flexibility of energy production in Orkney.

The SNP has rightly set an ambitious target for generating energy from community and locally owned sources, but sadly it looks set to miss that target. However, that highlights the need to properly support local energy initiatives, especially as they can help to provide regeneration funds for communities in the years ahead. Every community should benefit, however, not just those that have access to the infrastructure. That is why the Scottish Conservatives have proposed a renewable energy bond to help to share the wealth among communities. That principle of benefit for all must be at the heart of our energy policy, such as with the transition to electric vehicles. There is a target for 8,000 public charging points by 2030, but by March this year, only 1,265 had been installed—a point that was well made by Michelle Ballantyne, who is looking to move on from becoming a petrolhead.

The committee has called for the SNP to explain how it will meet the target, but I would also like the minister to say more about where charging points will be installed. If everyone is to benefit from the improved air quality and reduced running costs that electric vehicles bring, they need to be viable not just in leafy suburbs but in the remotest villages and in areas where deprivation levels are higher.

I know that the Scottish Government supports the project PACE pilot from Scottish Power to help to address that. That support and the pilot are both welcome, but I urge Scottish ministers to recognise how much more must be done. That includes better supporting the electrification of public transport to further widen the reach of clean transport among people on the lowest incomes.

We can further help people on low incomes by improving the energy efficiency of our homes and making them easier and cheaper to heat. I am proud that the Scottish Conservatives led the way on that, securing this Parliament’s support for an energy performance certificate band C upgrade, where possible, by 2030—a point that was made by my colleagues Alexander Burnett and Graham Simpson.

As the committee suggests, politicians need to

“be honest with the public about what is achievable, what choices must be made …”.

The public must be carried with us, knowing what is expected of them and what benefit they will derive from future energy policy and, ultimately, from meeting our 2045 net zero goal.

17:21  

Paul Wheelhouse

I welcome the debate again. I have taken many of the interesting points on board. Unfortunately, I cannot respond to all of them in the time available. I thank the committee again and the people who gave evidence for their contribution to developing Scotland’s energy policies.

I want to correct something. I mentioned earlier the number of meetings that the Scottish energy advisory board has had. I can update the convener and colleagues and say that the previous three meetings were held on 17 June 2019, 9 July 2019 and 16 July 2020. Meetings were unfortunately disrupted by Covid earlier this year, but we met SEAB in July and will continue to do so. In reference to the recommendations that have been made, I am confident that we have an effective advisory and monitoring body in SEAB to support the Scottish Government in making the correct decisions when progressing our energy policies.

Gordon Lindhurst

Can the minister confirm where those meetings were publicised? If he does not have that detail to hand, it would be helpful if he could confirm that to the committee later.

Paul Wheelhouse

I am happy to do that. I do not have the details to hand, but I will certainly get that information to Mr Lindhurst and the committee as soon as I can.

Dr Allan and others, including Rhoda Grant, made reference to issues relating to energy security, which was understandable in the context of what has happened recently in the Western Isles. I want to update members on that. There is no impact on the supply of electricity to homes and businesses on Lewis and Harris as a result of the fault. Contingency measures, including the co-ordination of additional fuel deliveries to the Battery Point and Arnish power stations, are in place to ensure a continued safe and secure supply of electricity.

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks is currently undertaking further fault investigations. Once those are complete, it will instigate a restoration plan that will involve either repair of the existing cable or, potentially, an end-to-end renewal depending on where the disruption has taken place. We continue to engage with SSEN and other key stakeholders on the islands to ensure that the issue is dealt with. There are options for batteries to be installed to allow some of the renewable capacity to be used as an alternative to using the fossil fuel-fired power station.

Kenny Gibson raised important issues around the Hunterston B power station. Of course we will work closely with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, EDF, North Ayrshire Council and our economic development agencies to support the North Ayrshire economy in the event that the plant is to close. He is right to identify that there will be no immediate shock to jobs because there will be plenty of jobs involved with nuclear defuelling in the initial period. I hope to work with him and others if we have the opportunity to do so.

Stewart Stevenson also raised an important point around energy security and focused on zero-carbon fuels. We had a very positive meeting with him recently looking at the opportunities for St Fergus with regard to carbon capture, utilisation and storage and the development of hydrogen at that site. There is massive potential for exporting hydrogen to other countries—Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium in particular—in relation to that opportunity for the north-east economy.

Graham Simpson, Maurice Golden and others referenced building standards and they were right to do so. Those will be critical and my colleague Kevin Stewart is working extremely hard to make sure that we have the right environment in place to support decarbonisation of our building stock.

Several colleagues mentioned the BiFab issue. As they rightly identified, the cabinet secretary, Fiona Hyslop, will make a statement on that next week, so I will not go into too much detail now, other than to say that we are doing everything that we can to support the business within the state aid guidance. Members will have the opportunity to ask questions of the cabinet secretary after her statement.

On the wider point around interconnection to our islands and energy security, I hope that members who have been critical of the Scottish Government would recognise that it has been at the heart of the issue, not only driving the development of wind in our remote islands but putting the case for interconnection to UK ministers and to the regulator. We have had great success with Shetland, receiving a decision by Ofgem to proceed, and we are working hard with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Orkney Islands Council to ensure that similar investment is made in both those areas.

Andy Wightman

Will the minister take an intervention?

Paul Wheelhouse

I believe that I am short of time, but if the Presiding Officer will give me some time back, I can give way.

The Presiding Officer

I will allow a brief intervention.

Andy Wightman

This may be the last energy debate that we have in the current session of Parliament. but the minister has not yet addressed the Scottish Government’s commitment to establish a publicly owned company. Will he be able to give us any update on that any time soon?

Paul Wheelhouse

I will, in due course. It has not been a major feature of today’s debate, but I will be happy to come back to Mr Wightman and the committee on the matter. It is certainly still our intention to establish a public energy company. Some of our work with local authorities has been disrupted by Covid, as staff availability at the local authority end has been affected by the deployment of staff resources to support the pandemic response, but we are working hard on that. We have had positive discussions with the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers and COSLA on progressing a white-label model, and we will be happy to come back to the committee and Parliament with further detail.

I know that I am short of time, but I will address a few other points that were made. On energy efficiency, Alexander Burnett was right to highlight the role of pumped hydro storage, although unfortunately that was the only point in his speech with which I agreed. We need the UK Government to provide a route to market for that important technology. Mr Burnett was right to identify Cruachan—I have just consented to a 1,500MW scheme at Coire Glas, and I would like that to be developed as a major capital project for the Scottish economy, but we need movement on a route to market.

However, I very much disagree with Mr Burnett in other areas. We are making great progress—we have identified £1.6 billion of funding that is available from now until 2025 for heating buildings and to support the scaling up of our existing heat decarbonisation energy-efficiency delivery programmes. That is in addition to the £500 million that we are spending in the current session of Parliament. I remind Mr Burnett that there was no equivalent scheme at UK level for England in terms of public funding for energy efficiency when we made our commitment to the programme that is currently going through this Parliament. That support means that we are well placed to ensure that heat and energy efficiency supply chains benefit from a green recovery as our programmes restart.

By the end of this year, we will publish our updated energy efficient Scotland route map and a heat decarbonisation policy statement to provide a comprehensive overview of our policy on heating buildings. It is important for the regulators to have clarity about our policy intention in Scotland, and those publications will help in that regard.

I will respond to one or two other points from members. Claudia Beamish alluded to the just transition commission, which is due to report by March 2021. Its future will be a matter for the cabinet secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, to determine at that point.

Kenneth Gibson was right to say that the transition from coal was not well managed in Scotland or across the UK as a whole. It is important that we reflect on how we support the oil and gas industry, as Lewis Macdonald mentioned. We are working with the strategic leadership group for oil and gas on energy transition to try to get it right this time round for that very important sector.

I welcome Michelle Ballantyne’s conversion to electric vehicles—she is ahead of me, but I hope that I will catch up with her one day. A number of members referred to project PACE, which is a good example of how distribution network organisations can support local authorities to deliver charging networks at a lower cost. In North Lanarkshire, I believe that there has been a saving of £2.6 million for the council, which is a great example.

I will tie up my speech there. I thank all members for their speeches and I look forward to hearing from the deputy convener of the committee.

17:29  

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

As the deputy convener, I am happy to sum up on the committee’s behalf. I will pick out a few areas that I hope will be of interest to members and to the public. I thank our clerks, all those who contributed evidence and all our fellow committee members, past and present, who contributed to the report.

As the convener said in his opening remarks, the committee wanted to consider the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s “Scotland’s Energy Future” report, which was published in June 2019, linking it to consideration of electric vehicle infrastructure and of local energy options and solutions.

The convener covered some of the areas of interest, including the energy quadrilemma, which has been mentioned by several members. What we mean by that is looking at climate change, ensuring affordability, providing energy security and developing an energy policy that the public will accept and that is both sustainable and fair. He also mentioned strategic oversight of energy policy and issues surrounding public engagement. We ask all our fellow members to do what they can to promote that issue in their respective communities across Scotland.

I will touch on some of the key areas that the committee considered. One consists of issues relating to security of supply. There are also electric vehicles, the cultural change that we need in order to bring about the transition, and local energy and the role of local authorities.

Starting with security of supply, it will be no surprise for members to hear that that subject featured throughout the RSE’s report. Professor Rebecca Lunn’s initial remarks to the committee were along the lines that Scotland is part of an interconnected electricity supply network, operating in European and global energy markets, with interconnectors to France, Germany, Norway and Ireland. If Scotland does not produce more energy but continues to consume at current rates or higher, we will be left with extremely poor energy security. Those interconnectors mean a “degree of reliance” on others, according to Professor Gareth Harrison, citing post-Brexit uncertainty and its potential long-term impact on investment.

Contrasting that with the counterbalance of generating our own supply, the picture changes significantly. Over the past 10 years, Scotland has almost always met its own electricity demand via our own generation. In 2019, that was the case 98.4 per cent of the time. The Scottish Government’s priority, of course, leans more heavily towards ensuring our own capability to generate the energy that we need in Scotland, and the interconnectors may allow us to export our excess energy and become a world leader in clean energy production and supply. The report emphasises that reduction in overall energy consumption is the best way to tackle the energy quadrilemma that has been outlined by the convener and others. To get further along that road, we need to drive behavioural change in business and industry and to take the public along with us on that journey.

That leads me nicely to the second area that the committee considered: electric vehicles and the cultural change that is needed to make EVs work. It is fair to say that there was quite a bit of confusion during the earlier evidence sessions about the electric vehicle revolution. Where exactly are we with it? Who is driving the policy? Are we paying enough attention to the charging point infrastructure? How are we persuading the public to make the transition to electric vehicles?

We heard that things are improving, and the Scottish Government’s vision for Scotland’s electricity to 2030, which was published just last year, outlined the investments that are being made in our electricity networks to deliver our ambitions on electric vehicles. As was mentioned by several members, Scotland is well ahead in providing electrical vehicle charging points. I will make a shameless plug for East Ayrshire Council, which has 67 public and fleet chargers already in place across the area.

It is fair to say that the committee was a little unclear about some aspects, such as the proportion of high-speed chargers that are available in our communities, the cost of charging and whether that will be regulated or even re-emerge as subject to tax when the Treasury realises the extent of its impending losses in fuel duty revenue, which is currently about £28 billion per year.

What might become of our beloved garage networks? Will they evolve into electric charging bays where people can stop and have their lunch while their car charges up, or might they disappear altogether because people want more localised, perhaps home-based, charging solutions?

Ultimately, the committee heard that, for people to make the switch in the numbers that are required to tip the balance in favour of EVs, some improvements in the cost of buying EVs or a kind of incentivised used-EV scheme that clearly delivers good value for money will be needed.

Interestingly, one aspect of the uncertainty was that the estimated demand for electricity could double with a move to EVs, but the consequent benefits for better air quality and lower or zero emissions were obvious to all of us. We clearly need to be in a position to meet that energy demand, and consumers need to be confident that that will happen before they decide to switch over.

I want to mention the final area of the committee’s work, which is local energy and the role for our local authorities. The RSE’s report reminded us that local energy systems will cover decentralised energy generation projects, district heating solutions—which the committee is examining separately—and various smart technologies to support—[Inaudible.]

The committee heard that local communities can, under such schemes, take direct responsibility for the generation and storage of the energy that they need and use and, perhaps through community ownership, get the benefits of reduced costs as well as profit. Our colleague Claire Mack of Scottish Renewables pointed out that we must not conflate local energy systems with local ownership, however, because there is a difference. Indeed, local energy systems are likely to involve organisations and owners of all types.

In summary, we have heard good contributions today both from members of the committee and from other members, and I thank all who made a positive contribution. The importance of clean, sustainable and affordable energy to the people of Scotland is one of the fundamental challenges that we face, so I hope that the work that the committee has done will shine a light on the issues that lie ahead and make a positive contribution in helping the Scottish Government to shape its policy in the months and years to come.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes our debate on the energy inquiry.