On Wednesday and Thursday, I attended a conference on renewable energy in Scotland, on the stunningly beautiful island Skye. I talked about how to dispel myths about climate change and renewables. My notes can be seen at Myths about climate change and renewable energy, and how to debunk them (I never use slides or PowerPoint). There are of course many myths about both climate change and renewables. I chose three about climate change (it’s not happening; it’s nothing to do with human activity; the science is junk) and six peddled by opponents of renewables (too unpredictable; dangerous to birds; ugly; too expensive; just one fuel source; not as good as other low-carbon energy options). Then two claims put by some supporters of renewables (anything called ‘renewable’ is good; all energy should be decentralised). Finally, I discussed is the notion that renewables will never be popular.
There was also a speaker from the Scottish government, which has set itself a target to reduce Scotland’s greenhouse emissions by 42% by 2020 and to get half its electricity from renewables by the same date. The emissions reduction target is legally binding, whereas the renewables target is only an ‘indicator’. However, to avoid the ‘Not in My Term of Office’ accusation, it has also set an interim target of 31% of electricity to come from renewables by 2011. Since 2000, there has been substantial progress:
“In 2008, the amount of electricity generated in Scotland by renewable sources equated to 22% of the gross consumption of electricity in Scotland, compared with 12.2% in 2000.”
The Scottish government is doing better on making (relatively) prompt decisions on planning applications (anything over 50Mw is decided by the Scottish Government) than other parts of the UK. And, crucially, it announced in January 2010 that the electricity grid upgrade from central to southern Scotland can be built (see 7 January 2010: At last, Scottish grid improvement will be built).
Most of the progress so far is due to new installed wind capacity, and most is not community-owned. However, the previous (Labour) Scottish government and the current SNP one recognise the importance of community support. The last government operated the Scottish Community & Household Renewable Initiative, offering grants of up to £100,000 for renewable electricity and heat projects. (Heat is particularly important in Scotland – it is at a high latitude, has many inefficient buildings and a major problem with fuel poverty, and much of the country – including Skye – is off the gas grid.) The current government is operating the Community and Renewable Energy Scotland (CARES) scheme, offering a maximum grant of £150,000 for capital and £10,000 for feasibility studies and installation costs. Only installations up to 1Mw can apply for a CARES grant, though this cap does not apply to district heating projects. Hydro, wind, geothermal, solar, heat pumps (ground, air and water source) and automated wood fuel heating systems are all covered.
CARES is administered by the charity, Community Energy Scotland, and there was also a speaker from this organisation. It has over 100 schemes at some stage of development, 15 of which have full planning permission. An impressive operational scheme is on the Island of Eigg, just south of Skye. There are 37 houses and 5 commercial properties on Eigg, and all are taking part. Eigg previously had two 6kW hydro plants, which have been integrated into the new island grid. To these have been added a 100kW run-of-river hydro, wind power from four new 6kW wind turbines and a 10kW solar photovoltaic array. There is a diesel back-up generator for when there is not enough water, wind or sun. The cost of the project was just over £1.65 million. £764,000 was a grant from the European Regional Development Fund, the rest from the Scottish government, the Highlands and Islands Council and the UK National Lottery, with £93,000 coming from the residents.
The most striking speaker, though, was a woman who lives in a rented house on Skye, with her five children and her disabled mother. This is single glazed, and very badly insulated. However, the landlord, the owner of the Estate on which the house is situated, won’t improve the property because he wants this woman and her family to move out so he can redevelop the property, probably to let as a holiday home to a rich tenant. Therefore, she has to pay over £8,000 a year in electricity bills. She knows that installing an efficient wood boiler would save her money and reduce carbon emissions, and also support the local economy as the wood pellets would come from Skye. However, she is not allowed to. This is a classic and tragic example of the tenant/landlord problem. Therefore, all landlords must be required by government to make their properties habitable through decent insulation.