June’s annual RenewableUK Offshore Wind conference was Fergus Ewing’s chance to congratulate an audience of delegates on the growing success of the offshore wind industry.
It was also a great opportunity for the Scottish Energy, Enterprise and Tourism Minister to tell onlookers, sitting in Manchester’s Central Complex, how he wants England to do well but naturally, he wants Scotland to do slightly better. Although said light-heartedly, Mr Ewing’s passion for his country oozed from the words that made up his carefully-prepared speech.
Of course, any public speech currently made is the perfect platform to remind people that the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ is never far from the mind of a Scots politician. The independence referendum which is to be held in just over a year's time stares each politician in Scotland in the face every day.
This political keynote speech was chaired by Andrew Jamieson, chairman of RenewableUK who said he was delighted at the size and scale of this year’s exhibition. On introducing the minister, he said Mr Ewing plays a key role in Renewables, having helped to launch the Green Investment Bank in Edinburgh at the end of last year which helps support green energy projects. It’s the first bank of its kind in the world, with £3 billion of UK Government funding.
“2012 for Renewables was, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, a very good year,” Mr Ewing began. It was a milestone year because the target was met to generate enough electricity to power every home in Scotland – purely from Renewables.
It was good too for jobs as more people now work in Renewables than in the whisky market - “These things weren’t supposed to happen but they have.”
Mr Ewing’s audience was made up of those at the top of the industry from all corners of the world. Also present were ambitious University students who understand the importance of an expanding sector– and the fact that it could make them a lot of money.
Scotland’s Offshore Wind Route Map which was launched at the end of January reinforces the point that “progress is being made,” and the value of applications shows “that we are reaching the tipping point in offshore that we have reached in onshore,” said Mr Ewing. He pinpointed the “enormous, clean, green energy that offshore can offer.”
The Energy Minister chose Manchester as the place to introduce a proposal of two new bands for offshore wind, created for the Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) scheme. The two new bands: 2.5 ROCs and a band set at 3.5 ROCs, provide financial support for green energy projects, which Mr Ewing thinks would "help bring down the cost of developing offshore wind in our deeper waters".
The speech turned to the topic of the UK Government’s Electricity Market Reform which was created with a view to replace the UK’s ageing infrastructure system and meet projected future increases in electricity demand. He thinks this “has been discussed for a long time but the reform has been too slow and the proposals too complex.” EMR is designed to stimulate investment in Renewables.
Mr Ewing insisted: “There is a huge amount of detail still to be worked through. The swithering has gone on long enough and it is for the UK Government to swither no more.”
The importance of test and development sites in the offshore wind industry was emphasised and the Samsung test facility at Methil discussed which is seen as a great benefit to the supply chain which will further strengthen the public interest in this sector. Samsung has said that it would like to invest £100m in developing and manufacturing turbines at the park and hopes to boost the reliability and efficiency of offshore turbines. Mr Ewing stressed that this is a key way for public support to continue to grow.
He added that there is an indication that investment horizons are looking beyond 2020. So...what else can be done to provide long-term confidence in investors?
The Scottish Government has set a draft 2030 decarbonisation target in the Electricity Generation Policy Statement which Mr Ewing described as ambitious but possible. In 2010 emissions from electricity grid activity in Scotland were estimated to amount to 347 grams of carbon dioxide per Kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity generated. The intention by 2030 is to dramatically decrease this figure to 50 grams of carbon dioxide per Kilowatt hour.
Mr Ewing took the opportunity to tell the crowd that “Scotland is open for business”, complimenting Scottish Development International and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, describing their performance as “second to none.” Mr Ewing maintained that the islands of Scotland: the Shetlands and the Orkneys, should not be forgotten and separated from the successes as they offer great potential to the offshore sector.
Mr Ewing also publicly backed England, despite the approaching referendum on Scottish independence: “We are determined to work undiluted and undimmed with our friends in England.”
Inevitably though, he continued to make it clear that there is a divide between Scotland and the rest of the UK - “Between Scotland and the UK Government there is a will that an offshore wind industry in the UK is met.”
As the speech came to a close, Mr Ewing said it was important to “reinforce our commitment, research skills, engineering expertise and natural resources to make Scotland a pioneer in offshore wind.”
The crucial question: ‘What is Scotland doing that Europe can learn from to expand in offshore wind?’ was raised. Mr Ewing answered by saying the Scottish people show an “instinctive support who see the time has come to make the dream of clean energy become a reality.”
He underlined how crucial it is to drive forward with the right policies, with the help of practitioners and engineers. “We we will not be distracted by those who oppose what we want to do – because they are a minority,” he proclaimed.
“We hope the best is yet to come,” Scotland’s Energy minister concluded.”
We’re sure it is.