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Energy We can all afford Question Time

Energy Question Time.jpg

Julian Paren writes


The event was organized by Anne Thomas for FoE Inverness and Ross and held on Friday 22 March at the Royal Highland Hotel, Inverness.  The event was also advertised as: How will the Energy Bill affect our energy bills?  The distinguished panel was well-balanced, and knowledgeable and all good communicators.  Danny Alexander had presented his apologies a few hours ahead, but this allowed the rest of the panel more time to get their message across. The Chairman, the Reverend Peter Nimmo was masterly. 


Each panellist gave their personal perspective on energy.  Gordon MacDonald, Sustainability Manager for the Highland Health Board, had to manage how the NHS used energy across the Highlands; Rhoda Grant MSP spoke from the perspective of a hard-working member of the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee; Professor John McClatchley of UHI,  a climate scientist at the North Highland College Environmental Research Institute, spoke also on the Scottish Energy mix and positive ways to save energy, and James MacKessack-Leitch from the Scottish Green Party with a farming background and a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Rural Development, detailed his campaigns for renewables, fair electricity tariffs and a national energy company.


Four questions/comments had been submitted in advance of the meeting for discussion by the panel. 


Two questions on Decarbonization targets.

In Scotland we have failed to meet our first annual legally binding target for climate emissions reduction, and the UK is similarly on track to miss its less ambitious targets. We know that in order to meet climate targets and avoid the devastating impacts of global climate change we must rapidly de-carbonise our energy system, yet the  ‘Greenest Government Ever’ has just announced tax breaks for unconventional gas companies – an industry that doesn’t bring many jobs, but does create plenty of climate emissions.  The Energy Bill offers the chance to start to remedy some of these issues if it includes a de-carbonisation target.

What will you do to ensure the Energy Bill is not a missed opportunity?

Do the panellists agree with a vast coalition of businesses, investors, retailers, faith groups, NGOs – and even the Labour and Liberal Democrat Westminster parties – all calling for a 2030 “decarbonisation target” to be included in the bill, set in line with advice from the Committee on Climate Change?

On Engaging the public

How should the government engage with the population of Scotland to obtain their backing and active participation in meeting Scotland's ambitious climate change targets on the emissions of greenhouse gases?

On the Race for Growth

George Osborne's declaration in the budget that we are now in a Race for Growth to my mind recalls the Arms Race, with all its dangerous excesses.  My concern is what is the prize of this race?  I see nothing but a trail of destruction and the viability of our planet to sustain any life at all.  What do the panellists think is the prize for this race?  


There were some surprising revelations.  NHS Highland has seen its Energy Bill rise by 60% in the last three years, so they are aiming to do far more than the required annual 3% carbon saving, maybe as much as 80%; the Energy Bill has little on energy efficiency, but 93 of the 207 pages were devoted to Nuclear Energy; mains gas was not now the cheapest form of heat, with biogas and anaerobic digestion being cheaper; the futures price for gas was very high so the market did not believe shale gas would be the saviour for cheap heat.  Anaerobic digestion, hydro and on shore wind were now the cheapest sources of electricity and renewables are becoming cheaper whereas conventional power is becoming more expensive. The panel focused on fuel poverty, the dependence on imported fuel supplies, the closure of WaveGen –the local renewable company, building regulations, and the irony of the financial case for independence in SNP eyes being centred on the oil resources in Scotland’s waters, yet pushing for strict green targets for decarbonization.


It was a thoughtful and professional evening. One climate change skeptic stayed for half the event, but for the majority it was an evening for reinforcing ones views on energy and climate change.  I was pleased to realize that the panelists held positions where they could indeed influence energy policy and practice.  The losers of the evening were those who did not brave a bitter winter wind to contribute to the event.