Monday, 2 June 2008

EU renewables support - good for Scotland

Discussions on proposals by the European Commission to increase the use of renewable energy by setting the target of a 20% share of the EU energy mix for renewables by 2020 are now under way in the Parliament’s Energy Committee. The Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes, who has been charged with drafting the Parliament’s opinion on these ambitious proposals, brought forward his draft report. From a Scottish perspective there is much to be welcomed in Turmes report and indeed many of his suggestions are likely to boost Scotland’s renewable energy potential given the huge opportunities it could provide for our renewable industry.

For example, one thing Turmes wants to see which will benefit Scotland is for the Commission to present at the latest in 2009 and “analysis and plan” for a coordinated approach by the Commission and the Member States to the development of offshore wind and marine energies in the North Sea. According to Turmes a key challenge here will be one of coordination to use existing electricity cables for linking the Norwegian, Dutch and UK markets so as to be able to plug into wind and sea energy production. This would be a priority project in the Trans-European Energy Initiative.

Linked to this of course are the Scottish Government’s plans for the development of a North Sea electricity supergrid, which would allow the vast quantities of electricity that can be generated from wind, tidal and wave power off the coasts of Scotland and Norway to be exported direct to the energy markets of mainland Europe through an underwater power cable connecting Scotland and Norway via Denmark.

Back in February the Scottish Government announced it was exploring sub-sea grid options through two offshore transmission studies to see how such a scheme could work. These being, firstly Irish Scottish Links on Energy Study (ISLES) looking at the Atlantic coasts of Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the Irish Sea in an attempt to see how best our natural energy resources could be maximised to generate energy from offshore wind. Secondly, a detailed feasibility study on the North Sea Energy Grid, which will explore potential links between the north and east coasts of Scotland, and the coast of northern mainland Europe. Scotland has vast renewable energy potential with one of the most viable resource bases in Europe, if not the world and there is much that can be done to harness that resource especially when it comes to wave, tidal and offshore wind.

While there is much Scotland can contribute towards helping the EU meet the strategic challenge of a Europe increasingly dependent on energy imports and looking for alternatives to carbon generation and in helping the EU and the UK achieve the renewables and climate change targets there is much the EU can do by way of helping Scotland to develop its renewables potential further.

For example, the Scottish Government is looking to create a green energy research centre in Aberdeen, building on the expertise that exists in our current offshore energy sector and the huge renewable energy potential around our shores. The development of renewable energy and energy efficient technology could be supported further by better coordinated targeting of EU and national funding and any other forms of available support for research centres that cooperate with Universities and business (especially SMEs) in applied and innovative research.

Meantime there is much that member states can do to encourage and support Europe’s farmers becoming net producers of energy by processing animal fats and crops into biodiesel, woody crops for biomass as well as second generation biofuels.

However, a key issue which remains to be resolved is that of the UK’s electricity transmission charging scheme. The transmission ‘locational’ charges agreed by the UK energy regulator, Ofgem, continue to penalise Scotland’s renewable energy sector and work against the sector. The scheme is based on proximity to population centres rather than generating potential, with the result that generators in remote parts of Scotland are charged more than producers in the South of England. For example, a power station in central Scotland pays £25m for transmission more than a similar station in Yorkshire and more than in London.

In its current renewables proposal the Commission restates its original position (as outlined in the 2001 renewable electricity EU Directive) that “Member States shall ensure that the charging of transmission and distribution fees does not discriminate against electricity from renewable energy sources, including in particular electricity from renewable energy sources produced in peripheral regions, such as island regions and in regions of low population density”.

Certainly in Brussels we have raised the problem Scotland’s renewable energy producers face with Ofgem’s discriminatory transmission charges at every opportunity within the Commission and the Parliament. And we will be looking to put down some amendments which strengthen Turmes report to make it mandatory on national regulatory authorities that they ensure there is no discriminatory transmission and distribution charging fees aimed at those renewable energy producers in remote and peripheral regions.

Also to be welcomed from a Scottish perspective are Turmes' proposals for ensuring there is greater flexibility given in how the EU's renewables targets are to be achieved by the member states and in his proposal for scrapping the 10% binding biofuels target.

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