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Focus on...Energy Policy

Laura MacLaughlin

In the first of a series of policy-related blogs, we take a closer look at some key developments in energy policy.

On Thursday 19th January 2017, the Scottish Government published its Draft Climate Change Plan. Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, said it demonstrated “a new level of ambition” in the Government’s work to build a “prosperous low carbon economy and a fairer, healthier Scotland”. The proposals focus on logistics, buildings, heating, power and land management.

Four parliamentary committees held a joint call for views on the plan, each focusing focus on aspects of the plan within their respective remits. The Economy, Jobs & Fair Work Committee focused its consideration on electricity generation, reducing energy demand, renewables, interconnection and grid issues and fuel poverty. They have been taking evidence on the plan in conjunction with evidence on the Energy Strategy. Following Committee scrutiny, concerns were raised about transparency, the level of detail, the consistency of the application of the TIMES model and the lack of ambition for emissions reduction in agriculture and transport. Acknowledging these concerns, the Scottish Government has taken the view that proper scrutiny, rather than the conventional summer recess deadline, should be the priority. Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, has indicated her intention to give an update on progress, but not the final plan, before the summer. Elsewhere the Committee on Climate Change has published its advice for the Scottish Government on the Bill.

The Scottish Energy Strategy: The Future of Energy in Scotland was launched on Tuesday 24th January, with consultation responses due by Tuesday 30th May. A number of additional consultations were announced to accompany the Strategy, with closing dates in April and May. They focus on Heat & Energy Efficiency Strategies, Regulation of District Heating, the Onshore Wind Policy Statement and National Infrastructure Priority for Energy Efficiency - Scotland's Energy Efficiency Programme.

The Economy, Jobs & Fair Work Committee will now take evidence on the draft energy strategy from 23rd – 30th May.

Elsewhere, the Scottish Government launched Talking "Fracking" - A Consultation on Unconventional Oil and Gas, closing Wednesday 31st May 2017. A dedicated website, http://www.talkingfracking.scot/, was launched to run for the duration of the consultation, providing information on unconventional oil and gas, and the findings of the research commissioned by the Scottish Government. The website also hosts a number of discussion tool-kits intended to help communities and other groups participate in the consultation. A final decision on fracking in Scotland is expected to be made later in the year. Minister for Business, Innovation & Energy, Paul Wheelhouse, recently updated Parliament on the progress of the consultation. He confirmed that the Government’s position and proposed timetable remained unchanged and reiterated the Government’s commitment to a “cautious and evidence-based approach”. Labour Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform spokesperson, Claudia Beamish, also has an active Member’s Bill out on the issue.

Energy efficiency remains a national infrastructure priority and the Government intends to introduce a Warm Homes Bill later in this Parliament, a measure which was called for in all the party manifestos last May. Recently, the Scottish Government has announced £11m of new funding for energy efficiency, comprising the second wave of SEEP pilot funding. The additional support is intended to provide help to local authorities carrying out innovative new energy-saving schemes.

Elsewhere, the future management of the Crown Estate continues to be topical, with the assets formally devolved to Scotland in April. The Government is also currently undertaking a review of its enterprise and skills agencies, with the Phase 2 report due to be published in the spring.

Looking forward, the SNP manifesto for last year’s elections included pledges to campaign for Scottish control of feed-in tariffs to help promote community ownership schemes. The party also committed to challenge the UK Government and Ofgem to reform the transmission charging scheme, going on to argue for the scheme’s removal and describing it as “a block on investment”.

At Westminster, electricity market reform and Contracts for Difference continue to be discussed. The UK Government published its response to the proposed amendments to the terms and conditions for Contracts for Difference, as well as secondary legislation, in February. The Electricity Supplier Payments (Amendment) Regulations 2017 were also laid before Parliament.

The SNP, at both Westminster and Holyrood, has been vocal in its opposition to the UK Government’s consultation on whether island wind projects should be eligible to bid for subsidies in future, with Angus MacNeil and Alasdair Allan, both high-profile representatives for the Western Isles, submitting formal responses. Meanwhile the UK Government is currently consulting on its Industrial Strategy and the Renewable Heat Incentive: support for Biomass-Combined Heat and Power.

 

Elsewhere the impact of Brexit and potential implications for the Scottish economy and relationship with Europe continue to occupy central stage. EU Member States recently approved a European Commission proposal to invest €444m in energy infrastructure projects, however the involvement of the UK in the Energy Union or future discussions over the European Super grid remain uncertain. The European Commission also recently published the Second report on the State of the Energy Union, in line with its commitment to report annually.

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