AS I SEE IT: TERRY MURDEN says the SNP and Tory governments share a growing dilemma over their green policies
There are few issues that unite the SNP and the Conservatives, but the green dreams they shared just a few weeks ago at the climate summit are steadily falling apart as they both come to terms with the consequences of enacting unrealistic goals.
Everybody agrees that something must be done about the climate mess but the two governments are being forced to accept that going green – and at pace – comes at a cost. A high one. Companies and consumers alike are being forced to shoulder the price of transition at a time when other costs are rising sharply.
The leaders of two energy firms are now calling for green levies on bills to be scrapped to help customers facing a hike in the cost of living, from energy and food to national insurance contributions and council tax.
The founder of Ecotricity described the levies on energy bills as a “stealth tax” of hundreds of pounds a year, while Centrica’s boss is also urging the government to instead fund green programmes through general taxation.
Last week a survey revealed that a fifth of Scottish businesses were deterred from introducing carbon emission measures because they were too expensive. Small businesses and those in the manufacturing, accommodation and food services sector were among the most affected.
The SNP government has its own cross to bear. Despite cosying up to the Green Party its green credentials were already under scrutiny after it hiked the price of rail travel, and is doing so before the rest of the UK. Now its refusal to countenance nuclear power is being challenged following the closure of Hunterston B in Ayrshire.
The power station provided a quarter of Scotland’s electricity and the gap will be filled – ‘temporarily’ – by fossil fuel in the shape of imported gas.
So, how long is ‘temporarily’? With the wind barely blowing enough in early December to tilt a feather there are doubts that renewables will do the job in the short term.
The simple answer would have been to replace Hunterston – though no such plans were put in place. A quick fix could be provided by Rolls-Royce, which is developing modular nuclear reactors that cut the the cost and time required to build a traditional power station. A small modular reactor will be the same size as two football pitches with the capacity to power approximately one million homes.
It’s a home-grown solution that provides simple, quick and clean energy. But even that rich cocktail won’t tempt a party which now has to consider the anti-nuke hardliners in the Green Party.
The SNP, which last year furtively ditched its plans for a state-owned energy company, risks making another bad call. Slamming the door on nuclear while wind and wave power are not yet mature enough, will mean buying our gas from volatile foreign states. That is likely to see energy bills rising even further for customers.
Going green was never meant to be like this.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business