Climate Action

‘Yes’ vote could stall Scotland’s clean energy push

A vote in favour of independence from the UK in the Scottish referendum would damage clean energy investment according to research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance

  • 16 September 2014
  • William Brittlebank

A vote in favour of independence from the UK in the Scottish referendum would be likely to damage clean energy investment as developers and banks are gripped by uncertainty over the future shape of the energy market and incentives for renewables.

The Scottish National Party set a target in 2011 of generating 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and the construction of a series of wind farms off the Scottish coast is central to those plans.

Analysis published on Monday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) warns that investment in such projects will stall if Scotland votes for independence.

The BNEF research concludes that the negotiations between Scotland and the rest of the UK over energy – after any “yes” vote on 18 September – would be complex, involving tough bargaining, and would be likely to extend over a period of many months, if not longer.

Kieron Stopforth, analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance and author of the research, said: “During this period of negotiation, with oil, power and renewables support under discussion as well as the currency, defence and national debt, clean energy investors would feel less than confident about future prospects, and decisions will inevitably be delayed. These delays could hit projects in the whole of the UK for a time, but the longer-lasting effect would be on those in Scotland if they are unable to compete for support under the Renewables Obligation or Contract-for-Difference schemes.”

The Contract-for-Difference, or CfD, support scheme is currently being phased in, and in April the 664MW Beatrice offshore wind project in Scottish waters, costing an estimated $3.4bn, was selected by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) for an early contract underpinning the price it will receive for its electricity. DECC is due to hold its first full CfD auction in October. It has declined to say whether this might be delayed by a “yes” vote in the referendum.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that England and Wales have limited dependence on Scotland for power.

In 2012, they imported less than 4 per cent of their net electricity consumption from Scotland, compared to 4.7 per cent from Europe.

With lower absolute generation levels and less interconnection capacity, Scotland may be more reliant on England and Wales as a customer than they are on Scotland as a generator.

Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: “The number one priority for Europe’s energy sector is to achieve higher levels of market and technical integration, to balance variable renewable generation. Any change that threatens that, especially if it creates a long period of uncertainty, is a step in the wrong direction. A ‘yes’ vote would be likely to slam the brakes on the Scottish renewable energy sector.”

UK clean energy investment hit a record £8.1 billion in 2013, up from £7.1 billion in 2012 and the second highest figure for any country in Europe, just behind Germany’s £8.7 billion.

Scotland, with its significant wind power resources, contributed to this UK total with a number of big asset finance deals such as £167 million for the 117MW Fred Olsen wind portfolio in the north east, £97.4 million for the Samsung Heavy demonstration offshore wind farm in Fife and £48 million for the 37MW Clashindarroch wind farm in Aberdeenshire.

Scotland has set out its stall to be a strong force in renewable energy. In 2013, its renewable generation (mainly from onshore wind and hydro-electric) was equivalent to 47 per cent of domestic electricity consumption, and the Scottish government in 2011 published a target for this to reach 100 per cent by 2020.

It has since become clear that this target is unlikely now to be met, because of delays to several large offshore wind projects in Scottish waters. Scotland is also home to much of the world’s activity in the fledgling technologies of wave and tidal stream.

In April, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond made a speech at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit in New York, highlighting Scotland’s “potential to become the intellectual powerhouse of green energy”, benefitting from its natural resources, the excellence of its universities and a long-term approach to investment.