A green and pleasant land?

5/02/16 | Blog

Scotland's land is one of its greatest natural assets. Now a Scottish Government review of how that land should be used has all but excluded renewable energy generation. SR Director of Policy Jenny Hogan blogs on omissions and emissons.

It’s been five years since the Scottish Government delivered on a promise made in the ambitious Climate Change (Scotland) Act and set out an integrated and strategic approach to land use.

Now Holyrood is looking to review the plan, and is consulting interested parties on a new draft strategy – one from which, worryingly, renewable energy is seemingly all but absent.

It only takes a brief review of the benefits of the renewables industry to see how closely-related the sector is to the vision and objectives outlined in the strategy, making the omission of our industry particularly frustrating, and one we are determined to address.

Renewable energy supports around 21,000 jobs, creating prosperity across Scotland and doing so in a sustainable manner, just as one of the draft strategy’s key objectives – “land-based businesses working with nature to contribute more to Scotland’s prosperity” – spells out.

It is right that the plan recognises climate change to be a ‘pressing matter’ – if perhaps an understatement. Last year, if the energy produced by renewables were to have come from fossil fuel sources, Scotland would have emitted more than 12 million extra tonnes of carbon dioxide. This represents over a fifth of Scotland’s total emissions.
Though while the plan mentions other factors which can help tackle climate change, such as forestry and peatland restoration, renewables are not included.

It is essential that the renewable energy industry, which can help to protect Scotland’s environment in the long term, is involved in the discussion of the new draft strategy. Indeed, renewables developments often have an active, positive role to play in habitat management, forestry planting and peatland restoration.

Since the last Land Use Strategy, communities have become ever more integral to the success of the renewables industry, highlighted by the fact that the Scottish Government has already exceeded its 2020 target for the creation of more than 500MW of community and locally-owned energy projects.

In addition to local ownership, renewables developers deliver more than £10 million in voluntary payments to local communities every year, and this figure is rising all the time.

As the industry matures, integrating and working with communities in more depth is becoming a key objective.

Shared ownership, where developers and local communities utilise local land for renewables projects to the benefit of local people, is a clear focus of government, communities and industry, and one which fits perfectly with the draft strategy’s aim of “urban and rural communities better connected to the land, with more people enjoying the land and positively influencing land use”.

There’s a wide range of other benefits not outlined above which also contribute to the intentions of the draft strategy. These include the additional research into Scotland’s wildlife carried out by the industry as part of the planning process; the money invested in habitat management including peatland restoration and compensatory planting; and the increased access to some areas via tracks built for renewables developments which can be used for leisure and recreation.

There is still a huge amount of work to be done if industry and government are going to reach our shared ambitions for renewables.

Scottish Renewables will therefore continue to make the case for renewables to be a far more prominent part of plans for our land use as part of this ongoing consultation.

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