20 July 2010

A delayed but welcome development

When it comes to the fight against climate change, the development of new technologies for generating the electricity we rely upon is essential. That is why I was delighted to hear recently that Peterhead power station is set to develop a demonstration Carbon Capture and Storage project which will take carbon dioxide emissions generated by the station and store them instead of releasing them into the atmosphere.

This is not the first time that such a development has been proposed for Peterhead. A previous project had to be abandoned in 2007 as a result of the previous UK Government’s refusal to provide financial support or certainty over the policy framework surrounding the technology. This was a massive opportunity to pioneer the technology in Banff & Buchan and to export the expertise that would be built up in developing it to other projects around the world. Yet thanks to incompetence in Westminster, it was an opportunity that seemed lost.

Second chances to lead the world in a particular field do not come along often, particularly during such difficult economic times, which is what makes the announcement by Scottish and Southern Energy particularly welcome. Three years of development at Peterhead may have been needlessly lost and projects in other locations around the world may have stolen a march as a result, but developing this technology still has the potential to provide an important economic and environmental boost to the area. Westminster must not let down Banff & Buchan with their lack of support again.

Of course in this area, the track record of successive UK Governments has been less than stellar. UK policy on transmission charges for electricity generators remains massively discriminatory and penalises suppliers in Scotland. Indeed, Peterhead power station was forced to announce a few months ago that it had no choice but to consider closing unit two of the power station as a result of transmission charges. A system which sees Peterhead forced to pay £29 million a year to sell its energy while an identical power station in the south east of England would receive a £3 million subsidy is manifestly unfair.

Yet while this is clearly a serious problem for existing energy providers, it is the potential it has to hold back the development of Scotland’s renewables industry that should be making alarm bells ring.

Scotland’s renewable potential, particularly offshore through wave, tidal and wind power, is staggering and can create an economic boom to rival the impact of North Sea oil. However, that industry will not simply fall into our hands, it needs to be nurtured and grown through these critical early days. By its very nature, the renewables industry tends to be located in more remote locations and is therefore on the receiving end of the current transmission charge policy.

It is a situation which is untenable and which people across Scotland must continue to push for change in. If the UK Government is serious about reaching its climate change targets then it cannot continue to operate a transmission charging regime that penalises renewable energy developments. There are clear economic and environmental imperatives that transmission charge policy should recognise and reflect.

Scotland, and places like Banff & Buchan in particular, is losing out as a result of UK Government policy and unnecessary obstacles are being put in the way of future economic developments. Putting in place a fairer system would be a real example of the new UK Governments self-proclaimed respect agenda towards Scotland and is something the Scottish Government will continue to press for.

6 July 2010

The need for reliable evidence

As summer rolls around again, the preliminary discussions that come before annual fishing negotiations once again begin to take place on the continent. Many previous years have seen the industry asked to give up much in order to protect fish stocks and have had a significant economic impact for many involved in Banff & Buchan’s fishing industry.

Yet for all the sacrifices that the Scottish fishing fleet has made to improve the sustainability of fish stocks, there is a real concern that more is to be asked of them on the back of uncertain scientific advice. This year’s recommendations from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which play a key part in setting annual fishing quotas, admitted that ICES has incomplete scientific information, despite their position that Cod stocks may not have risen quite as high as they hope. The ICES recommendations have an automatic effect on the number of days fishing vessels are allowed to spend at sea.

With skippers reporting improvements to Cod stocks that far surpass what ICES has assessed, the fishing industry in Banff & Buchan is understandably concerned that they may be asked to make unwarranted sacrifices. With people in the industry facing further financial hardship as a direct consequence of the recommendations that ICES makes, the need for the evidence it provides to be as robust and accurate as possible is critical.

The fishing industry in Scotland has already done much to increase its efforts to make the industry both sustainable and profitable. It has pioneered measures such as the Conservation Credits Scheme and catch quota trials, which the rest of Europe is slowly adopting. The great efforts that the Scottish fishing industry has made should be rewarded with a deal that is fair to them and recognises the leading role they have played on conservation. What is needed more fundamentally, however, is a change to the way European fish stocks are managed.

The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has been damaging and thoroughly discredited, and there is a real need for fisheries management decisions to be taken on a regional basis, so that those who have the biggest stake in effectively managing the fish stocks off our coasts are able to make decisions based upon what can be seen first hand.

The SNP Government understands this and will continue to press both the UK Government and the EU to accept the need for such changes in discussions on the future of the CFP. Although Scotland is undeniably hampered in this by not having our own voice as an independent member-state of the EU, the issue is too important for such challenges not to be overcome.

Portsoy traditional boat festival

One of the highlights of the year in Banff & Buchan comes at the start of summer, in the shape of the Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival. Now in its 17th year, it has become a hugely successful and entertaining fixture on the calendar that draws in people from far and wide to Portsoy.

Once again this year’s event did not disappoint, and I was delighted to be able to attend the festivities. Banff & Buchan’s coastal heritage and traditions are a core part of the area’s identity, and people of all ages value the chance to experience the traditional fishing and sailing skills which the festival offers.

I know that the dedicated team of volunteers behind the festival work hard throughout the year and I can only applaud them for delivering an event which seems to get better and better every single year.

Stewart Stevenson
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