25 June 2013

Scotland - a Hydro Nation

The news that Scotland continues to lead EU progress on reducing carbon emissions has underlined our position at the cutting edge of action on climate change.

Official figures recently released by the Scottish Government show a 9.9 per cent year on year reduction on emissions – the largest reduction on record - and good progress being made across a range of climate change sectors.

The figures also show that Scotland retains its position at the top of the EU15 countries for emissions reductions and has met the Scottish Government’s climate change reduction goal in percentage terms – with a 25.7 per cent reduction between 1990 and 2011.

While Scottish Government Minister for Transport, Infrastructure & Climate Change I was responsible for piloting Scotland’s world-leading climate change legislation through Parliament so I am delighted to see such progress being made.

Indeed, under this SNP Government, Scotland is now more than halfway to achieving its 2020 target of reducing emissions by 42 per cent and these figures underline the progress being made.

It is well documented that Scotland has a quarter of Europe’s tidal and offshore wind potential and ten per cent of its wave power, all of which are enviable green energy resources which support over 11,000 jobs and huge investment in communities across the country.

However there is no room for complacency and the Scottish Government continues to support research and development in these areas, as well as developing other energy initiatives such as the often-overlooked potential of hydro-electricity.

The massive potential for hydro electric generation in Scotland began to be realised over 100 years ago, and an internationally significant hydroelectric power sector had been developed by the late 1960s.

Hydro power compliments other sources of renewable energy, primarily by being a low-carbon method of generation itself. However, just as importantly, pump-storage systems are an effective way of storing surplus energy, which can be tapped to supply periods of peak demand, which might otherwise put a strain on energy resources.

The pioneering development of this sector in Scotland results from a combination of our landscape, our climate and the drive of a handful of engineers, architects and politicians whose vision meant Scotland led the world in the development of green energy.

Harnessing the significant potential of hydropower will have an important role in meeting the Scottish Government’s ambitious targets for renewable energy.

Scotland is a hydro nation, with thousands of miles of coastline, lochs and rivers, each supporting vibrant industries. Accordingly, our water resources are among Scotland’s most prized assets and that is why this new legislation will draw together Scottish expertise to build an international profile of Scotland as a leading player in the water sector.

The Scottish Government’s Water Resources Bill (known as the hydro-nation bill) aims to cement Scotland's global reputation as home to a dynamic, world class water industry with knowledge and expertise in water management. The Bill underlines the world-wide contribution Scotland has to make in areas such as water technology and management and includes a range of measures to ensure Scotland’s water resources are protected and used for the benefit of the people of Scotland.

Just as Scotland is demonstrating world leadership in tackling climate change and protecting natural resources, we can demonstrate leadership in meeting the challenges and opportunities that the water industry presents across the world.

That Scotland has been able to take such a world-leading role on these issues under the limited powers of devolution highlights the potential for Scotland’s role as a good global citizen under Scottish independence.

11 June 2013

Scotland's Railways Well Respected

Despite the occasional delay or inconvenience, Scotland’s rail services continue to be in demand, with operators providing a generally high level of service, which is improving every day. As a country we are very reliant on our rail network for commuting and general travel, and for many reasons increased usage is good news for us all. However, it also poses challenges which must be addressed if the level of performance is to be maintained.

Indeed, in a discussion of rail fares in this month’s issue of Rail magazine, the point was made that Scotland is simplifying rail fares via a fair fares service, of which many passengers south of the border would be envious.

Indeed, one of the great benefits of old age—and there are not very many of them—is having access to the senior railcard, which costs just £30 a year and is a great bargain. That, coupled with offers from ScotRail, has meant that this week the cost of my return journey from Huntly to the south is a mere £17—provided that I travel off peak, of course. That is very good, and there are many opportunities for people to get such bargains whether travelling to Aberdeen or Plymouth.

However, the fare structure is not just about overall expense. For example, I have been advised that, when travelling from Keith to Inverness, one should buy a ticket to Muir of Ord, despite the fact it is beyond Inverness, because it is cheaper to do so. That is the sort of anomaly that I hope can be addressed to ensure that fairness, as well as value, is prioritised in the fare structure.

Indeed, on the subject of the Aberdeen to Inverness line, it is worth looking at what has happened at Inverurie. A proportion of the trains that previously stopped at Dyce now continue to Inverurie and, as a result, patronage has been driven up to and from there. To reflect demand, we now see the longest operational train anywhere on the ScotRail network—at seven carriages—running between Aberdeen and Inverness, a very important part of the network, and a vital service for my constituents and many others. This is just one example of Scotland’s railways adapting to demand, and I know that the logistics of journeys and rolling stock are constantly monitored and reviewed to ensure they are fit for purpose.

Quality of service, as well as performance, is also very important and the Scottish Government’s introduction of wi-fi on services throughout Scotland, as well as continuing improvements to rolling stock and station premises are all part of a positive campaign to encourage people to leave the car and use rail services where possible, benefitting the economy and the environment.

As it happens, my constituency of Banffshire and Buchan Coast is one of few on the mainland to have no railways stations whatsoever. However, I am pleased that pressure is growing for a feasibility study into the costs and benefits of re-establishing a rail link into Buchan.

With the expansion of rail services along the existing lines in the North-east including more services to Glasgow and Edinburgh now starting and terminating at Inverurie, more trains at Portlethen, a new station at Laurencekirk and a proposed station at Kintore, it is time to see if we can expand the network into some of the North-east’s largest communities.

Stewart Stevenson
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