Back to the Future? Oiling the Way Forward for Scottish Energy

Aberdeen Press & Journal journalist Jeremy Cresswell is in a reflective mood as he considers the state of Aberdeen, oil and gas capital or Europe with its ambitions to become the Renewables capital in addition, and yet, and yet…

In one of the best pieces to come out of the P & J, Cresswell spares few punches as he lays out Aberdeen’s credentials for retaining its capital status beyond oil and gas into a new era of renewable energy.   He looks ahead towards developments of maritime renewable and carbon capture…

Jeremy Cresswell’s words are in blue.

‘This is a remarkable period in the story of energy, a time of transition as Hydrocarbon Man gradually realises that there has to be a more sustainable way forward.

An opinion formed by apparently dangerous climate change and acknowledged shortages of premium grade resources, though low-grade, dirty hydrocarbons exist in abundance.

Only this time we’re trying to implement massive change in about half the average transition time, with several times the human population than was the case at the start of the 20th century.

Believe it or not, little old Aberdeen has a rather important role to play in the new future that we’re trying to create for ourselves.

It is a place where the current transition is starting to be felt, and we either embrace it or lose out to others.’

Is there a question mark over the commitment of some from traditional energy agencies that the time to act is now?

‘So, when Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond attended last month’s transition summit in Aberdeen, the city was already a decade up the maritime renewables road, not that much credit appeared to be accorded to that effort by co-chairs Messrs Wood and Marchant at said summit, from what I was told.’  

The 17th December 2010 meeting in Aberdeen, as Cresswell said, included Alex Salmond , Sir Ian Wood and Ian Marchant, during which Alex Salmond reiterated his call for the UK government to allow Scotland access to its £191 million of Fossil Fuel Levy funds from energy generated here so it can be invested in renewable schemes.

‘…Sir Ian Wood, founder and chair of the Wood Group and Ian Marchant, chief executive of Scottish and Southern Energy, the UK’s largest renewables generator, will co-chair the summit on Friday December 17 – to be attended by representatives of leading companies from both sectors.’ Newsnet Scotland

‘The important thing, however, is that the North Sea’s oil & gas supply chain has now clocked the maritime renewables opportunity and is gradually starting to engage directly, including Technip becoming involved in the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre project, which has successfully attracted 40million euros of EU grant aid.

That same supply chain is also sniffing the carbon capture opportunity which, in a sense, is closer to home, as the petroleum industry per se is already well-practised, albeit for production enhancement reasons rather than anything to do with climate change.

But what a pity it is that the actual carbon dioxide scrubbing systems required for fossil fuel power stations such as Longannet are fundamentally foreign imports, which makes a lie out of government claims that the UK is a global leader in carbon capture when it quite clearly is not. Norway is. The Americans are. We are not.

The past couple of years have also been good for the UK oil & gas international supply chain, especially the Aberdeen-based capability and big-brand engineering houses in London.

The trick is to keep building on that and the London Government had better understand how strategically important it is to back such success, not solely with politicians’ endless prattle, but with tangible support and by putting its money where its mouth is, knowing that the return to UK PLC will be a handsome one. I’ve said this before: it really is time to act.’

According to Scottish Renewables own website, the Scottish renewable sector is exceeding expectations with a rise in all electricity generated from renewable in Scotland from 20.9% in 2009 to over 25% last year.

Jeremy Cresswell expresses views widely held across the north-east concerning the troubling state of Aberdeen and its administration.

‘As for Aberdeen and its shire, let us be clear, we must not compromise or squander our energy advantage, wittingly or otherwise.

It disturbs me that swingeing local authority budget cuts could cause immense damage, if they are not already doing so, by impacting on simple things such as thousands of potholes, cancelling infrastructure improvements and not according sufficient priority to economic development.

It disturbs me that the heart of Europe’s energy capital remains so scruffy: where is that sense of real civic pride? Don’t we love Aberdeen?’

I think we all know the answer to that, Jeremy – misplaced priorities from an administration that talks the talk but stumbles over the walk.

‘It disturbs me that if the controversial and very expensive Union Terrace Gardens project goes ahead, Aberdeen will be accused of profligacy at a time when prudence should be the watchword. And rightly so.’

Interesting how Aberdeen has had 40 years as the energy hub of Europe without a piazza but now apparently everything about its future is dependent on it having one. Complete nonsense.

‘It disturbs me that anything to do with educating our young should be compromised any more than has already been the case.

It disturbs me that neither Holyrood nor London appear to understand the need to truly nurture what remains perhaps the most successful economic powerhouse in Britain today; or at least reward that success in some tangible manner on the basis that success begets success.’

Aberdeen’s strength lies in its geographic situation but therein also lies its weakness. Two hundred miles north of the Central Belt and five hundred from London, dependent on an accident-ridden dual carriageway south and unreliable rail links.

‘It disturbs me that, locally, we still don’t seem to understand that, globally, Aberdeen is the brand that the rest of the world recognises.

It disturbs me that, when it snows and freezes, our transport links fall over and chaos ensues.

In my view the railways especially need sorting out – big time.

If we keep on getting things wrong the way we are doing, you can bet your bottom dollar that oil & gas supply chain main and mid-brands which are overseas owned will declare enough is enough, up sticks and leave.’

There is the promise of a rich future for Scotland in the creation of energy through renewable and its associated jobs.  But success is not guaranteed and is dependent on the swift action of the Scottish government, the London government, business leaders and local authorities to recognise the parts they must play. For Aberdeen City Council that means getting the basics established.  Clearly and disturbingly it has no clue as to what these might be.

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