The last Scottish Parliament unanimously agreed world leading climate change legislation. Since then, however, the SNP government has missed its targets year after year.
We can’t afford to go on like this. To turn this around, however, we need to get serious about renewable energy and energy efficiency.
On electricity generation, reasonable progress has been made since Liberal Democrat Ministers established the first targets and funding schemes back in 2003. Yet we are far from realising our full potential, particularly here in the islands.
Continued delays in delivering interconnectors that would allow renewable generation in Orkney to be fed into the grid are deeply disappointing. Combined with the reckless actions of a UK Conservative government that shows little interest in the future of renewables, we are seeing confidence in the sector undermined and jobs and investment put at risk. That must change.
At UK level, we need clear and consistent political commitment to renewables. Ministers must secure urgent EU approval of extra support for isles-based renewables, while removing the uncertainty hanging over the wider sector. Meanwhile, Ofgem’s role should change to properly reflect our ambitions in delivering a renewables revolution.
In renewable heat and transport too, we need more radical action as part of a new, joined-up energy strategy. Here I firmly believe that Orkney can lead the way.
We have the natural resources, of course, but also the skills and incentive to deliver solutions. Already, we are harnessing tidal energy to generate hydrogen for possible use by our internal ferry fleet. We also have more electric vehicles per head of population than any community in the country. These are successes that must be recognised, supported and developed further.
Like the ferries, our new hospital should capitalise on local renewable resources. I have warned the SNP government that anything else would be a scandalous missed opportunity, with long term financial and environmental consequences.
What is already scandalous is that Orkney now has the highest proportion of households in the UK spending more than 20% of their income on heating. This level of fuel poverty scars our conscience, particularly given the cheap, green energy resources we have at hand.
I want to see more support for community renewable developments, in part to help address fuel poverty but also to give local people more control. Giving communities the tools they need to address the challenges they face is a fundamental liberal principle.
At the same time, greater priority should be placed on measures to improve energy efficiency. After all, the cheapest unit of energy is the one not used. Unfortunately, current national building standard rules ignore Orkney’s circumstances, often forcing local builders to build homes with less insulation than they would otherwise use. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach that pushes up islanders’ fuel bills, we need a tailored fuel poverty strategy.
Our islands have the potential to deliver for the environment, economy and society. If re-elected as Orkney’s MSP, I will ensure we get the chance to fulfil that potential.