EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, about whom I have had occasion to write more than once, has been to Scotland at the Scottish Energy Insititute’s recent dinner in Aberdeen. It seems he played a blinder. I’ll give you some quick quotes (I’d give the Press Association link, but you’d need to sign in).
Commissioner Oettinger wants us to focus on the benefits of EU membership for the UK’s energy market — and especially for the wealth of renewable energy he expects to be available from Scotland, which, (he says) has “energy resources other countries can only dream of”. But of course Scotland needs EU help to exploit these magical resources, and to distribute them.
Let’s hear more of what he said:
Scotland could be on the verge of becoming “an energy powerhouse of Europe”, with half of its energy already generated by renewables. The North Sea Offshore Grid could link Scotland to a Europe-wide energy network stretching from Ireland to Poland. “No single member state, no company and certainly no region can deal with today’s energy challenges on its own. But in the EU, we have the political means, the economic muscle and the technology networks”.
I think we are entitled to ask just how out of touch with reality an EU Commissioner can be. Just a few weeks ago, our UK Energy Regulator Ofgem warned that our UK margin of spare generating capacity is under threat, and that we can expect possible blackouts by 2015. Yet here is Oettinger talking up the prospects of Scotland becoming a sort of renewable Saudi Arabia and exporting energy to the continent.
Oettinger is cheerfully ignoring the fact that the output of wind turbines is largely offset by the inefficiencies of their intermittently-run fossil fuel back-up, and that therefore they save fewer emissions, and replace far less fossil fuel, than their raw output figures would suggest. Add to that the massive costs for grid adaptation, and the rapid decline of output as turbines age (about which I shall be writing shortly), and the idea that Scottish wind turbines are a resource becomes absurd. They are not a resource: they are a cost.
The Commissioner is also ignoring the evidence that wind farms on peatland displace so much peat, and therefore release so much stored carbon, that they can never make any net savings in emissions. This is a point that my colleague Struan Stevenson MEP (Scotland) has stressed, and that was recently taken up by Andrew Gilligan in the national press.
But let’s just imagine for a moment, that at some remote point in the future, Scotland were suddenly to produce a massive excess of energy. Why on earth would membership of the EU be a benefit? Do we imagine that EU countries would refuse to buy energy from the UK after Independence Day? (Germany in particular, having closed its nuclear fleet, will be desperate for energy). But they already buy energy from Russia, and Saudi Arabia, and many other places, which are not EU members. They buy it because they need it, not for political reasons. And if we in the UK have energy to sell (it may be shale gas in a couple of decades), they’ll buy it, and our non-membership of the EU will be wholly irrelevant. Interconnectors will be built because there’s a business case for them — not as an assertion of European integration.
Oettinger’s remarks are so out-of-touch as to be downright embarrassing. If these are his best reasons for Britain staying in the EU, then we’re certainly Better Off Out.