Between January 2023 and May 2023 the Scottish Government held a public consultation relating to their draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, providing an opportunity for communities, workers, citizens and businesses to engage in the process of designing Scotland’s energy transition. Alma Economics was commissioned by the Scottish Government to analyse and report on the main themes emerging from the consultation responses.
The consultation included 58 open-format questions with free-text fields, and there was no limit to the amount of text which respondents could write in their answers. In total, 1,598 responses to the consultation were received. All responses to the open-text questions were read in full by our team of researchers, with thematic analysis of each response being conducted to capture the main opinions expressed by respondents in overarching themes as well as to understand the reasoning behind answers. Themes were summarised in order of their prevalence as measured by the frequency of respondents raising each theme.
Several themes were frequently repeated across multiple elements of the draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan. Respondents commonly highlighted the need to implement the strategy in a way which fairly spreads the benefits and costs of decarbonisation across society. Many respondents highlighted the need for a supportive policy environment directed by all layers of government (including the UK Government, Scottish Government and local authorities) to overcome challenges and barriers to decarbonisation. These respondents often emphasised the key role government can play in equipping Scotland’s workforce with the necessary skills to implement the proposed plan.
Other overarching themes raised by respondents included the important role of upskilling and training the workforce in facilitating the energy transition, suggested alterations to the mix of technologies required to deliver the Scottish Government’s decarbonisation ambitions (for which there was no general consensus), the need to mitigate the potential adverse impacts of the plan on Scotland’s environment and landscapes, calls for more detail particularly around how the vision will be implemented, and both praise and concerns around the level of ambition of the plan in terms of its scale and the nature of the outlined goals.
Chapter 1: Introduction and vision
Respondents made a broad range of comments and suggestions relating to the Scottish Government’s visions for 2030 and 2045. Respondents most commonly offered general support for the Scottish Government’s vision, particularly with respect to its scale, the nature of the outlined goals, and the opportunities it would generate for Scotland’s population.
Many respondents suggested changes to aspects of the vision, including calls for more detail and clarity particularly on how the vision would be implemented, monitored, and evaluated. There were also calls for more ambition in the scale of the stated objectives with respect to decarbonisation and the timeframes for delivering them, and suggestions for a different mix of technologies to achieve the Scottish Government’s decarbonisation ambitions. Respondents also highlighted the need to outline how any negative socio-economic and environmental impacts resulting from implementation of the vision would be mitigated.
Chapter 2: Preparing for a Just Energy Transition
Respondents were asked for their views on various aspects of preparing for a just energy transition.
Respondents commonly raised the need for a supportive policy environment for a just energy transition. The need for increased financial support was frequently suggested by respondents in relation to multiple issues, including supporting take-up of low-carbon technologies by households and businesses, funding community energy projects, and funding training and skills initiatives to provide the skills necessary to deliver the plan. It was also argued that skilled workers in the oil and gas sector should be supported in their transition to employment in other energy sectors, with some emphasising the need for a focus on transferable skills between sectors.
Respondents also commonly asked for more detail and clarity on the expected role of the public and businesses in the just energy transition – for example, with regards to training and skills. Other respondents requested more transparency surrounding the policies proposed, including the rationale behind their implementation.
Chapter 3: Energy supply
Respondents were asked for their views on the Scottish Government’s plans for future energy supply, covering a range of topics including scaling up renewable energy, and North Sea oil and gas.
Scaling up renewable energy
Many respondents also took the opportunity to voice support or concern for aspects of the proposed future renewable energy mix – including onshore and offshore wind, marine, wave and tidal, solar, and hydrogen – although there was generally no clear consensus on what the future energy mix should look like.
Many respondents advocated for a supportive policy environment to drive investment in renewable energy supply – with specific suggestions including setting target ambitions, investing in skills, investing in research and development, and making the consenting process for new projects quicker and less onerous. It was viewed that such measures would create a more investor-friendly environment that would drive investment. Some respondents advocated for community ownership of renewable energy assets, allowing communities to share in the benefits of local assets. Other respondents highlighted the need to mitigate the adverse environmental impacts of renewable energy generation.
North Sea oil and gas
Respondents were generally divided in their views on the role North Sea oil and gas should play in the future energy transition, with some respondents advocating for at least some role for future exploration and new production, whilst others argued for no future role for oil and gas exploration and production. The most common reasons for arguing that oil and gas should play a role in the future energy transition were its value to the Scottish economy, its role in a stable and secure energy system, and its alternative usage for production of derivative products, including plastics and chemicals. Respondents against new oil and gas production typically were of the view that it is incompatible with the net zero ambitions outlined in the plan.
Chapter 4: Energy demand
Respondents were asked for their views on the Scottish Government’s plans for managing future energy demand, covering a range of topics including heat in buildings, energy for transport, energy for agriculture and energy for industry.
Heat in buildings
Respondents most commonly raised the need for a supportive policy environment to incentivise the uptake of energy efficiency measures and zero emissions heat technologies by households and businesses. It was argued by some respondents that these upgrades often require significant up-front costs, and as such financial assistance could be required to ensure these costs do not have a disportionately negative impact on low-income households. Some respondents also highlighted the need for coordinated large-scale action and information and awareness campaigns.
Energy for transport
Access to electric vehicle infrastructure, such as charging stations, was viewed as critical for increased uptake of electric vehicles, whilst improvements to access to and the reliability of public transport and infrastructure for active transport were seen as important for improving the viability of alternatives to carbon-intensive transport modes.
Respondents often emphasised the need for a supportive policy environment to stimulate demand for low-carbon transport modes, disincentivise the use of carbon-intensive transport modes, and minimise the cost of transition to low-carbon transport for vulnerable groups.
Energy for agriculture
The key elements of demand reduction raised by respondents related to the transition to low-carbon energy sources, reducing reliance on fertilisers, and the decarbonisation of heavy machinery. Respondents typically highlighted the need for the Scottish Government to support farmers in their transition, both financially and through the provision of advice.
Energy for industry
In this section respondents provided suggestions for how demand for energy by Scottish industry could be reduced. The responses to these questions were largely dominated by discussion of the role of carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS), with respondents generally quite divided on the role the technology should play in decarbonising industry. Individual respondents largely advocated against CCUS, whilst organisation respondents, especially from the energy and power sectors, more commonly supported CCUS. Respondents often mentioned limitations of CCUS such as the lack of support from the public and government, a lack of evidence that it works at scale, and the high costs associated with the technology. Some respondents conversely highlighted the comparative advantage that Scotland has in this area due to its large storage capacity in the North Sea, and existing infrastructure and transferable skills from the oil and gas sector.
Chapter 5: Creating the conditions for a net zero energy system
Respondents were asked for their views on the necessary conditions required to deliver a net zero energy system which is resilient and supports security of supply.
Respondents frequently highlighted the importance of increased investment in infrastructure to ensure security of supply. More specifically, they saw an urgent need for investment in the grid for transmission and distribution of energy, and in storage technologies to ensure that demand fluctuations can be absorbed.
Respondents also frequently noted the need for a stable and supportive policy environment to guarantee continued investment in energy technologies. Another common opinion was that Scotland should focus on meeting its own demand first and only start exporting energy if there is a surplus. Connected to this, some respondents wanted to see Scotland rely less on imports from abroad to achieve security of supply.
Some respondents highlighted the need for the energy mix to be highly diversified and not rely on specific technologies to support security of supply. Some respondents provided contrasting opinions on whether the energy mix should include nuclear energy and on the role of fossil fuels in the future energy system.
Chapter 6: Route map to 2045
Respondents were asked to provide their views on the Scottish Government’s proposed route map to decarbonisation by 2045.
The most frequent suggestion provided by respondents was for the Scottish Government to provide more detail and clarity on the route map. This included requests for a comprehensive report on how the outlined targets would be achieved and additional information on targets, dates, and the costs of delivering aspects of the route map.
There were also various opinions on what constitutes the perfect energy mix, with some respondents highlighting the need to include fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and others arguing against the use of any energy technology that is not completely green, including CCUS and hydrogen.
Respondents also commonly proposed greater consultation on the route map with key stakeholders, including local authorities and local communities, involved in the discussion. Many respondents were concerned that the transition could lead to an increase in existing inequalities and therefore requested that the Scottish Government pay attention to mitigating negative impacts on vulnerable groups within society.
Impact assessment questions
Respondents were asked to provide their views on the draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan’s impact on equality across individuals sharing protected characteristics, children’s and young peoples’ rights and wellbeing, and those on lower incomes and at risk of fuel poverty.
Many respondents highlighted the opportunities the plan presents for groups sharing protected characteristics, including potential new employment opportunities in green industries. Aspects of the strategy which risk negatively impacting these groups were also identified by respondents, such as negative health and wellbeing impacts associated with new infrastructure and the disproportionately high cost of household energy efficiency solutions for low-income households.
Respondents commonly advocated for the role of government intervention to enhance the positive impact of the proposals and mitigate risk for these groups, including reforms to the education system to foster the skills necessary for green employment, and financial support to encourage uptake of energy efficiency improvements by low-income households. Some respondents also called for further consultation with groups sharing protected characteristics to ensure their views and concerns are considered, whilst others called for an equality impact assessment to identify potential risks and issues.
Just Transition Plan energy outcomes
Respondents were asked for their views on the approach to monitoring and evaluation set out in the draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, including which outcomes should be measured and how. Many respondents broadly agreed with the Scottish Government’s proposed monitoring and evaluation approach, although most also provided suggestions for aspects which could be improved. Frequent comments included recommendations for more detail on the monitoring and evaluation approach and outcomes being measured, suggestions for linking the proposed outcomes more directly to actions within the plan, and proposals for monitoring a wider range of environmental and socio-economic outcomes and indicators.
Strategic Environmental Assessment
These questions asked respondents for their views on the draft Strategic Environmental Assessment. The most prevalent overarching theme in responses was the need to consider a wide range of factors when measuring the success of the draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, particularly impacts relating to Scotland’s natural environment and landscapes, and socio-economic impacts – especially those related to local communities.
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