All-Energy Conference: speech by Energy Secretary

Speech to the All-Energy conference by the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy Màiri McAllan on Wednesday 15 May 2024.

Thank you very much Dame Susan for your kind introduction and to Judith for inviting me along and to her and the team for once again putting on a fantastic conference.

I am really proud to be able to join you today as Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy. To have the privilege of working alongside all of you in this most exciting and dynamic industry and at such a critical juncture for its development.

And I’m really grateful to the organisers for giving me time this morning to set out just some of what the Scottish Government is intending to do to grasp, what I see, as the era-defining opportunity that’s ahead of us.

But before I talk a bit more about what we’re intending to take forwards, I’d like to reflect on the context in which we are operating and build, in many ways, what my colleague, Professor Jim Skea, was setting out in his remarks.

Having worked in climate change for a number of years, very initially as a solicitor and much more so in government, it has long been my view that the climate emergency and the twin crisis of nature loss, are the single greatest long-term threats that the world faces. That tackling it is the global endeavour of our time, and that failure to act collectively at a scale commensurate with the challenge will have a very serious and, for many, existential ramifications.

And it’s in this way that I often reflect, that climate change is, first and foremost, tackling it is an environmental imperative – Professor Jim Skea reminded us of the reasons why that’s the case. But equally, with communities on the front line just now, and so many generations relying on us, tackling it is also our moral obligation. But at the same time, if we are able to do it correctly, it can present, I think, one of the greatest long term economic and social opportunities that we have had in Scotland, certainly in Scotland and across the UK and Europe, for many generations.

And this conference is so important because that opportunity lies, in many ways, in our energy transition and therefore in many ways, with all of you.

Now Scotland’s First Minister, my colleague John Swinney has used his first week in office to confirm hi resolute focus on net zero on one hand, and economic growth with purpose on the other. Sometimes as we will all know, in wider commentary, net zero and our economy are presented as being in opposition to one another, irreconcilable and mutually exclusive. But in my view this is extremely wrongheaded and it sets its face against what I think we all see is the direction of travel in the global economy.

Just to exemplify that, we know in Scotland that between 1990, greenhouse gas emissions baseline, and 2021, emissions have halved, whilst our economy grew by about 56%. So that demonstrates to me that emissions reduction and economic prosperity so do very much go hand in hand. And to me it’s abundantly clear that the future of the global economy is green and I believe that it’s all of our jobs and principally government, working with all of you, to ensure that Scotland derives the greatest possible benefit that we can from that transition.

And in this regard, we have so much to celebrate in terms of progress that we have made to date.

In the past 10 years, we have seen a rapid increase in Scotland’s capacity for renewable energy generation from 6.7GW in 2013 to 15.3GW in 2023 and with a potential of 25.9GW currently in the planning pipeline. Now we all know what has contributed to that - it’s our stormy seas and our unrivalled expertise in marine engineering, which has placed us in a prime position for the development of tidal and wave energy.

In addition to this fantastic progress, wind energy continues to be a cornerstone of our renewables approach. The SNP Government some 16-17 years ago, took the view that we would resolutely back onshore wind and do everything that  governments can to create a supportive the environment for its deployment. And now we see onshore wind doing the heavy lifting when it comes to renewable power generation in Scotland.

More recently Scotwind now represents the largest commercial leasing ground for floating offshore wind, placing us once again at the forefront of technology and the development of offshore wind globally. Currently we have a reported potential pipeline of 40GW for offshore wind projects.

I also reflect on some recent developments in the projects the Scottish Government was able to consent in time for allocation of round 6, including the Green Volt project which will one of Europe’s largest floating offshore windfarms.

So that’s recent news.

In this week alone, we have seen hugely significant milestones reached, including in the Ardersier port development investment which was visited by the First Minister on Monday and the ground-breaking ceremony for Suminoto Electric Industries investment at the Port of Nigg for high voltage cable manufacturing which I was able to attend yesterday.

This Sumitomo factory is the first investment of its kind in Europe. Sumitomo’s first entry into the European market for these manufacturing plants. It will be the only one of its kind in the UK and will create hundreds of jobs in the area. And once fully operational, the Ardersier development will be the largest dedicated offshore wind facility in Scotland.

Meanwhile as Dame Susan reflected, again this week yesterday we had RWE announcing its developing its first phase of a largescale, green hydrogen plant, at Scotland’s industrial heartland in Grangemouth.

What a week.

And today I am delighted to mark the announcement of the establishment of the Scottish Offshore wind Port’s Alliance, which I think demonstrates exactly what’s needed – an appetite for strategic collaboration towards delivering the truly transformational policies that we need for a  net zero future.

So my point is that these accomplishments in recent years and this week alone serve to powerfully demonstrate that Scotland is fast becoming a renewables powerhouse.

And I just also want to reflect, as we look at that progress over recent years and decades, I think it’s worth nothing that that progress has been made whilst pursuing a just transition for our communities and for our workforce. Our community and renewable energy scheme has been a vital part of grounding this work in Scotland’s communities.

Since its inception the scheme has provided over £65 million in funding to communities throughout Scotland, supporting around 900 projects. I am very pleased that we are already over halfway to achieving our ambition of 2GW of community and locally owned energy by 2030. But I do want to go further, particularly as the deployment of renewables becomes ever more present in Scotland’s communities.  

That’s why today I am pleased to launch a new £1.5 million pilot fund through CARES to help communities create their own renewable energy generation projects and to support them in doing that.

So that’s communities, I also want to mention very briefly our workforce, and that just transition that we have led. Scotland is already leading the way when it comes to supporting green jobs. PWC’s Green Jobs Barometer would recognise this - it is clear about our strong skills base.

However, I would, in being utterly candid, note that the skills challenge is one we will be continually challenged by. We will have to be flexible, we will have to augment our approach, because it is multifaceted, it is diverse, and it will be one of the principal concerns in the coming years.

So I hope it’s clear from that, how proud I am of the progress Scotland has made to date, built as it is on our natural assets, on our clear engineering capacities, particularly in offshore energies, our really unique expertise in this regard, our really skilled workforce, our ports and harbours infrastructure, our universities and innovation hubs. I am very proud of what we have achieved. But as we celebrate these achievements, I am also clear there is so much more to do, and do together, if we are to truly seize this era defining opportunity that’s ahead of us.

I just want to use the rest of the time I have been given to highlight some of the key pieces of work that I will be taking forward in government in the coming months in pursuit of this.

Firstly, our Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan to be published this summer will set out our vision for a future energy system that delivers affordable, secure, clean energy and delivers economic benefits to every part of Scotland. It will look across the whole energy system including the relationship between energy generation for renewables and anticipated demand for Scotland. And it will consider the network infrastructure required in order to deploy this.

It will be our first sector-wide Just Transition Plan, setting out how we will build on Scotland’s existing strengths in offshore energy to grow and develop thriving new sectors including renewables, green hydrogen production, clean energy intensive industries and the continued growth of our world-leading energy services.

So that’s our Energy Strategy and alongside this in the coming weeks I intend to publish our Green Industrial Strategy. It’s key function will be setting out, with absolute clarity of expression, the primary investable propositions in Scotland’s energy sector. It will be a clear and unambiguous statement of intent providing investors with one window in which to consider Scotland for investment and providing the clarity that we will require.

Both of these publications will build upon our commitment of last year to provide £500 million over the coming five, of public money, to leveraging private funding for ports manufacturing and the secondary work of offshore wind and our intention of routing that investment and activity in Scotland’s communities.

And, although significant, none of that is sufficient.

We have an investor panel that advises the First Minister on what’s required in these areas. We know from that that we also need the right conditions for investment to flow. And drawing on what Dame Susan was saying, this absolutely requires collaboration.

It also requires a stable regulatory regime, speeding up the planning and consenting. I am determined to pursue this with my government colleagues.

Progress is being made. Our onshore wind sector deal will have the consent in time for these projects and we will shortly set out steps to improve the resources for the planning system providing greater certainty and greater consensus for investment in Scotland.

I want incentive for investment in Scotland. I want planning and consent to be done effectively. So that it can be a means of protecting our precious natural environment and a key level of the energy transition and a fair and growing economy.

And on that note, I want to stress how the importance the government places on relationships and building relationships with all of you. We have so much to achieve. So many challenges to mitigate. So many opportunities to seize. The government does not have a monopoly on ideas. Indeed, if we are truly to realise that era defining opportunity it will require coordination amongst us all and particularly between public and private sector.

Now, much of what I have covered this morning is just a snapshot and I can only touch on bits and pieces of what is happening across this most dynamic industry. Before however I bring my remarks to a close I do want to make a call specifically to colleagues in the UK Government who hold key levers for the realisation of net zero across the UK.

My call is simple, these powers must be utilised, they must be acted upon and at pace for the realisation of Scotland’s goals but also the UK’s which are intrinsically linked, and I am always very happy and will pursue joint working with the UK government in all these areas. Very specifically though I want to be clear there can be no further delay in acting on Scotland’s carbon capture utilisation and storage potential. The Committee on Climate Change is clear that this is mission critical to net zero, it’s not simply a nice to have.

So on that call to action, I will conclude my remarks and do so by reiterating my personal commitment to working with all of you to harness the enormous potential that’s in front of all of us in this quite unique moment of opportunity that we all face in Scotland and across the UK. Together and only by working together, we will be able to mitigate the risks, seize the opportunities and deliver an energy system that delivers for the environment, our people and for our economy.

I will end where I started that it is my profound privilege to be Scotland’s Net Zero and Energy Secretary and to be able to work with all of you, seeding, what I reiterate, is one of the greatest opportunities of our time. Thank you.

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