An appeal by US property mogul Donald Trump for Scotland to abandon its renewable energy drive has been strongly rejected by a Scottish Parliament committee inquiry.
The report by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee backs the Scottish Government's policy on renewable energy and found its target of generating 100% electricity from green sources by 2020 is “achievable”.
And the committee's findings rejected claims from billionaire property tycoon Donald Trump, who opposes an offshore wind farm being built near his luxury golf resort, that the rise of renewable energy would damage Scotland's tourism industry.
In April, Mr Trump gave evidence to the committee of MSPs and claimed tourists would flock to Ireland to escape the sight of wind turbine, which he described as“ unattractive, so ugly, so noisy and so dangerous”.
But today's report pointedly remarked: “No witness provided the Committee with robust, empirical evidence that tourism is negatively affected by the development of renewable projects.”
And Dr Sam Gardner, Senior Policy Officer at WWF Scotland, said of today's findings:"The report contains nothing from Donald Trump's long session of bluster in front of the Committee.
“He really needs to get the message that he is massively out of line with public opinion in Scotland."
Convener of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee Murdo Fraser MSP warned many issues still needed to be addressed if Scotland is to achieve its ambitious renewable energy goals.
He said: “After a wide ranging inquiry, taking extensive evidence, our Committee has concluded that the electricity target can be achieved but only if the issues outlined in this report are acted upon.
“Our recommendations are crucial to the success of the renewables industry in Scotland, and focus on issues such as access to finance, the planning system, infrastructure development and investment in skills.”
“Given the influence of the UK Government in energy policy, there are a number of recommendations that will require concerted effort by the two administrations if significant progress is to be made.”
Commenting on the skills issues in the report, Deputy Convener of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, Dennis Robertson MSP, said: “The Committee was concerned to hear a number of witnesses question the achievability of the targets due to skill shortages. More work needs to be done to address our relatively low take up of subjects like engineering, maths and science.”
“The Committee recommends that the Government works with industry to challenge any negative perceptions which may adversely influence career choices particularly for women. We recognise that the Scottish Government’s updated Renewables route map includes an equalities statement.
Commenting on the issue of access to finance, Murdo Fraser MSP said: “The overwhelming message from investors was that strong leadership, and a robust and reliable investment climate and subsidy regime is critical for the targets to be met.
“The Committee regrets the reluctance of some banks to invest and in the current financial environment, is concerned that the renewables industry will not have access to the finance it needs to grow, which will ultimately put the targets at risk.”
Jenny Hogan, Director of Policy for Scottish Renewables, welcomed many of the Economy, Energy and Tourism committee's findings. She said: “This has been one of the most detailed and debated committee inquiries in the Scottish Parliament's history and it has confirmed what we have said for some time; that the ambitious targets for the renewables industry are achievable.
"As we stated in our own evidence to the Committee, there are a number of challenges ahead in terms of improving our grid network, increasing access to finance and strengthening the planning system.
"We welcome the recommendation to the Scottish and UK Governments to work with Ofgem and the renewables industry to ensure a fairer charging regime for projects in the islands to connect to the grid. Decisive action on this issue has been long overdue if we are to secure the future of Scotland's wave and tidal industries.
"Planning remains a key issue and, like the Committee, we want to see a well-resourced, robust planning system, to address concerns over stretched planning departments.
"We are also glad that the independent committee concluded that there is 'no empirical evidence which demonstrates that the tourism industry in Scotland will be adversely affected by the wider deployment of renewable energy projects, particularly onshore and offshore wind.' However, we also support their recommendation for continued research in this area.
"We are pleased that the committee has highlighted renewable heat and the difficult challenges ahead to reach the 2020 targets. As heat accounts for over half of our energy use, we would like to have seen more detail on how technologies such as biomass, solar and heat pumps will play their part in Scotland's energy mix, and how we may remove those barriers in the way of reducing our reliance on gas, coal and oil to heat our homes.
"The Committee rightly concludes that renewable energy is not only crucial to reducing greenhouse gas emissions but is also good for energy security and protection against volatile energy prices."
The Committee’s wide-ranging inquiry has made recommendations in the following areas:
* Some local authority planning departments are under pressure due to high volumes of applications. Recent measures taken by the Scottish Government are welcome but further improvement is needed;
* The Committee is supportive of higher fees for larger scale applications. In return for higher fees, the Scottish Government should explore if duplication of effort for developers could be minimised;
* The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government, COSLA and the Heads of Planning Scotland produce a breakdown of renewable energy developments by local authority area.
* The potential of community-generated renewable energy is significant. Adjustment of planning policy should be considered to give greater consideration of the local economic benefits.
On finance and the subsidy regime:
* Significant investment in infrastructure is needed to grow the renewables industry. The committee regrets the reluctance of some banks to invest, particularly in small and medium sized projects;
* The Committee is calling on the UK Government to put an end to industry uncertainty by finalising their Renewables Obligation Certificate levels.
* The Committee found that skill shortages present a risk to the achievability of the target unless investment is targeted to science, technology, engineering and maths at school, college and university level;
* To ensure the industry has confidence in the courses on offer, the Committee recommends the Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council engage with the Energy Skills Partnership and the Energy Technology Partnership to address quality issues.
* There are some challenges around the grid dealing with increasing electricity supplied from renewables and also around intermittency of power from wind energy. But these are not insurmountable;
* The Scottish islands remain at a disadvantage compared with those on the mainland in terms of the transmission and charging system and this renders many projects uneconomic. The UK Government and OFGEM must remove this unfair disadvantage if they are to ensure that the abundant natural resources in these areas are harnessed.
* No witness provided the Committee with robust, empirical evidence that tourism is negatively affected by the development of renewable projects;
* However, given the significance of the tourism industry, the Committee recommends that VisitScotland and the Scottish Government continue to gather and take evidence from visitors to Scotland.
On the heat target:
* The Committee notes that recent progress with the heat target has been strong;
* However there remains a risk the 2020 target for renewable heat may not be met as a result of the on-going delay in the introduction of domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, the controversy surrounding the combustion of biomass, and the hurdles associated with district heating schemes.
Scottish Greens say the results of the inquiry must now prompt action to reduce society's dependence on dwindling fossil fuels.
The Greens say they are seriously concerned that SNP ministers' clean energy ambitions are accompanied by support for continued oil and gas exploration and expansion of aviation.
Lothian MSP Alison Johnstone, committee member and climate change spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: "The government's targets are perfectly achievable. What we need is a serious commitment to wean us off the finite fossil fuels that are causing so much pollution - our reliance on them is simply storing up shocks to the system for future generations.
"Communities should be in the driving seat of the renewables revolution, with support for local and publicly-owned energy companies. Leaving community groups to haggle with big developers for a share of the profits isn't good enough.
"Scotland has a natural advantage and we have a duty to make the most of it. Our contribution to the reduction of global carbon emissions will always be small but by developing alternative technologies we can support a global transition."
Dr Sam Gardner, Senior Policy Officer at WWF Scotland, added: “This report provides a welcome boost to Scotland’s renewable ambitions. It was clear from the beginning that the 100 per cent electricity target is eminently achievable and this inquiry has provided cross party confirmation. We must now move beyond debate and build on the strong progress to date, to overcome the challenges and realise the huge opportunities available. Today there are currently over 11, 000 jobs in the renewables and since 2009 over £3bn of investment.
“If we are to hit our world leading climate targets Scotland must continue to remove fossil fuels from our electricity generation and increase efforts to address emissions from our heat and transport sectors. The Committee is right to be concerned that the proposed UK Energy Bill risks undermining progress on renewables by giving a green light to gas, the Scottish Government must take steps to prevent this happening in here and ensure our energy framework delivers a truly low carbon future.”
The Committee began their inquiry in March to gather evidence on the achievability of the Scottish Government targets of generating 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity by 2020 from renewable sources; and 11 per cent of the demand for heat from renewable sources by 2020.
The Committee heard almost 30 hours of oral evidence from 80 witnesses, and received over 400 written submissions. The Committee consulted businesses and organisations across Scotland during visits to Fife, Caithness, Orkney and Perth.