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Green News 14th June 2022

Green News                   14/06/22

Land Reform

            Soaring land prices are now blocking out the Scottish Land Fund from providing anything like the funds now needed by community buyouts. The maximum SLF payout of £1 million will not go near the asking price of land which is currently the subject of land grabs by speculators keen on land-hoarding for carbon-offsetting.  

           But it did recently give the Langholm Initiative £1 million towards its attempts to buy another 5,300 acres of Langholm Moor from one of the UK’s richest  landowners, the Duke of Buccleuch, leaving it £450,000 short of its target to expand the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve to 10,500 acres.

Drought Warning

            Emergency measures are being trialled by Scottish Water and Consumer Scotland in collaboration with Aberdeenshire Council in an attempt to extend emergency cover to households which have private water supplies.  The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has identified priority water problem areas in the south and east of Scotland, and drought conditions may become more frequent.  Those with private supplies who experience water shortages should contact their local authority for help.

            22,000 private water supplies meet the needs of 50,000 properties, with the north-east viewed as being particularly at risk.  Scotland has experienced water scarcity in three of the last four years, in 2018, 2020 and 2021, and this is predicted to continue.

A Windfall Energy Tax

            is finally being charged to North Sea oil and gas companies, by means of an Energy Profit Levy of 25% in addition to the 40% tax rate.  It will raise over £5 bn in a year.  The tax expires in December 2025.

            But the government is also giving new investment incentives to the same companies, which may amount to an overall tax saving of over 90% for every £1 invested in untapped projects.  No new investment before the end of 2025, no rebate on the energy profit levy.

Scottish Greenports

            Two new greenports will soon be selected for Scotland.  Three bids are currently in the running, plus a fourth bid expected.  The Cromarty Firth is touting for a Super Wind Hub to try and compete with hubs in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands which have a 10-year head start on it.  Port facilities at Invergordon and Nigg are in place. But the Cromarty Greenport plan is not backed by the Scottish Greens, who state the whole concept is a way of handing tax breaks and public money to rich companies with little long term growth for the area.

            Clyde’s Green Freeport centres round Glasgow Airport, Peel Ports’ Clydeport, Mossend Freightpark, and the Aberdeen bid, includes Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils, Aberdeen Airport, the Port of Aberdeen, Peterhead Port Authority.  The north-east bid claims greenport status could bring as many as 30,000 jobs and £7.5 billion gross value added to the economy, including possible acceleration of development of a carbon capture facility at St Fergus near Peterhead.  It is seen as crucial for a Just Transition for the north-east from oil and gas.  A Firth of Forth bid is also due to be submitted.

            Greenports give special tax incentives to the successful bidding areas, but critics argue they just suck in workers from areas which are more deprived yet lose out on investment.  Light touch regulation can even encourage organised crime and counterfeiting.  The main beneficiaries may be  multinationals.  Certainly the fact that there must already has to be a hub around which to develop a greenport suggests the investment may not be so urgently needed.

Private Eco-Financing

            The recent spending review clarified that Scotland will be looking more to the private sector for financing to try and meet their own net zero targets, while at the same time committing almost £2.1 billion of government money by the end of the parliamentary term. 

Hydrogen and Solar power

            may be the answer to our future energy needs, according to the UK government, who claim that 9000 UK jobs and £4 billion of investment could result from hydrogen power by 2030.  And Solar Energy Scotland says as many as 8500 new jobs could be created in Scotland via solar power by 2030.

            The first Scottish plastic to hydrogen plant has now been approved by West Dunbartonshire Council.  The £20 million facility at the Rothesay Dock site on the north bank of the River Clyde will use non-recyclable plastics which would otherwise go to landfill.  The resulting hydrogen will power HGVs, buses and cars.  Work starts later this year on the first UK site in Cheshire, with an eventual total of 70 UK plants.

Renewables Pricing

            Rebecca McQuillan asks a very pertinent question in the Herald (June 3, 2022, ‘Renewable power costs pennies.  Why are we being ripped off?’) 

           Only 52% of Scotland’s energy comes from renewables, with 33% from nuclear power, and 14% from fossil fuels.  Much of our renewable energy is exported. 

            The price consumers pay is dictated by an energy market which pegs household electricity tariffs to the wholesale price of gas, that is, at the price of the most expensive type, gas-generated power.  Electricity is charged at gas prices.

            One suggestion is to create ‘Green Power Pools’ of energy selling direct to groups of customers at lower rates which reflect the cost of renewables.  If on some days renewables were not generating enough, they could buy in electricity from the wholesale market, but only for short periods, and not tying themselves into long term high pricing. 

            Currently, environmental and social obligation costs comprise 8% of household energy bills. Some of this is subsidising the development of renewables, some goes to rebates for lower-income users through the Warm Home Discount and to roll out energy efficiency measures.

Lithium and Cobalt

            Lithium now costs six times as much as in 2017 at $78,000 per tonne (‘Lithium shortage slams brakes on electric car revolution’, James Salmon, Daily Mail, 4/5/2022).  The reason is its use in electric cars. Lithium is needed for wind turbines and electric cars.  China controls over 80% of battery cell production, and is a leading lithium refiner and component producer, and the USA has ramped up production of lithium, nickel and cobalt.

            But the main sources are Chile and Australia, with possibly the world’s largest source in an estimated $1 trillion-worth of mineral  deposits in Afghanistan.  Two UK lithium mines are currently being developed in Cornwall by British Lithium and Cornish Lithium.

            Batteries currently also need cobalt, with the largest deposits in the Democratic Republic of Congo, controlled by large companies, but with a quarter of world supply from ‘informal means’, local people scrabbling for it with bare hands, this poses ethical questions in our push for all-electric vehicles.  Newer generations of battery are phasing out the use of cobalt, but still need large quantities of lithium.

Wild Salmon and Trout

            numbers have dramatically fallen in Scotland.  The Missing Salmon Alliance is working to conserve stocks.  Fisheries Management Scotland says the shortage has cost rural jobs already, and Atlantic salmon numbers are at crisis point.  Fisheries boards have committed to planting millions of trees along riverbanks to shade the water and keep it cool enough for spawning salmon.

Avian Flu

            appears to have hit the world’s largest colony of northern gannets at Bass Rock as part of a Scotland-wide outbreak of avian flu, writes Ema Sabljak in the Herald (‘Call for ‘co-ordinated response’ as avian flu hits Scottish seabirds’, 8/6/22).

            Dead gannets are being found daily on the East Lothian coast this month, significantly more than usual.  One thousand gannets and hundreds of great skuas have been found dead or dying in Shetland.

            People who find dead birds should not touch them, but instead report it to DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) on 03459 335577.

Barra Hedgehog and other pests

            There has been consternation on Barra over the discovery of a dead hedgehog on a roadside, writes Mike Merritt (‘Island alert after first hedgehog found on Barra prompts fears for wildlife and birds’, Sunday Post, 12/6/22).  They are not native to Barra and could cause great harm to lapwing, snipe and redshank populations, amongst others.  An investigation is underway.

            It is not clear how it got on Barra, but may even have hopped on the ferry.  The cost of removing hedgehogs introduced into South Uist in 1974 to control slugs and snails will run into millions of pounds for North and South Uist.  Over £16 million has been spent in 20 years to eradicate species which have been found in various islands, including £6 million currently being spent to rid Orkney of stoats.  Over 40,000 grey squirrels, American mink and black rats have also had to go.  Canna needed brown rats eradicated, and Lewis and Harris were overrun with mink.  Brown rats need eradicating from Rum and the Shiant Isles in the Minch had 3,600 black rats before an intensive campaign to eradicate them in 2018.

Dead Whales

            Amid a rising number of mass strandings of whales, one hundred and twenty of them washed up in August 2018 across the Hebrides, Ireland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands (‘Depth of tragedy’, Sandra Dick, Herald 5/6/22).  None of them showed signs of illness or injury, and it was suspected that the NATO Joint Warrior military exercise currently being run was the cause, through the animals’ disorientation and distress caused by the high-powered sonar on the military exercise.

            The whales may then have surfaced too quickly and suffered decompression sickness.  Artist Mhairi Killin spent 11 days at sea on the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust research boat Silurian to try and discover why it happened.

            Her new exhibition On Sonorous Seas uses video, music and poetry to convey the whales’ reliance on sound for survival and the impact of military activities on their perception of sound, disorientation and distress.  She also takes part in a podcast series involving scientists from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme, plus local islanders.

            The exhibition runs from July 8th to August 27th at An Tobar on Mull.

Julia Pannell                      14/06/22       

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