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November 18th – November 24th, 2023

18/11/23 – 24/11/23

Boiler plans delayed, forestry ownership more concentrated, but first….

Grangemouth Sacrificed

It has been announced that Scotland’s only oil refinery at Grangemouth, owned by Ineos and PetroChina, will close as a refinery in 2025, with the loss of hundreds of jobs, a devastating blow to the local economy.  Five hundred refinery jobs may be replaced by as few as 100.  Ineos is controlled by billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe. 

The plan is to repurpose it as an imported fuels depot, supposedly ‘safeguard[ing] the site as a national fuel hub for decades’.  Petrol, diesel, aviation fuel and kerosene will be imported from vessels arriving in the Firth of Forth, site of one of Scotland’s new ‘green’ freeports.  The public/private Forth Freeport includes Forth Ports, Babcock, INEOS, Edinburgh Airport, Scarborough Muir Group; and Falkirk, Fife and Edinburgh Councils.

This is no insignificant loss.  The refinery supplies 80% of Scotland’s fuels and one sixth of the UK’s, accounts for 4% of Scotland’s GDP and 8% of its manufacturing base.

Losses of £360 million over the last two years meant that the Scottish government would not apparently have the funds to intervene, although ironically ScotGov have already spent that amount on two ferries yet to appear.  Given their opposition to oil and gas, the government has said they will work towards a ‘sustainable future for the plant’.

Neil Gray, Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy, insisted we ‘should not be too alarmist’, but Scotland’s Just Transition Commission said the decision runs “directly counter to a just transition to a low carbon economy”.

Scotland Sold Out (1) Hydrogen Deal

According to CommonWeal, the Scottish government has gained nothing for Scotland from a new deal struck with state-owned Norwegian firm Equinor to pipe hydrogen to Germany.  They did not make it a joint enterprise, attached no conditionality to the deal and demanded no share of the profits.  So who benefits?  Equinor, the Norwegian state, its wealth fund; and the UK state through corporation tax on Equinor’s profits.  It is not clear there will be any supply chain benefits.

Scotland Sold Out (2)  ScotGov loses out on £60 bn ScotWind bonanza

            After selling off seabed leases for the creation of offshore windfarms for a song last year (a £700 million one-off payment for sales covering 2,700 square miles of seabed) Scotland will also miss out on two-thirds of the potential supply chain benefits because these are going elsewhere (£47bn of the first six years’ supply chain commitments of £76.5bn, or almost two-thirds).

England raised £880m with recurring royalties from fees for 8GW of offshore wind farms, and the New York Bight lease secured payments of £3.56bn, nearly 19 times more per megawatt generated than Scotland got.  If it had matched the American tariff it would have raised £14bn+, but the maximum price ceiling was unbelievably capped at £100,000.

Disabled Children Transition Bill

Shame on the Scottish government for yesterday voting down a bill aimed at improving the transition of disabled children into adulthood, which was seeking to make councils put plans in place for every disabled young person when they became adult, but was voted down by 90 votes to 19 apparently on the grounds that the bill would possibly not deliver on its aims as well as the SNP’s current ‘focus’ and ‘priority’ going forward will deliver.

Harvie’s gas boiler plan ‘delayed’

The Scottish government is set to delay its draconian target for replacing gas boilers with heat pumps, bowing to public opinion that it was totally unworkable and unaffordable.  Fossil fuel gas boilers will no longer be banned from 2025 for off-grid properties and from other properties from 2030.  The phase-out is planned to start for everyone from a common date, although it is unclear when.

The government wants all homes to reach a ‘good level of energy efficiency by 2033 where feasible and cost-effective’, with ‘almost all homes’ heated by climate-friendly systems by 2045.

But the ban on gas boilers in newbuilds will still apply from spring 2024.  Air source heat pumps cost at least £8000, with about £12,000 installation costs for newbuilds, and potentially more expensive to instal on existing properties.  The Home Energy Scotland Grant and Loan Scheme helps with costs up to £15,000, but half of that is an interest free government loan, leaving homeowners to find many thousands of pounds.

Scotland’s Gold Mine

            at Cononish near Tyndrum is on the brink of closure if Australia-based owners Scotgold Resources cannot rapidly secure more funding.  Gold exploration has been ongoing off and on for 40 years, with the latest firm trying since 2016. 

SGZ paid Crown Estates (which controls all of Scotland’s mineral rights) for the rights to explore nearly 1120 square miles of the central Highlands for gold and silver, and it was hoped that Cononish and other mines might yield £200 million worth each.  The BBC even filmed the venture for Gold Town.

Other Scottish locations yielded alluvial gold (washed down from the hills into rivers, rather than mined), such as Durness, Caithness, in 1245, Fife in 1852 and Kildonan, Sutherland in 1869, although the Sutherland gold rush ended abruptly when the Duke of Sutherland banned gold mining despite (or perhaps just after) having sold prospectors licences.

Tyndrum mining from the 15th century yielded silver, lead and zinc, but gold mining has proved problematic with the microscopic gold particles embedded in Dalradian rock, making it hard and uneconomical to mine.  But more problematic was that boundary changes meant the mine fell within the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park after it was bought in 2007, and after a £500,000 bond had been lodged to restore land adversely affected by mining.

Does the A83 Need Biological Engineers?

ScotGov met with ecologists Derek Pretswell and Ron Greer in 2014 to examine possible solutions to the A83 landslip problem. They suggested tree planting on the slopes to prevent erosion and landslips, suggesting first willow and later Sitka alder. But tree planting only started last year, with FLS saying they could not force the landowner to act and had to wait until they could buy the land. Other plants such as juniper and holly can also slow the passage of water.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) have since scattered 20 million birch seeds on the hillside by drone, a mix of native woodland species including ‘downy birch, aspen, oak, blackthorn, hawthorn, hazel, juniper and Scots pine’. A previous project at Loch Garry first enriched the soil with broom and lupins, then later planted trees through it and fenced off areas for sheep and deer.  

Women with learning disabilities

            are up to 12 times more likely to be routinely subject to sexual abuse than non-disabled women and up to 90% will experience it in their lifetime.  The Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities has called for urgent action.  Some report online grooming and police are often reluctant to get involved.

It is hoped the forthcoming Learning Disability, Autism and Neurodiversity Bill will bring improvements, and the Scottish Human Rights Bill wants to incorporate UN conventions including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Non-Binary Action Plan

You thought it was over, didn’t you?  Not content with challenging the UK over their gender plans, the Scottish government now has a 5-year plan to improve the lives on non-binary people, meaning people ‘having a gender in between or beyond ‘man’ and ‘woman’, fluctuating between man and woman or having no gender either permanently or some of the time’.

So that’s cleared that up.  It is about as clear as what problems they currently face or why it will take 5 years to solve them.

Energy: Standing Charges

Ofgem are considering changing the system of standing energy charges, particularly for those who use little or no energy.  The charge is to cover the supplier’s charges for running the system and equipment, but energy companies are not obliged to charge it. Those on prepayment meters have higher standing charges than those on direct debit.

Ofgem data suggests that standing charges are much higher in Scotland at average £238.64 against an average £156.26 in London, with the average across England £186.84.  Standing charges include the costs of suppliers taking on the customers of failed suppliers.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition and others are calling for a Social Tariff for vulnerable/poor customers, although Ofgem say standing charges must be retained or unit costs will have to rise.

Levelling Up

In popular consciousness, this funding seems to benefit most those areas sympathetic to the Conservatives.  In the latest Scottish round there is funding for Moray (Elgin regeneration over £18m), Dumfries and Galloway (nearly £14m for transport) and the Borders (nearly £23m for active tourism), all with Conservative MPs – Douglas Ross for Moray; Alister Jack for Dumfries and Galloway; and John Lamont for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk. Only 3 areas without Tory MPs got funding – Drumchapel, Glasgow (£15m), South Lanarkshire (£14.6m for business development) and North/South Ayrshire (£37.5m for low carbon initiatives).  Highlands and Islands got nothing, as did Northern Ireland.

Rural:

Forestry Ownership

            has become more concentrated over the last decade according to the Forest Ownership in Scotland Report 2022 by Andy Wightman and Jon Hollingdale.  Since 2012 private forest ownership is up by 11.6% with public ownership down by 2.2%.  Predominant are ‘absentee owners, with a significant increase in absentee owners domiciled in the rest of the UK’.  Forestry ownership is driven primarily by financial investments in carbon capture.  At the same time funding for community buyouts is proportionately shrinking due to rocketing land prices.

The report says the Scottish government is forcing up land values by directly funding Forestry and Land Scotland’s land acquisition (with no obligation to divest itself of land) and by the Scottish National Investment Bank investing £50m in 2021 in Gresham House Forest Growth and Sustainability Fund, with Gresham House now one of the top landowners.

Wightman and Hollingdale want to remove these rewards for past carbon bad practice, introduce third party accreditation of carbon capture and offset only unavoidable carbon emissions, or go even further and ban all such transactions, treating atmospheric carbon as a common good. The ecosystem market is an out-of-control juggernaut which the Scottish government could stop by refusing to fund big companies offsetting their pollution rather than reducing it.

Finally,

Christmas Tree Cockup

A surprise awaited local Border councils when taking delivery of their Christmas trees this year.  Instead of towering 20ft specimens, the trees were barely 10-12 ft tall.  After numerous complaints the trees were hastily replaced in Kelso, Melrose and Hawick, but unlucky Galashiels missed out as their tree ‘was already decorated’.  Selkirk and others seem to have missed out as well.  Borders Council blamed the problem on its suppliers but some residents feel that those shouting the loudest have got their trees replaced.

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