SNP pledges 100% renewables by 2020

The Scottish National Party's main environmental policy for next week’s elections is eye-catching, but hollow. In Wales, Plaid Cymru is pledging planning reforms and finance to promote renewables

Scotland will set a target to get 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2020, if the Scottish National Party (SNP) wins next Thursday’s elections, according to the party's manifesto.

The party will also put in place measures to cause "a major move to district heating" and increase recycling.

The SNP is heading for a win in next Thursday's election, according to the latest opinion polls. These see the SNP winning 60 seats, an increase of 13 from the 2007 election. This is below the 65 needed for a majority, but would allow the party to continue its current minority government.

Environmental issues have not played a big role in the campaign, but on Tuesday 26 April, the SNP issued a document explaining how the 100% renewables target will be met. The Scottish Government only recently set an 80% target (ENDS Report, October 2010).

Renewable electricity projects in development are expected to generate over 51,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity per year in 2020, the SNP says. This is far above anticipated electricity needs of 44,000GWh.

However, the SNP still expects fossil fuel power stations to generate 36,000GWh, which is similar to their current level. The assumption is that Scotland will pretend it is exporting all this 'brown' electricity to England.

The SNP says its renewable ambitions will lead to 60,000 new jobs by 2020. It expects 7 gigawatts of onshore wind to be operational in 2020, the document adds. This is a vast increase on the 2.3GW currently operational in Scotland, but there is already 3.2GW of projects under construction or with consent.

The SNP's other environmental policies include:

• District heating: It will establish an "expert commission... to advise on the steps we need to take to ensure a major move to district heating in Scotland".

It will also ask the Scottish Futures Trust, an independent company that helps develop major infrastructure projects, to provide advice on the "most appropriate financial mechanisms to support the [high] upfront cost" of schemes.

Until such a mechanism is developed, it will take forward a £2.5m loan fund for district heating schemes announced in March. This is being run by the Energy Saving Trust and is due to open for applications in May.
The UK government has excluded district heating from the forthcoming renewable heat incentive (ENDS Report, March 2011).

• Waste: The SNP would continue pushing its zero-waste agenda (ENDS Report, December 2010), and intends to trial a deposit and return scheme with supermarkets for single-use plastic, glass and aluminium containers.

This could take the form of reverse vending machines, which give customers vouchers in return for recyclable waste.

The SNP will also "seek to phase out free plastic bags in supermarkets and, if needs be, will consider legislation".

The Scottish Parliament dropped plans for a plastic bag tax in 2006 because it could not guarantee it would have any environmental benefit (ENDS Report, November 2006).  The Environment Agency recently reached the same conclusion (ENDS Report, March 2011).

But the SNP feels the issue is worth going back to due to the positive public response to Wales' and Northern Ireland's planned bag taxes (ENDS Report, March 2011).

The Scottish Labour Party's manifesto suggests it would have a mixed environmental impact if it got to power.

It will continue the current government's waste and water policies, but would try to increase the roll-out of microrenewables and energy efficiency equipment by setting up a 'Green New Deal for Scotland'. This would fit at least 10,000 homes with solar panels and community heat and power schemes, although the manifesto does not explain how this would differ from the UK government's planned Green Deal (ENDS Report, December 2010).

The party would also "refresh" Scotland's existing sustainable development strategy and "develop a pilot measure of sustainable development, complimentary to GDP".

However, the party's transport ambitions are less laudable. It calls for the UK government to reduce VAT on petrol, and says it would set up "an 'air route marketing fund' to support, new direct air routes to Scotland."

  • There are few headline grabbing environmental measures in the main Welsh party election manifestos, with sections on the environment buried at the end of both the Welsh Labour Partyand Plaid Cymru’s documents.

    Labour's mainly refers to existing Welsh Assembly Government policies such as plans to set up a sustainable development commission for Wales (ENDS Report, March 2011) and to merge the Environment Agency, Countryside Council for Wales and Forestry Commission Wales (ENDS Report, March 2011).

    Plaid Cymru's manifesto says it would introduce carbon budgeting for the government "and... encourage its introduction across the public sector" if it wins the election. It does not say whether it will continue the government’s complicated ecological footprinting indicators (ENDS Report, September 2007).

    It would also publish proposals for planning reform to make it easier for renewables, and other, projects to achieve planning permission. This would include establishing a Planning Inspectorate for Wales answerable to parliament.

    Perhaps most interestingly, the party would also establish a company called Green Wales tasked with developing renewable projects "with profits ploughed back into investment and cutting the costs of electricity bills for consumers".