Thursday, 25 March 2010

Earth Hour 2010 - this Saturday!

Don't forget to take part! WWF's Earth Hour 2010 is set to be bigger than ever, on course for record-breaking support in Scotland as well as globally. 2,000 towns and cities in over 100 countries will be taking part.


A Press Association article recently with my comments.

Mar 20, 2010 2:55:49 PM
By Lucy Collins, Press Association Scotland

The growth of Scotland's potential "green gold rush" is impeded by poor infrastructure which prevents renewable energy from reaching lucrative markets, the SNP spring conference heard today.

Party members lined up to highlight the country's potential to boost its economic fortunes and create jobs by harnessing the power of natural resources.

But they expressed frustration at a system which they say prevents them from meeting economic and climate change targets.

Angus MP Mike Weir said that transmission charges for delivering "green" energy could be up to three times higher in Scotland than in England.

He criticised the National Grid for "failing" to serve Scotland's remote communities where wind and wave power generate electricity.

Mr Weir, SNP industry spokesman at Westminster, said Scotland had the "best climate change legislation in the world".

He said the country has 25% of Europe's tidal resource, 25% of its offshore wind resource and 10% of its wave potential.

Mr Weir said: "All of this renewable potential is essential to drive these targets but we need to get it to market and that is the problem.

"We have in Scotland all this potential but most of it is in areas that are not currently served by a strong grid connection.

"We need to get these grid connections improved but we need to deal with the issue of transmission charges.

"At the moment we have the absolutely ludicrous system where a renewable generator in the north of Scotland will pay something like GBP21 per kilowatt hour to connect into the grid, to get their energy to market, provided they can get a connection at all.

"Whereas if you build generating capacity in the south of England you get a subsidy of GBP6 per kilowatt hour to do that.

"That is a completely ludicrous system and it works against the renewables industry in Scotland."

He complained that he has spent years meeting with Ofgem, the regulator of the gas and electricity market, "banging my head against a brick wall trying to get them to see the injustice of the system".

Highlands and Islands MSP Rob Gibson said that British energy policy was the "biggest stumbling block" for Scotland.

He expressed concerns that a UK-wide focus on the nuclear industry, after the general election, would "extract" workers from the renewables sector.

Mr Gibson said if the SNP controlled the Crown Estate in Scotland, which "rents" space on the seabed to renewables firms, "we would not be bleeding the people who are building the new energy revolution".

He said, to applause: "Taking a grip of the Crown Estate in Scotland ought to be something this party looks very seriously at, especially since more and more countries in Europe give people at a local level the ability to get community benefit from this fantastic new source of endless power."

SNP activist Alex Orr, from Edinburgh, said: "From being a world leader in oil and gas we now have the natural resources and expertise to be the green energy powerhouse of Europe.

"Our nation is indeed a winner in nature's national lottery, putting us at the forefront of the green gold rush."


Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Eco driving produces results

Hosted by the Energy Saving Trust Scotland as part of its Eco-drive campaign, the Eco-driving Experience involved driving 2 circuits of a specially designed course. The first was driven as normal with an expert adviser taking notes. The adviser gave tips for how the drive could be more efficient (such as driving a little slower than your normal speed). The second drive was then done, taking into account the tips given earlier and then the difference in fuel consumption between the two trips was measured.

I was shown smarter driving techniques and fuel saving tips, saving 14% in terms of fuel consumed whilst driving around this specially designed course near to the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh.

The Eco-driving initiative, which I was delighted to support, reminds us all of the importance of taking a small amount of time to save energy in our daily lives, whether it is driving more economically, or walking to the shops instead of driving a short distance. This is not only good for reducing all of our carbon emissions, but good for the pocket too, by saving money at this time of rising prices.

The Energy Saving Trust provides independent, expert advisers to help householders save energy in their homes and cut their fuel bills. I would urge people in the Highlands and Islands to take the time to call their local Energy Saving Trust Advice Centre on 0800 512 012 to find out how they can save energy and money, or visit the website at”

Pictured is: Myself with Ian Murdoch, Manager, Scottish Transport, Energy Saving Trust, at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Energy is coming home

It was announced today that the Edinburgh based developers of the Pelamis wave energy converter has secured a lease agreement for waters off the North Sutherland coast. The lease was announced by the FM this week along with the Crown Estate Commission and will allow the company to develop a wave farm in the waters some kilometres out from Bettyhill, allowing for the production of up to 50MW - enough power for 25,000 homes!

This development has been estimated at being between £150 and £200 million. Pelamis Wave Energy had indicated that they are looking to work closely with key stake holders in the local community to maximise the benefits that a wave farm can bring. This must materialise so that communities will derive real benefits form the energy on their doorsteps much as the Shetlanders did from oil in the 1970s.

It is exciting times for the area and the wider region. This week is a momentous as it signals the start of the transformation of the Far North's economy. There is great potential for jobs and real investment to the area.

There is a pool of engineering talent which exists along the north coast because of the nuclear industry. As these sectors decline then there is a real opportunity that this pool will have the chance to take up new posts in the burgeoning renewables industry which will allow them to practice their expertise close to home. Indeed those oil workers forced to seek employment abroad can now make the year of Scottish Homecoming in 2009 something more permanent.

It is almost as if energy is coming home.

It is imperative therefore that the development of Scrabster harbour is accelerated as it will be the closest port that can service the devices which will lie off Bettyhill. HIE must give the Scrabster its full and urgent backing so that the future potential of the waters off Sutherland and the rest of the North Coast can be realised.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Schools Management debate

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): Liz Smith argued that there is a need for change and that education is currently unacceptable to parents and has to become acceptable. However, I would suggest that the recognition in the SNP amendment that we have good-quality schools now is at the heart of how we assess how we make those schools better. Talking about the need for change sounds more like an argument for ideological change than an argument about the nuts and bolts.

We have heard some interesting arguments and—mainly from the Conservatives—a lot of rhetoric. Bill Aitken laid out a grim litany on Glasgow. I do not recognise in what he said the community that I come from and the one in which I used to teach, in Easter Ross. In those communities, there is a variety of catchment areas containing a variety of schools, some of which are favoured by parents and some of which are not. What I have noticed is that in the schools to which parents aspire, success is less to do with what happens in the school and more to do with the fact that parents can afford to get tutors after school to get their children to a standard that allows certain schools, such as Fortrose academy, to get the records that they do. That is an issue to do with being better off, not the structure and governance of a school.

Elizabeth Smith: I accept the member's point, but is that not critical for allowing all standards to be driven up so that that divide is not as great as it is now?

Rob Gibson: We need to assess where we are in education. We are talking about parents who have grown up in the television age and children who, in the past 10 years, have been growing up in the internet age. Does that affect the way in which they view literacy and numeracy? I do not know whether, educationally, those things have made a big difference, but what I do know is that communities must be given an opportunity to provide the options in education that will meet the real needs of our society.

We live in a society in which many people will not do the most basic jobs, and we rely on immigrants to do such jobs. Perhaps we need to ask parents about their responsibilities: are they moving out of their comfort zone, or is it a case of getting their children to university and into the safe professions? One of the reasons why Ireland has not been as successful a society as it should have been is that the middle classes have aimed for comfort, rather than for the adventure of taking the economy forward. The governance of our schools should expose children to such ideas. It bothers me that when the Conservatives talk about diversity in Scotland, what they are actually talking about is uniformity, and the ideology driven by the Conservatives in London. Derek Brownlee recently gave examples of schools set up under Labour and the Tories, based on ideology. We do not need to talk about setting up schools. Where are we going to put a free school in Easter Ross, among the community schools that are already there? That is a load of piffle. We need schools that meet the needs of each area. Who is going to go to somewhere other than Anderson high school in Shetland? That kind of talk is not related to reality.

Peter Peacock argued that parents do not want to be more involved in the running of schools. In my experience, when people come to communities and join school boards and so on, they bring their experience from England of governors and boards, and an attitude that is completely out of kilter with what we have here. In Scotland, parents and teachers work together. In fact, the reason why Thatcher failed to break Scottish teachers in the 1980s is because the parents were right behind them. In those days, communities stood together and rejected the Tory ideology, and they will reject it today.

Des McNulty: The member should come and join us. He is on the wrong side.

Rob Gibson: Well, Peter Peacock made arguments that Des McNulty should listen to. He was clearly talking about ideology rather than practicalities.

The issue of parental rights and responsibilities is relevant here. I remember when we talked about consortia, and allowing pupils to move around. Nowadays, ideas can move around, and it is possible to educate pupils using technology. For example, Inverness College's higher psychology course is being used by 18 secondary schools in Highland Council. No matter which community someone lives in, they can do higher psychology. Out of 26 secondary schools, that is not bad going.

We are talking about rolling out the curriculum for excellence, which will allow for diversity. However, it must also allow communities of excellence, based on the kinds of economies that underpin the society in which we live, rather than on a single, one-size-fits-all ideology.

What we need is a responsive approach by local authorities that gives local people opportunities to make more decisions. When we think about it, it would be better to have smaller local authorities so that people could be elected at the level of secondary school catchment areas. People could then take a direct democratic interest in the issues. That is why the democratic element in East Lothian Council's proposal is worth considering. It goes in the right direction, although not to the extent that I wish to see. We need governance that helps real communities in real circumstances and not this fake debate in an election campaign about power in London.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Strathclyde Uni Applied Music course - under threat

Who would have believed that within a week of another successful Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow with its cross-cutting progressive music programme that Strathclyde University could plan to lop off a limb of the vibrant Scottish music scene?

At the same time the Scottish Culture Minister's Traditional Arts Working Group reported on the health of the teaching and learning infrastructure in this country which is served so well by the RSAMD and Strathclyde University. Principal, Jim McDonald has rightly gained plaudits for the Energy and Environment Institute which is a champion for Scotland's green energy potential. Does he understand how music in its broadest sense underpins our self-esteem in a nation gaining in confidence?

The Applied Music Course at Strathclyde and its alumni give breath to inventive music which is a key part of Scotland's intangible cultural heritage. This is as much a part of Scotland's sustainability as clean, green energy. The Scottish Government and Parliament voted an increase in Scottish higher education budgets, unlike England's university funding, surely the Principle of Strathclyde Uni can find the cash for music as well as renewable energy development?