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View from the Street: Energy leaders see power in a simplified Scotland

Tom Gillingham

Partner

This week I led a roundtable discussion at the Charlotte Street Partners offices, attended by energy and renewables sector leaders and a senior Scottish Government official.  

Almost every element of Scotland’s energy landscape was represented, and the desire for an open and frank discussion was clear. In rooms like that, it is very apparent that Scotland should have an inherent advantage in the global race to green.  

Unusually for our nation, which can be characterised as slightly dour, there was a real sense of possibility and the power of collaboration. It wasn’t all unbridled optimism, but one message that rang out was the willingness of the renewables and energy sectors to take on some of the challenges around skills, technological barriers and infrastructure development themselves.  

Those in the room were quick to articulate that they felt a reasonable burden of responsibility for this delivery, and acknowledged government could not be expected to solve every problem.  

There was talk of the power simplification, however. That consenting (namely the speed and a desire for a presumption in favour of significant infrastructure projects) and grid connections were top of the pain-point list will surprise no-one.  

But on these two points, there is expectation that the Scottish Government’s energy strategy – due this summer – will offer a clearer way forward, on the former point at least. Increased resource for government planning teams and at statutory consultees was one ask that resonated around the room, as did the desire for closer alignment between consent granting and contracts for difference (CfD) deadlines.  

Another point on simplification that stood out was around the recruitment of apprentices across different elements of the energy sector and supply chain. It was highlighted that the application process can often be confusing, and that talent may be put off by the fragmented experience. This is not a short-term fix either, some of the projects currently slated for development in Scotland will be built and maintained by those currently in nursery or primary school.  

The way we talk about our legacy industries was also raised, with a suggestion that oil and gas workers in particular feel excluded by the language used around the energy transition.  

Language is important, and when considered against people’s ability to relocate, more must be done by all parties to ensure these individuals, and the vital skills they have, feel able to be a part of Scotland’s future. This feels like an open goal for both industry and governments while key skills shortages are a flashing red light on the country’s risk dashboard.  

The conversation reflected the fact that energy occupies a strange place in the devolution settlement. Consenting sits with the Scottish Government, but almost everything else is reserved to Westminster. Given this power imbalance in favour of London, a reasonable question raised was around why the Scottish Government even needs an energy strategy. The case was made that it can be used as an effective ‘front of house’ display to advertise Scotland’s position on renewables and the energy transition to outside parties, and also an important negotiating position for Scottish officials and their counterparts down south.  

It was interesting too, to note that it was the view of several people in the room that international investors take note of the Scottish Government’s position in this regard. After all, an indication of a settled position on projects that will take years, and in some cases, decades to deliver can only be a good thing. The differential position between Holyrood and Westminster on onshore wind, for example, perhaps adds a degree of credibility.  

Overall, the discussion underlined the fact that deeper collaboration between the various parts of Scotland’s industry, representative bodies and government could give a vital edge in realising the vast renewables opportunity within Scotland’s grasp. Early evidence of how this collaborative approach can unlock further benefits can be seen in Wednesday’s announcement of the Scottish Offshore Wind Ports Alliance.   

No-one around the table was underestimating the challenge ahead. However, in this small nation, there is an urgent need to eschew unnecessary complexity and bring out the inherent strengths of a tighter network.  

We pride ourselves in bringing together senior leaders for meaningful discussions about the issues that matter most. If you are interested in attending future Charlotte Street Partners events, please email events@charlottestreetpartners.com