Welcome to Friends of the Earth Scotland’s new blog. We’ll be posting news and updates on Scotland’s environmental scene, and our activities at least weekly from now on.

waves To kick things off, I’m responding to the announcement this week of licences for deployment of hundreds of wave and tidal energy devices in the Pentland Firth and around Orkney. The government has issued licences for ten sites, which taken together could be generating up to 1.2 Gigawatts (GW) of power by 2020. That’s roughly the equivalent of the Cockenzie coal-fired power station, and capable of meeting over a tenth of Scotland’s total demand for electricity.

This is massively welcome news, not just for the clean power, but also for the boost to the economy and jobs it could provide, especially in that part of Scotland. Amazingly, just last year, when we commissioned renewable energy experts Garrad Hassan to build some realistic scenarios of the development of Scotland’s renewable electricity capacity, they judged that wave and tidal development would be negligible before 2020, and alongside offshore wind, grow to around 4.1 GW by 2030. Just that much, alongside the delivery of the current pipeline of onshore wind development, would mean Scotland could generate 140% of its electricity demand in 2030 from renewable power – allowing us to retire our fossil fuelled and nuclear power stations.

Clearly, this week’s announcement is a big step towards realising that bright green renewable future. But it’s not the only one Scotland has taken in recent weeks. In January the Crown Estate announced licences for 4.8 GW of capacity of offshore wind in two large sites more than 12 nautical miles off Scotland’s coast. And the Scottish Government expects around 6.4 GW of development within the 12 mile nautical limit. Ofgem and the National Grid have both published scenarios with similar levels of offshore wind generation around Scotland.

Power of scotland reportPower of scotland reportIt’s early days to suggest that these levels of capacity will all be realised by 2020 – indeed I suspect real life constraints on capital, skilled staff, suitable installation vessels, component supply, grid connections and so forth will mean rather less is delivered in practice. But if even a third of this comes to fruition, Scotland will reach the levels of renewable generation capacity foreseen for 2030 in the Power of Scotland Renewed ten years early.

I’m sure some of you will be wondering what the impact of all this development will be on our seas and their wildlife. It’s an important question, and we know rather less about the ecology of our oceans than we do of our land area. Fortunately, what evidence there is about the impacts of offshore renewables suggests that with appropriate controls over the noise generated during construction – which can be dangerous for whales and dolphins – on balance they will be good for wildlife.

fishingThe biggest current impacts on our oceans come from overfishing, and especially from trawling, the oceanic equivalent of clear cutting forests. Simply by restricting fishing around renewable devices, ocean life would get a chance to recover. Evidence from New Zealand suggests that wherever fishing is excluded, fish stocks and other marine life recover dramatically. This is even good for the fishing industry, as the exclusion zones act as fish nurseries improving fishing yields in neighbouring areas.

To manage development of marine renewables the Scottish Government and the renewables industry have agreed a process called ‘deploy and monitor’, which will allow us to learn more about the impact of different marine renewable devices in real life, before expanding deployment, or if necessary taking remedial action. As long as the monitoring is diligent, and remediation delivered where necessary

this is a welcome pragmatic approach to addressing the challenge of rapid climate change, while developing a sound strategic approach to protect marine life.

We’ll be watching with interest as events unfold.