Scottish independence: Energy market claims analysed

lightbulb The future of the energy market has become a key debate in the referendum campaign

The question of whether energy bills would rise in the event of Scottish independence has come into sharp focus.

Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint has insisted householders would pay more post-yes, but the Scottish government's Energy Minister Fergus Ewing hit back saying her claim was about "making political threats".

Both politicians spoke to BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme.

Here, Euan Phimister, professor of economics at Aberdeen University with expertise in energy markets, looks at their claims and counter claims.

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Gas ring

Caroline Flint (pro-Union): Energy bills would go up in an independent Scotland because bill payers in the rest of the UK (rUK) would not want to continue subsidising the Scottish renewable sector. A third of the UK's renewable subsidy currently goes to Scotland, while Scots pay only one tenth of the cost.

Fergus Ewing: "It is a shame that Caroline Flint is more concerned about making political threats than addressing the reality of the electricity market in the UK."

Fergus Ewing (pro-independence): This is not the full picture. Even bigger subsidies go to nuclear power in England, which Scottish bill payers are contributing to.

Euan Phimister (expert): "Bills are going to rise in all cases due to increased subsidy to renewables and nuclear (in the UK case), replacement of infrastructure and of power plants which are coming offline due to environmental regulations.

"How much they will rise is ultimately uncertain. It is true that if an independent Scotland chose to support renewables at the current level and no subsidy was coming from the rUK, this would represent a burden either for Scottish bill payers or for Scottish taxpayers. However, an independent Scotland would have choices, for example cutting some subsidies which could alleviate this."

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Energy bill

Fergus Ewing (pro-independence): A UK-wide energy market would serve an independent Scotland and the rUK best. Scotland and the rUK would continue to work together in the best interests of all.

Caroline Flint: "Because of our [UK] partnership there is a sharing of both the risks and the rewards when it comes to energy."

Caroline Flint (pro-Union): The market would be hugely changed by independence and would move to a purely commercial relationship, leading to energy bills going up in Scotland.

Euan Phimister (expert): "Independence would clearly change the relationship and there could be no guarantee that electricity produced in Scotland would definitely be bought by consumers in rUK. However, Fergus Ewing's point about OFGEM predictions about the low margins of capacity over demand over the next few years are correct and it likely that rUK electricity demand for Scottish electricity overall would remain significant.

"This is also where it is I think important to distinguish between existing capacity and new capacity. Existing capacity across the UK already supplies the electricity market on a 'commercial basis 'and that would remain the case, even if the subsidy was cut because all the capital costs have already been made. However, for investment to be made in new renewable capacity (or nuclear) by commercial companies, then they do still need the promise of subsidy. So the threat after independence is possibly more to the future development of renewables rather than paying for existing installed capacity."

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Coloured bulbs in a row

Caroline Flint (pro-Union): England helps keep the lights on in Scotland by providing energy from nuclear power when the wind isn't blowing in Scotland. Scotland would continue to need this capacity in the future.

Fergus Ewing (pro-independence): Scotland is keeping the lights on for the rUK at the moment. The rUK's capacity over its demand is very precarious, more so than in Scotland. Scotland currently exports 26% of its energy to England and Wales - an increase of 45% since 2010. - the rest of the UK needs Scotland's surplus energy now, and would continue to need it if Scotland became independent.

Bullet points on the referendum

Euan Phimister (expert): "Both are right but also somewhat miss the point about markets. The whole point of a market for energy is that it is balanced across the system at any point in time, so there will always be parts of the system which are in deficit or surplus. Markets work better when they are integrated, which explains why at European level (EU plus Norway) they are attempting to construct a market to allow a wider system to balance.

"Patterns of trade can change over time and it is quite possible in the longer term that in a pan-European market, Scotland's production of electricity would be less important for the rUK, but the argument also holds the other way too, i.e. the rUK market would be less important for Scotland's exports."

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Wind farm

Caroline Flint (pro-Union): The rest of the UK could meet its renewables targets without Scotland's help.

Fergus Ewing (pro-independence): Scotland is key to helping the rest of the UK meets its renewables targets, and would be just as important after independence.

Euan Phimister (expert): "The latest figures from DECC show the UK produced 4.1% of all UK energy consumption against the 2020 target of 15%. This is slightly above the predicted level for this stage but attaining the 2020 target is still very challenging.

"Renewable electricity production is a key part of attaining this target, so while it may be possible for the rUK, without the output from Scotland it would be much more difficult to achieve. Also, implementation of the current Electricity Market Reforms (EMR) plus the proposed cap on wholesale market prices if Labour wins the next election, have increased uncertainty and arguably negatively affected the investment plans of the energy firms. If so, this will have made the targets even more difficult to meet."

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Electricity pylon

Caroline Flint (pro-Union): The rest of the UK doesn't need energy from Scotland all the time. Post-independence it could choose to import from the likes of France, the Netherlands and Norway.

Fergus Ewing (pro-independence): Import capacity from mainland Europe is limited, so the UK government can't assume the capacity would be there. The EU market couldn't deliver same day energy to the UK.

Euan Phimister (expert): "The rUK doesn't decide who it imports from, the consumers do and they would want to have electricity at the lowest price. So supply would sometimes be from France, the Netherlands, Norway or Scotland, depending on relative prices across the various markets.

"Fergus Ewing's answers assume that nothing changes i.e. no investments occur to alleviate capacity constraints. In fact, although National Grid is investing in new capacity, there are current constraints across the Scottish-rUK border which limit Scottish exports.

"The wider is point is that the attempt to construct a European-wide market (including Norway) is to make it easier to balance the system at any point in time. This will increasingly be a problem - and already is in Germany - when there is significant amounts of electricity coming from wind and solar power. This is also why a capacity market is being introduced within the UK system. This is where new generating plants, which can react quickly when demand is very high, will be paid for simply by being available, i.e. when they are not producing."

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    08:57: Scene in Dumfries BBC Reporter Bruce MacKenzie

    There is actually a lot of widespread disruption now. A lot of untreated back roads in the west of the region that are hazardous this morning.

    A lot of people telling me that they are getting to where they need to go, it's just taking them a lot longer.

    That seems to be the overall picture at the moment.

    We have had quite a bit more snow since just after 06:00 this morning - probably here in Dumfries another inch or so of snow.

    Quite a lot of snow lying on power lines. No reports of any power problems in the region at the moment, but that one that we will be definitely keeping an eye on.

     
  77.  
    08:55: Scene in Inverness BBC Reporter Kevin MacKenzie

    A little more snow has fallen since 06:00 this morning but police in Inverness are describing the roads across the north as generally "passable with care" - they have been no incidents reported so far.

    There's certainly quite a bit of snow on the route but roads all look pretty clear.

    While some schools are being closed across the Highland area, some of the bigger schools such as Charleston Academy in Inverness and Nairn Academy will open a little later due to weather affecting school transport.

    In Moray there seems to be no snow problems.

     
  78.  
    @trafficscotland Traffic Scotland

    #A75 btwn Annan and Carrutherstown - @ScotTranserv has treated E/B and now working on the W/B. HGV's still stuck in the area. #BeAware

     
  79.  
    08:49: Your pictures - snow in Scotland via Facebook

    Yolanda Preston posts: Believe it or not there's my car under there!

    Picture from facebook

    That's a lot of snow! Be careful in kilsyth as roads really slippy and not cleared and M80 moving slow! There's nothing in Stirling compared to Glasgow! Took me an hour to get to work this morning! ‪#‎traumatic‬

     
  80.  
    @nlcpeople North Lanarkshire

    Transport: no buses to Calderhead HS, McGregors bus to Glencryan School cancelled.

     
  81.  
    @argyllandbute Argyll and Bute

    Thursday schools update: Skipness primary school is closed today

     
  82.  
    08:42: 180 gritters deployed

    Speaking on Good Morning Scotland Transport Minister Derek McKay said: "There've been a few incidents overnight but they've been cleared and the traffic systems have still been working well.

    "Even at the moment, during typical peak hour traffic the road network is still flowing fairly well.

    "There is one issue at the M8 plantation eastbound but its still passable with care, and I think we've prepared very well for the weather and the snow.

    "With 180+ gritters out, we've worked very hard to prepare the roads for these conditions."

     
  83.  
    08:39: Ten mile tailback BBC Scotland Travel Latest

    Earlier accident #GW #M8 eastbound at plantation causing a ten mile tailback to erskine bridge.

     
  84.  
    08:36: Highland Council Steven McKenzie BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter

    29 schools and nurseries shut in the Highlands. The closures involve 4,795 pupils.

     
  85.  
    08:34: Today's papers

    The decision by the Scottish government to announce a moratorium on fracking dominates front pages in The Scotsman and The National.

    Scotland's newspapers frontpages

    Elsewhere, the Scottish Daily Mail leads with the story of councils using anti-terror laws "to spy on dog walkers, tanning salons and shops selling fireworks".

    An axe killer walking the streets four years after being detained without limit of time is the lead story in the Daily Record. The Herald claims fee-paying students at the University of the West of Scotland are to be offered their money back if they fail to graduate.

    Read the full paper review here.

     
  86.  
    Call 0500 92 95 00 or text 80295 08:28: Morning Call BBC Radio Scotland

    After an advertising expert criticised over-reliance on traditional Scottish imagery such as kilts and bagpipes to encourage tourism, we ask:

    Are bagpipes and Nessie the best way to promote Scotland?

    And following a collapse in sales of Scottish potatoes last year, the Press and Journal are urging shoppers to buy as much Scottish and British produce as possible.

    Would you change your shopping habits to help Scottish farmers?

     
  87.  
    @nlcpeople North Lanarkshire

    B-Line buses to following schools cancelled: Braidhurst, Our Lady & St Francis, St Serf's PS, Keir Hardie PS

     
  88.  
    @ScotRail ScotRail

    NEW: We've got a broken down train between #Drumgelloch & Airdrie. Services through these stations may be delayed. More info soon.

     
  89.  
    @SouthLanCouncil South Lanarkshire

    Closure update (8.10am) - Coulter Primary School and Walston Primary School (no water in the area)

     
  90.  
    08:13: Public 'back police guns policy'

    Just over half of respondents have backed the routine arming of firearms officers in a study commissioned by a police body.

    Armed police

    The survey of 1,000 people by the Scottish Police Authority suggested 53% were supportive of the policy.

    Almost one in three said it increased their confidence in the police.

    In October last year, following growing criticism from politicians and civic society, Police Scotland decided to back down on the controversial policy

     
  91.  
    @scotborders Scottish Borders Council

    School buses run by Telfords in Hawick area cancelled - H05, H08, H10, H13, H19 #sbctravel

     
  92.  
    @AnasSarwar 08:10: Anas Sarwar

    I can confirm that Sarwar snr. has resigned as Governor of Punjab. An honest man, doing the honest thing. More details soon...

     
  93.  
    @trafficscotland Traffic Scotland

    #A90 E/B at Walnut Grove (near Friarton Bridge) - RTC blocking lane 1 & 2, traffic not moving and police are en-route #BeAware

     
  94.  
    #ScotlandLive 08:05: Snowy snaps on twitter

    Who has today's best snow pictures?

    The BBC's Laura Bicker(@BBCLBicker) was hard at work creating a snow angel late last night.

    Laura Bicker making a snow angel

    While BBC reader Mr D. Lamont(Demo_D3005) has also been making the most of the snowy weather, saying "Perfect #snow in #Kinross for #SnowCars".

    Snowy car on twitter

    Tweet us your pictures to @BBCScotlandNews.

     
  95.  
    @trafficscotland Traffic Scotland

    A90 M90 J11 Barnhill - St Madoes - Accident, 2 lanes closed Northbound for up to 45 minutes

     
  96.  
    @SPEnergyNetwork SP Energy Networks

    We are aware of a #POWERCUT in #KA26 #Girvan. Our engineers are working to restore supplies. Sorry for the inconvenience.

     
  97.  
    @SouthLanCouncil South Lanarkshire

    Braehead and Carmichael primary schools have just announced they are closed today

     
  98.  
    07:57: Dumfries and Galloway

    Council says 22 schools now closed in Dumfries and Galloway.

    Details on the council website.

     
  99.  
    @scotborders Scottish Borders Council

    School closures so far: Yarrow, Kirkhope and Broughton primary schools. A number of bus services also not running.

     
  100.  
    07:47: On the roads... BBC Scotland Travel Latest
    • A71 Newhouse to Livingstone: very heavy traffic.
    • A73 through Airdrie: Quite a bit of overnight snow. Hearing A73 partially blocked by an accident between Thankerton and A70 Hynford Bridge.
    • A725 South Lanarkshire: A724 junction at Blantyre partially blocked by accident eastbound.
    • A702 Penicuik to Edinburgh city bypass: Drifting snow.
    • M80: Reports that traffic at a standstill at Castelcary.
    • Lochgelly A92 Eastbound: Blocked multi-vehicle accident between B9149 (Lochgelly) and Chapel Level, Kirkcaldy. Support vehicle is en-route. There is also a lane closure on the Westbound carriageway.
     

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