Fuelling independence? Scotland's oil hub embraces green energy

ABERDEEN, Scotland (Reuters) - Scotland’s leader Nicola Sturgeon launched on Friday a major renewable energy project boasting the world’s most powerful wind turbines, which she hopes will also propel the independence ambitions of her nationalist party.

The European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) sits off Trump International Golf Links Aberdeen, Scotland, Britain, September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

The 11 191-metre-high turbines in the waters of Aberdeen Bay will eventually produce 312 GWh of power a year - enough to power 80,000 households - helping to reduce Scotland’s reliance on its oil industry.

“Scotland is a world leader in energy and that is good for our present and our future, whatever that may be,” Sturgeon told Reuters, standing on a ferry underneath the churning blades of the new European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC), which is run by Swedish utility Vattenfall.

The Scottish National Party she leads, which is seeking to maintain its drive for independence from the United Kingdom, has embraced renewable power as the center of its energy policy.

The party’s emphasis on optimistic-looking future oil revenues was seen by many as a key weakness in the failed campaign to win an independence referendum in 2014.

An SNP strategy published this year removed oil from the party’s baseline plans for the economy, describing it instead as a “bonus”, while renewables were seen as one of Scotland’s economic motors, with food and drink and finance.

At the same time, renewable projects such as EODCW enhance the SNP’s appeal to the 61 percent of Scottish voters who think climate change is an urgent concern, according to a survey of households published by the Scottish government this week.

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Sturgeon wants 50 percent of all of Scotland’s energy to come from renewables by 2030, compared with an EU target of at least 27 percent.

Scotland’s energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said the renewable power and low carbon sector provided 49,000 jobs in Scotland, compared with 115,000 in oil and gas, but the difference was narrowing.

With Scots unhappy about Britain’s exit from the European Union, another referendum for Scottish independence is a possibility which Sturgeon does not rule out.

The EU’s financial support for renewable projects such as the EOWDC has underpinned support for the bloc.

Scotland has the majority of the UK’s onshore wind energy resources and the seas around Scotland have up to 25 percent of Europe’s tidal power, 10 percent of its wave power and around 25 percent of European offshore wind resource potential.

Even so, the value of the oil still under the North Sea has defied predictions of a quick collapse and still dominates Scotland’s economy for now, especially with the recent recovery in the oil price.

At the same time, more efficient techniques for dismantling old oil rigs in deep and often treacherous waters is a skill that Scotland is pioneering as another revenue earner.

Not everyone is a fan of the new wind power project in Aberdeen Bay.

Before he was elected as U.S. president, Donald Trump objected to the wind farm being located in full view of his golf course at Balmedie. He was defeated in a court battle.

“Maybe on his next trip to Scotland he can come and see it and change his mind,” Sturgeon said.

Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary; Editing by William Schomberg and Toby Chopra