THE ScotWind auction of offshore wind assets has generated a lot of attention, both on the side of those supporting it as the largest offshore wind project begun in Scotland – but also from those concerned about the direction the project is going, in terms of privatising those assets and essentially doing to Scotland’s wind resources as was done to Scotland’s oil.

Very briefly, this auction has been organised by Crown Estate Scotland – the corporation that owns and runs marine assets on behalf of the Crown in and around Scotland. This doesn’t mean that these assets are the property of the Queen or Royal Family though. The Crown Estate was devolved to Scotland in 2017, as part of the negotiations that came about after the 2014 independence referendum and effectively acts as a quango in Scotland. It is self-running and self-governing but ultimately responsible to Scottish Government ministers.

The National:

Nicola Sturgeon at the ScotWind event on Monday

This ultimate responsibility to Scottish ministers makes it especially galling to see who has won the right to develop the wind assets over the coming years. Some 20% of the total claimed capacity have been won by fossil-fuel supermajors BP and Shell. Other fossil fuel companies, like TotalEnergies, are represented within some of the consortium bids. Multinational companies owned ultimately by shareholders in financial holding companies, hedge funds and other esoteric financial organisations are represented. At least two state-owned energy companies (Denmark’s Ørsted and Sweden’s Vattenfall) have a stake. The Norwegian Oil Fund owns shares in several of the companies listed.

Scotland’s direct contribution appears to be limited mostly to Perth-based SSE, with some representation from smaller companies like the Stornoway Port Authority. This is a private carve up, for a relatively small amount of money. Just £700 million in upfront option fees and perhaps £50-£90m a year in rent from generated energy. Based on the profit margins from existing offshore wind companies, the groups running these sites could end up collectively banking something on the order of £5 billion per year.

It’s clear that Scottish public-owned companies could not have taken part in this auction, nor could we have simply outright nationalised our wind assets but we almost could have. In 2016, after an extensive campaign by Common Weal, SNP members voted overwhelmingly for a Scottish National Energy Company that could have owned these assets. The Government took on only a limited version of this policy (one that could well have collapsed during the present energy crisis as almost 30 other energy suppliers have so far) and they formally scrapped that plan last year. However the Government has also adopted Common Weal policies such as a Scottish Energy Development Agency (SEDA) and a Scottish National Infrastructure Company (SNIC) and has adopted and then launched the Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB).

So let’s talk about an alternative Scotland where all of those organisations were up and running at their full capacity. It’s then that we can see them working together to maximise the benefit of Scottish energy assets for Scotland.

First, the SNIB would provide the financial underpinning of the whole scheme with the kind of patient finance required to build up assets and run them over 25 years or more. It may even have been able to offer Green Energy Bonds to the public so that we could personally invest in the energy future of our country.

READ MORE: ScotWind: Where are the 17 projects based and how much energy can they make?

Next, the SEDA would have strategically assessed the energy potential of Scotland and could have worked out a priority list for the development of the sites. It would have also looked at Scotland’s capability to deliver those assets. ScotWind has made some fairly vague promises about securing supply chain benefits in Scotland but we currently don’t have enough capacity to, for instance, actually build the wind turbines. SEDA would identify the weaknesses in Scotland’s supply chains and could help to direct investment into shoring them up.

Next would come the Infrastructure Company which would effectively do the shoring. It would manage the supply, building and maintenance contracts and could also deliver training to workers as they come into the sector. It’s one thing for Scotland to support a Just Transition from fossil fuels, it’s another to actively ensure that workers are Justly Transitioned and ready to build our offshore wind.

Finally, the National Energy Company would own the turbines, would supply electricity to Scottish customers and export it to other markets – exactly the same position as the winners of the ScotWind auctions will be except without the complex web of shareholders, overseas HQs and foreign state-owned energy companies who will inevitably extract billions of pounds in profits from Scotland. £5 billion a year represents more than 10% of the Scottish Government’s current annual budget.

It’s probably too late now to stop ScotWind in its current form but just as the second best time to plant a tree – if not 20 years ago – is now, then the second best time to launch a strategy for Scotland to own, develop and run our own renewables resources is also now. By the time of the next energy auction in Scotland, we shouldn’t need one as our National Energy Company should be just doing it. And when the existing ScotWind sites come to the end of their licences, the NEC should be ready to step in – as Scotland recently did with ScotRail – and bring them back into public ownership. To do otherwise would be to repeat a history in Scotland’s energy sector that we really should have learned from.