UNIONIST campaigners have been accused of trying to “talk down … the reality” of Scotland’s wind energy capacity.

It comes after Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish LibDem leader, challenged John Swinney at FMQs over an often repeated statistic on Scotland’s offshore wind potential.

Cole-Hamilton pointed to research from the pro-Union campaign group These Islands which concluded that the claim that the nation has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind potential was untrue.

READ MORE: Scotland's biggest offshore wind farm starts producing energy

Outlining what he termed a “pattern of misinformation dating back over a decade”, the LibDem MSP said former first minister Alex Salmond, Deputy First Minister John Swinney, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson were all guilty of repeating the claim.

Cole-Hamilton (below) said at FMQS – where Swinney was standing in for Sturgeon – that “civil servants had been privately warning against its use for at least two years”, adding they had warned “it has ‘never been properly sourced’ and that these figures have ‘recycled robotically without really checking them’.”

The National:

These Islands said the figure had originally come from comparing two studies which were inconsistent with one another, and dated back as far as 1993, when wind technology was in its infancy.

Entering the fray, Alba suggested the focus should be on reality rather than on abstract potential.

They said that while Unionist campaigners had been “busy trying to undermine claims that Scotland’s offshore wind potential amounts to 25% of all of Europe’s, Scotland is actually on course to deliver a whopping percentage of Europe’s actual offshore energy by 2035”.

This claim is based on an EU Commission report from 2020 which estimates that the bloc had a “realistic and achievable” aim of 60 gigawatts (GW) of offshore capacity by 2030 – while Scotland is projected to have a capacity of 35GW by 2032.

What is the current situation in Europe?

As it stands, Scotland has a wind power capacity of around 10GW, according to Offshore Wind Scotland. The body, a part of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said this would be increased by 25GW in the next ten years, and up to 42GW by 2035.

The European Union currently has 16GW of offshore wind capacity installed, according to Reuters. However, its targets are much loftier.

What is Europe’s wind power target?

The European Commission – the EU's politically independent executive arm – announced in May that it would target a generating capacity of 300GW of wind energy by 2050 – enough to power 460 million homes.

Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark have pledged to build at least 150GW of offshore wind capacity in the North Sea – the area of Europe which has by far the highest potential for offshore wind – in an effort to achieve that goal. According to their pledge, 65GW of that target will be built by 2030, with the remainder complete by 2050.

The National: Turbines in the sea at Gwynt y Mor offshore wind farm

A report from Wind Europe suggested that 450GW of wind power could be generated offshore by European nations, including the UK, by 2050. Of this, 212GW should come from the North Sea, it said, and 85GW from the Atlantic. Scotland’s coastline is divided between these two areas.

Wind Europe further estimated that of the 450GW total, 80GW would come from the UK. This is around 18% – but does not subdivide to specifically reference Scotland’s capability. England also has significant potential, with the largest offshore wind farm in the world located off the coast of Yorkshire.

There is no doubt the UK is a world leader in wind energy, and has massive capacity to make use of. Wind Europe lists the UK as one of only three European nations – along with Denmark and the Netherlands – which could be “high export” wind power generators by 2050.

Why is potential so hard to measure?

Dealing with actual capacity is much easier than dealing with abstract numbers about potential. It is hard – bordering on impossible with climate change factored in – to know where, when, and at what speeds the wind will blow.

Furthermore, while certain areas may have huge “potential” to generate wind power, Wind Europe noted in its 2019 report: “In at least 60% of the North Seas it is not possible to build offshore wind farms ... These ‘exclusion zones’ exist either for environmental reasons or because space is set aside for fishing, shipping and military activity.”

READ MORE: Scottish university makes bid to revolutionise wind energy with floating turbines

Wind Europe’s projection for potential offshore energy by 2050 also notes that there would be areas of very high density of wind farms, namely off the coast of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Poland. Here the total sea area taken up by offshore energy could be as high as 35%.

Scotland’s coast, in contrast, is projected to have a very low density of windfarms – less than 5% of sea area. As such, the “potential” would not be matched due to the lack of turbines to make use of it.

What are Alba saying?

Kenny MacAskill, the Alba MP for East Lothian, said: “Scotland has an abundance of natural resources. In the 1970s Westminster attempted to conceal the vast bounty of the North Sea so that our oil and gas wealth could be plundered whilst the likes of Norway was using their oil bonus to build a Sovereign Wealth Fund now worth over $1 trillion.

“Similarly we are now seeing attempts by Unionist parties to downplay Scotland’s natural resources so that they don’t need to be held to account and answer as to why in Scotland we have the absurdity of fuel poor Scots living in energy rich Scotland.

“However, they can’t hide from the facts. The European Commission recognises our offshore potential and states we are a global leader.

“Whilst Unionists get themselves in a spin to talk down Scotland the reality is we are already on course to turning our renewables potential into reality. The question that the people of Scotland need to answer now, and we already have warning signs from the cheap sell off of ScotWind and the cabling of Scottish renewables directly to England, is are we willing to sit back and allow our renewables bounty to be wasted in the same way Westminster squandered our oil wealth? Enough is enough. It’s time for independence.”

Alba said they will release a fuller paper on Scotland’s renewable potential and how this can lower energy bills for Scots with independence in due course.