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Scotland’s strong winds could power its economy

Stephen Beard Aug 26, 2011

Scotland’s strong winds could power its economy

Stephen Beard Aug 26, 2011

Stacey Vanek-Smith: The Scottish government has plans to create tens of thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars of extra revenue from renewable energy. It’s pinning most of its hopes on windpower; Scotland is one of the windiest parts of Europe.

We sent Marketplace’s Stephen Beard to check it out.

Stephen Beard: In the hills above the small Scottish village of Fintry, local resident David Howell shows off some of the town’s most valuable assets.

David Howell: What we’ve got here is 15 wind turbines in total. We own one-fifteenth of the output.

The villagers struck a deal with the company that built the windfarm. Fintry residents are paying off the capital costs of one of the turbines. In return, they get one-fifteenth of the revenue from the electricity generated.

Howell: It’s not a bunch of suits coming up from the capital city to make a lot of money out of your environment. You actually have a stake in it.

When it’s paid for the turbine, the village could make $750,000 a year from the windfarm. Howell’s wife, Kayt, says Fintry intends to spend the money installing biomass boilers and other renewable energy equipment, to wean itself off increasingly expensive oil.

Kayt Howell: You have to really make stand and do something to cut your costs and help the environment at the same time.

Beard: So this a tremendous boon on your doorstep here?

Kayt Howell: It is, absolutely.

Another Fintry resident, Kelly McIntyre, says the whole of Scotland could be on the brink of a new energy bonanza.

Kelly McIntyre: We could be the Saudi Arabia of renewables. It is really a golden age for Scotland.

The Scottish government says that with its wind and powerful tides, Scotland could become the green energy powerhouse of Europe, generating 100,000 new jobs. But public policy consultant Tom Miers is not persuaded.

Tom Miers: The problem with renewable energy is that it is less efficient than conventional sources of power.

It has to be subsidized through higher electricity prices for all, and that, he says, won’t create more jobs.

Miers: If you’re taking money from one industry and giving it to another, almost by definition, there can be no net gain in jobs. And normally when you subsidize an industry at the expense of other industries, there’s a net loss of jobs.

He says there’s unlikely to be a bonanza for the Scottish economy as a whole. Although he concedes that the people of Fintry may do very well because of windpower.

In Fintry, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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