Oil giant Shell is trying to get a staff member elected to the board of Scotland’s renewable energy body, leading to concerns the multinational is trying to influence green policy.
Melissa Read – who heads up Shell’s offshore wind energy business in the UK – is standing in elections to the board of Scottish Renewables, with voting set to close today.
Scottish Renewables describes itself as the “voice of Scotland’s renewable energy sector”. According to the body’s website, the board “represents the technologies and interest areas” of Scottish Renewables members and sets the body’s “strategic direction”.
Read’s candidacy statement notes that she would bring “Shell’s wider expertise in energy systems, technologies and energy transition” to the board.
But environmental groups have branded the move as “greenwashing”. They warned that the oil and gas industry “already has too much sway over our energy system” and companies like Shell should not be “allowed to dictate the actions of the renewable sector too”.
Scottish Renewables said its membership is “made up from a rich and diverse mix of organisations” and that board members are there to promote the long term success of the organisation, not their own employer.
Shell has been asked to comment.
The Dutch firm came under fire last week after it announced the highest profits in its 115-year history. These were generated on the back of soaring gas prices, partly caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The company’s commitment to the transition away from fossil fuels has been questioned in recent days in the wake of claims that it overstated the amount it spent on renewables.
The activist group, Global Witness, has lodged a complaint with US regulators alleging that Shell spent just 1.5 per cent of its capital budget on genuine renewable projects like wind and solar in 2021.
In its annual report, Shell stated that 12 per cent of capital expenditure was funnelled to its renewables and energy solutions division that year. According to Global Witness, much of this division’s resources are still devoted to investments in natural gas.
The £20bn that Shell paid out in dividends and share buybacks in 2022 was also more than seven times what they spent on their low carbon business, according to analysis by the think tank, Common Wealth.
Shell made a major foray into renewable generation in Scotland last year with its success in the ScotWind leasing round, which auctioned off areas of the North Sea for the construction of wind farms.
Alongside ScottishPower, the company will build two new offshore wind projects which could power the equivalent of six million homes.
However, Shell is still expanding its fossil fuel business in the UK. Its new Jackdaw gas field in the North Sea, which is expected to produce 22 million tonnes of climate pollution over its lifetime, was approved by the UK Government in June 2022.
Other major polluters who are members of Scottish Renewables include the oil services firm, Petrofac, and RWE, which has the biggest carbon footprint of any company in Europe.
Shell’s fellow oil giant, BP, was also the exhibition sponsor at Scottish Renewables’ recent offshore wind conference, which was held at the end of January and featured a speech by Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
Tessa Khan, the executive director of the campaign group, Uplift, claimed that fossil fuel companies like Shell are trying to position themselves as “central players in the transition to renewables, when they are knowingly and quite obviously holding it back”.
Khan said: “It is very hard to see this move by Shell to insert itself on the board of Scottish Renewables as anything other than more greenwashing.
“Shell talks up its renewable credentials, but we know from this week’s announcement that it still spends just a tiny fraction of its total investment on clean energy.
“The oil and gas industry has far too much sway over our energy system as it is. They must not be allowed to dictate the actions of the renewables sector too.”
According to the Scottish Greens MSP, Maggie Chapman, oil giants like Shell have “always been a roadblock to progress” on climate action.
“If Shell is to play any kind of positive role in the energy transition then they must stop putting their climate-wrecking profits ahead of our environment,” Chapman said.
“What we need is a fair and just transition away from pollution and fossil fuels, and an ambitious and generation-defining investment in clean renewable energy and jobs.”
Freya Aitchison, an oil and gas campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, accused Shell of “muscling in” to Scottish Renewables’ board.
“Shell and other oil companies have known about the dangers of climate change for decades, and have worked to cover it up and continue extracting climate-wrecking fossil fuels for short-term profit,” she said.
Aitchison added there was “no sign” of Shell changing its ways and allowing them onto the board would “provide greenwash” and give them “undue influence on policy around renewables in Scotland”.
The chief executive of Scottish Renewables, Claire Mack, said: “Our membership, and indeed our board, is made up from a rich and diverse mix of organisations who work across, or have an interest in, different renewable energy sectors including offshore and onshore wind, tidal, solar, the energy transition and more.
“Our board adopts the principals of the UK Corporate Governance Code, which means the role of our board members is to promote the long-term sustainable success of Scottish Renewables, generating value for our members, not that of their own employer, business or companies.
“Member companies are currently in the process of electing three new members from a pool of 12 candidates and the successful candidates will serve a three-year term on the board of Scottish Renewables.”
Cover image thanks to Keming Tan/Unsplash