The UK Government is under fire after dealing another “bitterly disappointing” blow to the north-east’s bid to host a pioneering clean energy scheme.
SNP politicians accused Conservative ministers of delivering “let down after let down” to Scotland’s hopes of leading the way in the development of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology.
UK Energy Minister Greg Hands confirmed on Tuesday that the Scottish Cluster bid would only be a “reserve” and “back-up”, with two schemes in northern England instead chosen to be taken forward in the first round.
The backbone of the proposed Scottish Cluster was the Acorn project based at the St Fergus gas terminal, near Peterhead.
It planned to use pipelines to store CO2 under the North Sea, and was seen by many to be a key part of efforts to tackle climate change and diversify the local economy.
Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative energy spokesman and a north-east MSP, said the announcement was “obviously disappointing”.
The decision is the latest blow to Scotland’s hopes of developing the technology.
A previous BP-led carbon capture and storage scheme at Peterhead was abandoned in 2007, then a coal-based project at Longannet in Fife collapsed in 2011, followed by the withdrawal of funding earmarked for a Shell/SSE-backed initiative at Peterhead in 2015.
Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Karen Adam said: “This would have been an incredible investment for a Just Transition, particularly here in the north-east where we have seen most of the effects of the down turn in oil and gas.
“We needed this investment. This is a massive blow to all those involved, the north-east and wider Scotland.”
Scottish Energy Minister Michael Matheson said: “This is a terrible decision by the UK Government.
“All credible evidence and analysis has demonstrated that CCUS is critical for meeting Scotland’s statutory emissions reduction targets.”
He added: “It will also significantly compromise our ability to take crucial action to reduce emissions in Scotland and will have serious implications for delivering a just transition for those in our oil and gas sector.”
Aberdeen South MP Stephen Flynn said: “This announcement has all the hallmarks of the Tory government repeating the mistakes of the 1980s when they turned their backs on the coal communities – it’s unjustifiable and unforgiveable.
“To be clear, this decision is a catastrophic blow to Scotland’s net zero ambitions and a betrayal of the north-east.”
Gordon MP Richard Thomson said: “A bitterly disappointing decision and further evidence – if any were needed – of how little the Scottish Tories care about the north-east of Scotland.
“They are not abandoning us – they were never there for us in the first place. Remember this.”
Kevin Stewart, SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, took to Twitter to brand the decision “absolutely nonsensical”.
This is absolutely nonsensical & quite clearly shows that the Tories don’t give a jot about the north east of Scotland, our skilled workforce, our energy expertise or our livelihood. https://t.co/Db55NNmTYw
— Kevin Stewart SNP (@KevinStewartSNP) October 19, 2021
In his statement, Mr Hands confirmed that the Hynet and East Coast Clusters would be “track 1 clusters for the mid-2020s”.
“If the clusters represent value for money for the consumer and the taxpayer then subject to final decisions of ministers, they will receive support under the government’s CCUS programme.
“We are also announcing the Scottish Cluster as a reserve cluster if a back-up is needed.
“A reserve cluster is one which met the eligibility criteria and performed to a good standard against the evaluation criteria.
“As such, we will continue to engage with the Scottish Cluster throughout Phase-2 of the sequencing process, to ensure it can continue its development and planning. This means that if government chooses to discontinue engagement with a cluster in Track-1, we can engage with this reserve cluster instead.”
Reacting for the Scottish Tories, Mr Kerr said: “It’s obviously disappointing the Scottish Cluster is not in a higher position during the first stage.
“Support to develop CCUS technology is vital for the future of the North Sea energy industry.
Support to develop CCUS technology is vital for the future of the North Sea energy industry.”
“The Scottish Conservatives have been pushing hard for the north-east to be at the forefront of CCUS.
“That will not change and it still will be a UK and world leader.
“Looking to track two within this decade, we will redouble our efforts with the UK Government, which has been the only one to acknowledge the strengths of Scottish CCUS, especially since the Greens and SNP formed their coalition of chaos.
“The Greens would scrap it all today if they could.”