Scottish politicians have again pressed the UK government for certainty over the timeline for a major north-east carbon capture and storage project.
Speaking on Thursday at DeCarbScotland in Edinburgh, the inaugural conference run by Scottish industrial emissions alliance NECCUS, energy and net zero secretary Michael Matheson said it was “critical” that Westminster provide further clarity on its plans for the Scottish Cluster project.
It was a call echoed by Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan David Duguid, who said it was vital to maintain pressure on Westminster to make sure the scheme was “accelerated as much as possible.”
The cluster – which involves capturing industrial emissions from the central belt to the north-east and storing them offshore via the Acorn Project in Aberdeenshire – was snubbed from the so-called “Track 1” sequencing process in late 2021.
It was instead put on the ‘reserve’ list, with former energy minister Greg Hands repeatedly pledging more details on the next “Track 2” funding phase by the end of 2022. However Scottish ministers have raised concerns over continued delays.
With the potential to offer more than 50% of the UK’s total CO2 storage capacity, Mr Matheson said the scheme was “absolutely vital” to Scotland and the UK’s net zero targets.
“[Regarding] the Scottish cluster, it would be fair to say things haven’t gone as expected, or had been hoped for over the past couple of years,” he added.
“But I want to make absolutely clear that the Scottish government remains 100% committed to supporting the cluster and the wider sector.
“Even though we don’t hold all the necessary legislative and regulatory levers to make sure that the cluster moves forward we are continuing to do everything we can to impress upon the UK government for the need to take action in progressing the Scottish cluster.”
It follows remarks by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week in which she spoke of being “cautiously optimistic” as to the prospect for progress on the scheme in the coming months.
Details and timeline
UK energy minister Graham Stuart has said new details on the status of Track 2 projects are expected to be made this spring.
Mr Matheson on Thursday suggested this may be timed to coincide with the government’s Spring Budget, but added: “Further details are not enough.
“We are at a point now where we need a concrete timeline that ensures the Track 2 clusters are confirmed this year, we simply cannot afford to delay this any further and it is critical we have that clarity this year.”
Opinions on the timing of the update differed amongst the attendees with another speaker, Womble Bond Dickinson partner Richard Cockburn, suggesting it may be timed to coincide with the updated British Energy Security Strategy (BESS), also due this spring.
Mr Duguid however remained optimistic about the scheme’s prospects, given the necessity for carbon storage within the country’s net zero plans, and suggested Acorn was “in a good place” ahead of the Track 2 process.
“We are not going to get to 2050, with the lights on, with our homes and offices heated our economy still moving, without oil and gas. It follows, that we are certainly not going to get to net zero by 2050 without CCUS.”
He reiterated the government’s commitment to have two CCUS clusters operational by 2025 and a further two by the end of the decade.
“I often remind the prime minister and was reminding BEIS secretary Grant Shapps just the other day that the original commitment was at least two by the mid-2020s and at least four by 2030 at the latest,” he added.
“Everyone in this room, myself included, need to keep that pressure on the UK government to make sure that’s accelerated as much as possible – and even if it’s not accelerated then making the decisions and having that certainty so we know when things are happening.”
Both politicians also pointed to the findings of Chris Skidmore’s recent net zero review, in which the creation of a CCUS roadmap is an explicit recommendation.
Mr Matheson also urged those in the CCUS and wider industries to respond to the government’s recently published draft energy strategy.