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by Andrew Learmonth
19 October 2021
Tories accused of 'complete betrayal of north east' in just transition snub

Tories accused of 'complete betrayal of north east' in just transition snub

The UK Government has been accused of a “complete betrayal of the north east” after a groundbreaking carbon capture, utilisation and storage scheme near Aberdeen missed out on funding. 

Instead, ministers opted to back two sites in the north of England.

The SNP said the decision by the Conservative government had more to do with holding on to their so-called ‘red wall’ seats at the next election.

The Acorn project at St Fergus gas terminal close to Peterhead will instead be used as a “reserve” or “backup” in case another site is needed. However, the funding snub means it’s unlikely to be developed until the second phase in the 2030s at the earliest.

Firms involved in the carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) project believed it had the potential to be up and running in the next five years, able to capture around 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and transport it, using existing pipelines, for storage in one of three depleted North Sea gas fields.

Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s business and energy spokesman, said he was furious about the news: “This is a complete betrayal of the north east by the Westminster government – and this day will live long in the memories of people right across Scotland.

“This inexplicable decision shows the Tories are guilty of empty words and broken promises on ensuring a just transition for Scotland's communities. The Tories pulled the plug on £1bn of carbon capture investment for Peterhead in 2015 and now they've repeated the trick again.

"It beggars belief that at the very moment Tory ministers are being challenged to match the Scottish Government's £500m investment in a just transition, they are instead sticking two fingers up to Scotland and withdrawing investment

"The north east of Scotland is the home of the offshore industry and the obvious location for a carbon capture project. How can we have a ‘just transition’ if the Tories aren’t willing to put the north east of Scotland first?

"It's clear the Tories have put holding seats in the 'red wall' of northern England ahead of saving jobs in Aberdeen and the north east."

Scottish Conservative MSP Liam Kerr, the party’s energy spokesman, admitted the decision was “disappointing”.

He 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.  

“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.” 

Energy minister Greg Hands said in a written statement to parliament today that the two schemes chosen would be “taken forward” into negotiations, adding: “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.”

He added: “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.”

The new UK Government Minister for Scotland, Malcolm Offord, defended the decision: "The strong potential of the Acorn project has been confirmed by the bidding process. That's good news for the future and, while I know the bid team will be disappointed not to have made the first cut, it’s encouraging that the Scottish Cluster is a reserve and I’m confident it will continue to develop and compete for the next round of funding.
 
“To date, the UK Government has allocated £31m supporting the development of the scheme and it remains a key player in meeting ambitious carbon capture goals that would see 20-30 megatonnes of carbon dioxide stripped out by 2030. Scotland has a world-leading energy sector and the UK Government will continue to invest in its future.”

The Scottish Government's Net Zero and Energy Secretary Michael Matheson said the decision indicated a "clear lack of ambition and leadership on climate change by the UK Government."

He said: "It is a decision which significantly compromises our ability to take crucial near-term action to reduce emissions – not just in Scotland, but across the UK.  

“This decision also delays what is a fantastic opportunity for the sector to deliver a just transition for our workforces, capitalising on existing skills and expertise to create many good, green jobs in the coming years."

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Slate wiped clean: SNP's 87th annual conference could be its most collegiate in years

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