The news that Scotland had missed out on Westminster’s backing to develop its first carbon capture and storage facility was greeted with a range of reactions yesterday – shock, disbelief, anger and also something like ‘what did you expect anyway?’ Many well informed sources had hoped – indeed expected – that the Acorn Project at St Fergus would be supported and go on to begin operations within a decade. After all the Project ‘owners’ had been working towards this for a long time, working to survive prior set backs caused by Westminster!
On social media I’d spotted allusions to statements regarding conditional support for CCS in Scotland in advance of the 2014 referendum from those opposing independence. ‘Allusions’ are not sufficient so I went looking for documentary evidence from ‘official’ sources. It wasn’t too hard to find some! If you have other sources please share.
‘In the event of a vote for Scottish independence ….’
The UK government published in April 2014 a document entitled ‘Scotland analysis: Energy’. This was part of a series issued to influence voters in Scotland, encouraging them to vote ‘No’ in the referendum.
There is a lot in this document to be challenged: I strongly suspect similar arguments will be advanced again and so preparing to counter them is important. However the focus here is on the sections of the document referring to Carbon Capture & Storage.
This states (with my emphasis): ‘Scotland benefits from other competitions and grants provided by the UK Government and supported by the large UK consumer and tax base, such as a programme to support the commercialisation of Carbon Capture and Storage projects and activities of the UK Green Investment Bank which has its headquarters in Edinburgh.
‘The UK Government has set aside £1 billion for the development of projects in its CCS Commercialisation Programme and is making £100 million available now to the Peterhead project in Aberdeen and the White Rose project in Yorkshire for engineering and design work ahead of final investment decisions.
‘In the event of a vote for Scottish independence, under the competition criteria, it is unlikely Peterhead would be eligible for further funding from the £1 billion available. In addition, the UK Green Investment Bank is underpinned by £3.8 billion of UK Government funding and in the event of Scottish independence it would remain an institution of the continuing UK.’
Note the carefully crafted message on CCS – the implication is that Scotland will benefit in future (£1 billion has been ‘set aside’ after all) but that is conditional on a rejection of independence. However, as we now know the £1 billion ‘set aside’ was pulled with little notice two years later, ending the prospects at that time of the Peterhead and NE England’s White Rose CCS projects! (I’ll say something about the UK Green Investment Bank later.)
The government document goes on: ‘The UK’s move towards a low carbon economy is strengthened by UK legislation and by legally binding European Union renewable energy targets. In the event of Scottish independence, it is difficult to be sure what Scotland’s European Union renewable energy target would be as an independent Scottish state would have to negotiate the terms of its membership of the EU.’
So we’re being told here that in terms of renewables Scotland benefits from – more, it is ‘strengthened’ by – being bound by EU renewable energy targets! How has that worked out?
On both counts – support for CCS in Scotland and the benefits of EU membership – this case put in this government document turned out to have no merit.
UK Green Investment Bank?
Turning briefly to the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB), in 2014 the same UK government paper warned voters in Scotland of the loss of this institution with its Edinburgh HQ if we voted for independence. Fast forward three years: the Climate Change and Industry Minister, Claire Perry, confirmed in August 2017 that the Westminster government had sold off the GIB to Macquarie Group Limited.
At the time of the sale Perry, noted: “As well as fully meeting the government’s objectives, the deal secures the future of the GIB with an ambitious new owner committed to growing the business. The Edinburgh office will be home to a new revenue-generating business as well as providing services to the green energy portfolios of both Macquarie and GIB in the UK.”
Today the website of the ‘Green Investment Group’ (GIG) refers to its ‘19 offices around the world’. Companies House confirms that it has a registered office in Edinburgh. Its Companies House profile also describes it as a ‘Micro company with less than 10 employees’!
Despite best efforts, I could find mention on the GIG website of just one investment in Scotland: ‘A new renewable energy plant in the north east of Scotland is set to deliver green heat to a local distillery, fuelled by local forestry residue. Craigellachie CHP Plant is a new £74m combined heat and power plant. The UK Green Investment Bank is an equity investor in the Craigellachie project.’ However we also learn: ‘GIG is no longer involved in this project.’
This is all proving to have been a game-changer for (still dependent) Scotland then?
What to conclude?
How have these risks, threats, warning of lost benefits etc. raised in 2014 by Unionists turned out? Candidly, they have been shown to be worth nothing much at all!
Would a majority really reject again the agency that comes with independence for this stuff?Hopefully more and more folk in Scotland will see through this Unionist art of blending ‘threat’ and ‘promise’ to deceive. Frigates to be built on the Clyde anyone?