UK coalition’s ‘green credentials’ in tatters as Huhne refuses to clarify carbon storage funding

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By a Newsnet reporter
 
The SNP has attacked the UK government after Lib Dem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne refused to confirm an earlier commitment on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) funding.
 
Mr Huhne had previously insisted that the £1 billion CCS grant was still available and would be “ring fenced” after the Westminster government refused to commit the necessary funding to a CCS project at Longannet.

However, asked today to clarify comments from Lib Dem colleague Danny Alexander who on Tuesday revealed that the money is to be allocated to projects south of the border, Mr Huhne admitted that the CCS timetable had now slipped.

SNP Westminster Energy spokesperson, Mike Weir responded by describing the Tory/Lib Dem stance on CCS as being “at sixes and sevens” and their green energy credibility in “tatters”.

Mr Weir said:

“Chris Huhne’s comments, which confirm that the timetable is slipping, add to the confusion created by Danny Alexander over the UK government’s commitment to invest in carbon capture and storage.

“We still need clarity over the Treasury position.  First, was the Treasury’s removal of the billion pound investment in carbon capture at Longannet driven all along by plans to divert the money to fund capital projects south of the Border – in which case Danny Alexander has a great deal of explaining to do.

“And second, has any prospect of investing in the carbon capture project at Peterhead been kicked into the long grass, beyond the term of this Westminster parliament – in which case Danny Alexander also has a great deal of explaining to do.  Just last month, the UK Government promised that the billion pounds would be retained for carbon capture – but that promise has been broken.”

On Tuesday speaking on Radio Five Live the Lib Dem Treasury Chief had revealed that the money originally earmarked for the Longannet CCS project would be used instead to fund infrastructure projects south of the border.

Mr Alexander said: “We announced a few weeks ago that the negotiations on CCS were not successful on the programme that we being discussed… We’re launching a new competition to provide £1bn for CCS but that competition, obviously, is going to take longer, so much of the money that we’d allocated to spend in this Parliament we’ve now reallocated to different sorts of projects.”

Mr Alexander’s comments caught the CCS industry and environmentalists by surprise and Friends of the Earth accused the Tory/Lib Dem coalition of “mishandling” the Longannet CCS project.

Mr Weir added

“It is clear that Scotland has come off second best – yet again.  Pulling investment from carbon capture in Scotland to fund projects south of the Border is not an alternative economic plan – it is more of the same from the London Treasury, which is grabbing a record £13.4 billion of North Sea revenues this year, and short-changing Scotland over carbon capture.

“The CCS project at Peterhead has already been sabotaged once, by the last Labour Government in 2007, and Longannet was sabotaged by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition last month – Scotland’s carbon capture potential must not be scuppered for a third time.

“Scotland has some of Europe’s largest carbon storage reserves in our North Sea oil and gas fields combined with the expertise on how to access them.  And carbon capture investment can also be a key driver of economic recovery in Scotland.  For the sake of both the environment and the economy, we need progress now.

“The Scottish Government is showing that we have what it takes to become the pre-eminent location for clean energy research, development and delivery in Europe – the UK Government needs to stop mishandling Scotland’s renewable future.”

In June 2007, shortly after the SNP narrowly won the Holyrood election, the then Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling confirmed that the UK government would not commit funding for a carbon storage project at Peterhead.

The project at Peterhead would have been the first industrial scale project in the world to combine three separate technologies – hydrogen production, power generation and carbon capture and storage – to generate electricity using hydrogen from natural gas.

Instead the Labour government announced a competition worth £1 billion in funding for the best CCS project.  Scottish Power’s 2400 MW coal-fired power station in Longannet, Fife was the last one standing in the long-running competition.

However in October the Longannet project was scrapped after Westminster claimed technical problems and refused to commit the necessary funds – these reasons were challenged by industry experts.

UK Ministers subsequently promised that the billion pounds would be ring-fenced for a new carbon capture competition – with Peterhead widely understood to be the strongest candidate.

The refusal of Chris Huhne to commit to CCS and the announcement from Danny Alexander that the money will be spent outwith Scotland has cast serious doubt over the UK coalition’s desire to fund any Scottish carbon storage project.