Original Source: Source link
Rishi Sunak is set to visit the North East as the Conservatives aim to outflank Labour on energy.
A renewed split between the SNP and the Greens on energy policy has opened up ahead of a visit to the North East by the Prime Minister on Monday.
Rishi Sunak will visit Scotland tomorrow and is widely expected to announce significant funding running to the hundreds of millions into the Acorn carbon capture project in St Fergus, Aberdeenshire.
The project which looks to use legacy oil and gas infrastructure to transport and store carbon is said to potentially create 21,000 jobs, with the SNP heavily critical of the failure to initially fund the project in 2021 in favour of similar initiatives in the north of England.
However, the party’s Green coalition partners warn that investment would be better prioritised in renewables rather than carbon capture and storage and are concerned it could be used to justify granted new licences in the North Sea.
Rosebank oilfield, the largest untapped reserve in the UK, is currently undergoing approval from regulators and could start production as early as 2026. Climate activists warn approving the licence would be a step backwards for the battle against climate change.
Both the SNP and Labour have positioned themselves to be against further drilling in the North Sea, whereas senior Conservative ministers believe extracting all of the UK’s reserves must go ahead to reduce reliance on foreign imports.
The battle is set to be centre stage of the next general election, particularly in the North East of Scotland where the Conservatives hold several seats and are the closest challengers to the SNP in others.
Rishi Sunak is expected to hail the role Scotland plays in the UK’s energy security plans when he visits the region today, with ministers scheduled to meet with industry bosses and announcements on new investments also expected.
Ministers are due to announce millions of pounds in funding for the Acorn carbon capture project in Aberdeenshire, a joint venture between Shell UK and other companies, according to the Sunday Times.
The focus on British energy projects comes after days of criticism of Mr Sunak amid concerns over a softening of the Government commitment to key net zero policies and environmental promises.
The Government is expected to highlight efforts to “boost the capability” of the North Sea industry in the transition to net zero, with Downing Street describing Scotland as the “cornerstone” of its energy plans.
Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader, welcomed the reports the Acorn project is due to get the green light, claiming “now is the time to strike” on the country’s green potential.
The SNP have regularly attacked the UK Government for failing to back the project, with Conservative figures hoping the announcement will undermine this criticism while boosting the party’s credentials in the North East.
Mr Flynn, who won the SNP/Tory swing seat of Aberdeen South in 2019, said the SNP had “led the charge” on demanding investment for carbon capture and welcomed the additional investment.
He added: “However, the UK Government has taken Scotland down this path before – and failed to deliver every single time, leaving Scotland’s green energy future in jeopardy. This cannot happen again.
“There can be no more broken promises or delays. Now is the time to strike on Scotland’s green energy potential.
“Having raked in more than £400 billion from Scotland’s natural resources, it’s high time the Tories gave back as it is becoming abundantly clear that our energy-rich country is being failed by Westminster governments far removed from the needs of the Scottish people.”
Mr Flynn added that “with the full powers of independence”, Scotland could control its own energy policy, adding: “We have the energy – we just need the power.”
However the announcement has opened up a fresh dividing line between the SNP and the Scottish Greens, with the junior coalition partners heavily sceptical of carbon capture technology.
Mark Ruskell, the party’s climate spokesperson, said any investment in the Acorn project must not be at the expense of investment into renewable energy schemes.
He said: “There may well be a role for carbon capture and storage in the future, particularly when it comes to decarbonising industrial sites such as Grangemouth and Mossmorran which will be challenging.
“However, it is no substitute for investing in renewable jobs and industries and energy efficiency. It must not be used as a justification for more north sea drilling, which will have a devastating impact on our environment and take us even closer to climate breakdown.
“We cannot wholly rely on a delayed and still largely unproven technology to meet climate targets. So far CCS has overpromised and underperformed.”
The MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife also warned against the investment being used to justify the Rosebank oilfield.
“Carbon capture technology can’t deal with emissions from vehicle engines or gas boilers, and it must not be used as an excuse to approve Rosebank or any other new oil and gas field which we cannot afford to burn,” he said.
“We don’t have time to wait. Irrespective of what is announced, it must not divert our attention from the urgent and immediate need to invest in cost effective renewable energy solutions.”
Climate activists also slammed the technology as a “greenwashing tactic by profit obsessed fossil fuel companies” and said carbon capture had a long history of “over-promising and under-delivering”.
Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaign Mary Church added: “Funding for the Acorn project would be yet another massive public subsidy to oil companies who have been making billions in profits, while ordinary people are struggling to pay the bills.
“Instead of handing more money to polluters, it is time to redirect that investment to climate solutions that we know can deliver emissions cuts and improve peoples’ lives today – such as improving public transport and insulating people’s homes to help with energy bills.”
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, said Mr Sunak’s visit would be a “clear reminder” that it was his party which backs Scottish oil and gas and the “drive to net zero”.
He said: “Contrast this with Keir Starmer hiding away in Edinburgh when he more or less promised the end of 70,000 jobs by pulling the plug on the North Sea.
“People in Scotland can see there is a major distinction between the Conservatives and the SNP and Labour, in Scotland and across the UK.
“We are the party of energy security, job security and financial security. Their antagonism towards oil and gas is anti-jobs, anti-energy security and anti-growth.”
Sarah Boyack, Scottish Labour’s net zero spokesperson, welcomed the expected announcement but said the pledge must not be added to the “scrapheap of Tory broken promises”
She said: “The fact remains that only Labour is offering the transformative scale of green investment Scotland needs – and Rishi Sunak’s weak imitation won’t cut it.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat climate emergency spokesperson Liam McArthur said it is time to “put an end to the hee-hawing and provide the necessary finance”, adding his party backed the technology while in government.
“This project has the potential to create thousands of skilled jobs, utilise Scotland’s engineering expertise and accelerate our progress towards meeting critical emission reduction targets. It has been put off for far too long,” he added.