Energy Sector (West Scotland)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th December 2021.

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Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

8. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to support the energy sector in the West Scotland region. (S6O-00505)

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government has ambitious plans for offshore wind in Scotland, but that needs to come with economic returns that ensure that our local supply chain companies can benefit from the opportunities that such deployment presents. We are committed to co-designing a series of just transition plans for regions and sectors across the country, including the west of Scotland. Work on the energy strategy refresh and just transition plan has already begun, and it will consider how communities the length and breadth of Scotland can benefit from the transition to net zero.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

The cabinet secretary will be aware that reactor 3 at Hunterston B nuclear power station was switched off last week after 45 years of service, supplying electricity to 1.7 million homes. It also supplied thousands of much-needed local jobs and contributed £54 million to the North Ayrshire economy every single year. Given that decommissioning will create limited job opportunities, why is there still no clear or obvious Government plan for any so-called just transition to renewable energy jobs for the hundreds of families who currently rely on that site for employment and economic prosperity?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The approach that the Scottish Government takes to energy and the development of energy projects is set out in our existing energy strategy, which, as the member will be aware, does not support the introduction of a costly and expensively subsidised nuclear industry.

I recognise that the decommissioning work at Hunterston B will be a long-term project that will maintain employment in the area over an extended period of time, but the Scottish Government’s priority is to make sure that we build an energy system that is based on targeting not only onshore and offshore wind but other parts of our renewables sector, such as tidal marine energy and the use of storage. We will set out more detail on that as we move forward with our energy strategy refresh, which will be published next year.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the renewable energy sector in West Scotland would be better placed to attract renewable investment if the United Kingdom Government did not continue to impose transmission charges that are higher than those anywhere else in the UK, which imposes an unfair financial burden on firms that are seeking to invest in Scotland?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The member makes a very important point about an issue that has been recognised across the energy sector for many years. Energy developments within Scottish waters—this also applies to some land-based projects in Scotland—are the most expensive to take forward in any part of the UK, as a result of the UK’s transmission network, which has required to be reformed for many years.

I welcome the fact that the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets has indicated that it is open to considering a review of the existing system. That work needs to be progressed at pace, because the present arrangements are having a negative impact on the sector and the economic and environmental benefits that can come from greater development of renewables. It is unacceptable to have a regulatory system that is stacked against Scottish developments. The UK Government needs to take action to correct it, and should do so at pace.