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SNP accuses Westminster of betrayal over onshore windfarm scheme  

Credit:  MICHAEL SETTLE | The Herald | Monday 14 March 2016 | www.heraldscotland.com ~~

Scotland must be handed back control over a scheme backing new onshore wind farms after it was betrayed by Westminster, the SNP has said.

The UK Government wants to scrap subsidies for new onshore turbines under the renewables obligation (RO) by April – a year earlier than planned – in an attempt to save millions of pounds.

But Callum McCaig, the SNP’s energy and climate change spokesman, told MPs the Scottish Government only agreed to return its decision-making power over the project under the explicit understanding no changes would take place.

He argued this power should be re-devolved given the changes being pushed through by the Conservatives via the Energy Bill.

Peers have previously voted to remove the early closure of the RO from the Bill although it has been reinserted in the Commons, with the Government insisting it is a 2015 general election manifesto commitment from the Tories.

Speaking during the Bill’s report stage, Mr McCaig moved an amendment returning the power to close the RO to Scottish ministers.

He said: “That power was re-reserved so to speak under the explicit understanding that there would be no changes – there would be no closure, there would be no material impact to Scotland from agreeing to that proposal.

“The proposal had intended, at the time, to allow for the closure later on next year as had been previously agreed for the renewables obligation.”

Mr McCaig added: “I think there’s an element of trust and betrayal of trust that has come into this agreement.

“That is something that has woven its way through the entirety of the Government’s handling of onshore wind and the closure of the renewables obligation.”

Conservative Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) said many of his colleagues would like to see the SNP commit to paying for the RO requirement should the power be returned, noting: “There’s only half of that in this particular amendment.”

Mr McCaig, intervening, said: “Would you accept we will be paying the extortionate price for your party’s nuclear power if you get your way?”

Mr Heaton-Harris replied: “If we’re talking about paying for things, I wonder how the SNP would have paid for their proposals had they gone independent on an oil price that is residing around 30 to 40 (US) dollars a barrel.”

Labour called for the closure of renewable obligation subsidies for onshore wind to be delayed for a year to March 2017.

Alan Whitehead warned that stating that it will close on March 31 this year could leave the Government open to legal challenge if the Bill is bogged down in parliamentary ping pong between the Commons and Lords and does not become law before that date.

The shadow energy minister said: “We stand in danger of being in the position, not as far as investor confidence or investor certainty or investor consideration of what they should do, but actually what we do in terms of exposing this House to the potential of legal action relating to the fact that although a renewable obligation will have been closed administratively by this Government, it will not have been closed legislatively by this Government.”

Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom insisted the closure should apply across Great Britain and would have had no effect on business.

“The Government believes that the early closure and grace period provision that we’ve presented within the Bill strike the right balance between protecting investor confidence and ensuring our ability to control costs under the levy control framework,” she said.

“Far from Government policy actually putting investors off investing in renewable energies in the UK, in fact it seems that significant investment is still coming forward.”

She added: “It is imperative that the early closure applies consistently across Great Britain in order to protect consumers from the risk of over-deployment beyond what has been agreed as affordable.”

She said in 2015/2016 around £520 million or around 60% of RO support will go towards funding Scottish onshore wind farms, despite only 10% of taxpayers living in Scotland.

Conservative MP John Redwood said Europe is becoming an area that produces little energy at a high cost, which is driving business to Asia and America, where there is more plentiful and affordable energy available.

He said: “I wish the Government to get on with removing subsidies to onshore wind in the way that we said we would do. We gave plenty of notice of this and the sooner we do it the sooner we get a bit closer to having a less-damaged energy market.”

Labour’s bid to delay the closure of renewable obligation subsidies for onshore wind was defeated, with MPs voting 270 to 183 to stick to the original date.

Mr McCaig later withdrew his amendment on returning RO powers to Scotland.

The SNP front bencher also called for the Government to bring forward a “proper, well-thought-out and well-consulted” strategy for carbon capture and storage technology (CCS).

A £1 billion CCS fund – a competition which aimed to find ways to limit pollution from power stations – was scrapped last year.

Mr McCaig said: “We have seen the Government be all over the shop when it comes to carbon capture and storage.

“One minute they’re for it, one minute they’re against it, one minute it’s not working and then the next it’s promising for the future.”

He criticised the impact of the “severe mixed-messages” on investor confidence.

Mr McCaig added: “If there’s going to be investment from industry, which I certainly hope, and I get the general impression on both sides of this House there are honourable members who wish to see this become a reality in the United Kingdom, then we need an unequivocal statement from the Government and we need an unequivocal strategy which is what I’m calling for today.”

Ms Leadsom said she was frustrated by opposition parties trying to push the Government to agree to “expensive and inflexible targets”.

“We are committed to ensuring the UK continues to do its part to tackle climate change in line with the Climate Change Act and our international and EU obligations,” she said.

“However, we want to do this as cost-effectively as possible to keep costs down for family and businesses whilst delivering on legally-binding commitments.”

She added: “I find it strange that opposition parties are often arguing that we’re not doing enough to tackle fuel poverty and yet they’re urging us to sign consumers up to distorting and expensive power sector targets.”

Source:  MICHAEL SETTLE | The Herald | Monday 14 March 2016 | www.heraldscotland.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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