Energy analysts claim that an independent Scotland would be saddled with a £600m bill to keep thousands of wind turbines turning because Westminster would not be prepared to send “international aid” to subsidise wind farms north of the border.
Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, has said a second referendum is “highly likely” in a bid to retain Scotland’s membership of the EU after Brexit. A consequence of separation, however, could be that an independent Scotland has to fully support its renewables industry, which at present is propped up with huge subsidies paid for via the bills of British energy consumers.
In 2015, the latest year for which figures are available, about £600m worth of subsidies were paid to Scottish wind farms. John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, a charity set up by Noel Edmonds, the television presenter, to promote sustainable energy technologies, said such cross-border subsidies from English and Welsh consumers to the owners of wind farms in Scotland “would not be politically acceptable in Westminster or Cardiff’ if Scotland becomes independent.
It would in effect, he said, “be international aid to a developed country and extremely controversial”.
Constable, added: “It is quite conceivable that this subsidy burden, currently shared by all UK consumers, would fall entirely on Scottish consumers in the event of independence.” Similar warnings were issued by Ed Davey, the former UK energy minister, in 2014 when the last independence referendum was held. He claimed average annual energy bills could increase by up to £189 in Scotland. Davey’s claims were rubbished by the SNP who insisted that both countries would wish to operate a shared all-Britain energy market.
Since then, hundreds more turbines have been built in Scotland, meaning the subsidy burden if it were to fall entirely on Scotland will be even greater. There are currently more than 3,000 operational turbines in Scotland with almost 2,000 more under construction or consented by planning officials.
Sturgeon signalled the need for another Scottish independence referendum last week after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that the devolved assembly in Edinburgh did not need to be consulted on triggering Brexit.
While the court ruled against Theresa May’s Brexit plans and decreed that MPs were entitled to vote on whether to trigger Article 50, the justices unanimously ruled that the government did not need to consult with the devolved powers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The ruling prompted Sturgeon to ask: “Is Scotland content for our future to be dictated by an increasingly right-wing Westminster government with just one MP here, or is it better that we take our future into our own hands?”
Alex Salmond the former SNP first minister, recently speculated that a second referendum on independence could happen within two years.
However, as with the first vote in 2014, Scottish ministers will be expected to produce a detailed economic impact of separation. Energy analysts claim renewable energy subsidies are one of the costs of independence that Scottish ministers have appeared reluctant to address.
Leo Smith, who runs Gridwatch, a website that tracks British energy production, said: “Scotland has relied on the British taxpayer to finance its expansion of onshore wind but that is unlikely to continue if it achieves independence.”
A Scottish government spokesman said the UK government had acknowledged the value of maintaining efficient cross-border trading, which increased security of supply, reduced costs for consumers and increased the efficiency of low carbon generation.
He added: “The UK government’s view, which relates to energy trading between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, also applies to Scotland and is, in reality, even stronger in our case.”