ALEX Salmond's ambitious plans for renewable energy in an independent Scotland are "politically unachievable" because the rest of the UK would be unlikely to continue subsidising them, energy experts warn today.
An independent study by five academics, led by Dr David Toke of Birmingham University, suggests emotion rather than hard-headed financial considerations might be governing the approach of the First Minister and his colleagues and that if they relied on the latter they might see "continued union as providing a basis for the achievement of good progress towards Scottish renewable targets".
The experts also warn of higher energy bills for Scots under independence, as a significant expansion of Scottish-based off-shore renewables would "lead to considerable increases in Scottish electricity prices, something that a Scottish Government would find hard to sustain politically".
However, the Scottish Government said the experts were mistaken and that the UK not only "needs Scotland's electricity to meet its own renewables targets but also to help keep the lights on south of the Border".
The SNP administration has a target of deriving 100% of Scottish electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2020. This compares to a UK target of 15% of all energy, not just electricity, coming from renewables by the same date.
The report says Scotland has led the way in the pursuit of ambitious renewable energy objectives, "but it is still the case that without the subsidies paid by electricity consumers in the rest of the UK, the Scottish Government's ambitious targets for renewable energy would be politically unachievable".
The team behind the report – titled Scotland, renewable energy and the independence debate – will head or heart rule the roost? – comprised Mr Toke, Professor Peter Strachan from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Dr Geraint Ellis from Queens University in Belfast and Drs Richard Cowell and Fionnguala Sherry-Brennan from Cardiff University.
Mr Toke said: "Scottish independence will only be good for renewable energy if the Westminster Government agrees in advance to pay the same rates for Scottish renewables as is available south of the Border. However, no such agreement exists or is likely to exist."
The academics' paper notes: "Without the subsidies paid by electricity consumers in the rest of the UK, the Scottish Government's ambitious targets for renewable energy would be politically unachievable.
"It is argued that if Scotland does move towards independence, then there could be little reason for the UK to continue paying (much) of the subsidies, since the resulting renewable generation would no longer contribute towards UK renewable energy targets."
The report concludes: "As with other aspects of the independence debate, Scottish emotions may push them one way but hard-headed financial calculations may push them towards seeing continued union as providing a basis for the achievement of good progress towards Scottish renewable targets."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Scotland has some of the greatest renewable energy sources not just in these islands but across Europe, and the reality is the rest of the UK not only needs Scotland's electricity to meet its own renewables targets but also to help keep the lights on south of the Border."
The spokeswoman pointed out that the UK Government's own adviser David Kennedy, chief executive of the Independent Committee on Climate Change, had said an independent Scotland would continue to export renewable energy and be paid for that by England.
She added: "Given Scotland's vast renewable resources, with independence, it will be in the rest of UK's overwhelming interests to ensure support arrangements are in place to secure Scottish renewable energy."