A GROUP of academics whose views on green energy underpinned a central plank of the Better Together campaign has published a shock U-turn report arguing that independence now offers the best way to meet Scotland's renewables targets.
In February Dr David Toke of Birmingham University, now Aberdeen, and a team from three other universities in England and Wales accused the Scottish Govermnent of letting Scottish emotions overcome hard-headed financial calculations. Their new report finds the UK Government's nuclear deal and cuts to green subsidies have reversed the situation.
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It has drawn a furious response from Better Together supporters, with Labour energy shadow Tom Greatrex accusing the team of being "highly misleading" and "twisting the facts".
It includes an extremely downbeat assessment of the prospects for offshore wind in Scotland under the UK system, claiming the subsidies being proposed make it unlikely any of the projects will now go ahead. Even under independence, it sees offshore wind as an expensive optional extra.
Previously the group said that meeting the Scottish Government target of 100% renewable electricity by 2020 depended on the spending power of consumers in the remainder of the UK through their power bills, which would be withdrawn after independence.
However, thanks to the recent UK Govermnent deal to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset, involving 35 years of subsidies and a £10 billion loan guarantee, and the cuts to green subsidies unveiled yesterday, they now say it would cost Scots consumers considerably more to achieve the renewables targets within the union.
They say Scots bills would have to rise by 10.4%, assuming plans for at least two more nuclear stations go ahead, while it would only require a 7.2% rise to meet the targets in a nuclear-free independent Scotland. This would involve Scotland exiting the British electricity system, which the Scottish Government is not proposing.
The report, entitled Is An Independent Scottish Electricity System Now A Good Solution for Renewable Energy and Scotland?, acknowledges staying in the union would be the cheaper option if no other nuclear stations were built, since this would only involve a 5.6% rise in Scottish bills.
Meanwhile, building Scottish offshore wind would be on top of the 7.2% rise, which is separated because the report calculates it is not necessary to meet the 2020 target because onshore wind, biomass, solar and hydroelectricity can pick up the slack.
The report concludes: "With a UK nuclear new-build programme going ahead, an independent Scottish electricity system could deliver the Scottish renewable electricity targets at lower electricity prices for the consumer than if this was achieved as part of the continued union of the electricity system between Scotland and the rest of the UK."
Mr Greatrex said some investors in Scottish renewables "have made it clear that a separate Scotland would be worse for the green economy, and why it makes no sense to undermine the single energy market by breaking up the UK".
He added: "The fact this report completely ignores such considerations and directly contradicts David Toke's earlier work severely undermines its credibility."
l A map of Scotland's wild land has been hailed as the best in the world. Wild land charity the John Muir Trust has come out strongly in support of the Core Wild Land 2013 Map published earlier this year by Scottish Natural Heritage, which aims to protect wild land from large-scale commercial development and which is currently out for public consultation.