CRISIS talks are underway after it emerged that Scotland's last coal-fired power station is to close within a year.


ScottishPower has confirmed that it is set to pull the plug on the Longannet plant in Fife, one of the country's most important power generators, after the company missed out on a deal to supply energy to the national grid.

The 40-year-old power station has around 430 permanent on site employees, while around 100 small businesses receive regular contracts linked to the facility, worth around £10m a year.

The plant had been set to shut by the end of the decade due to it coming to the end of its lifespan and tough targets over carbon emissions.

However, ScottishPower insiders insisted the firm had no choice but to shut the plant prematurely, claiming environmental taxes and the high cost of hooking up to the National Grid had made keeping it open economically impossible.

Neil Clitheroe, chief executive of retail and generation with the firm, added that he was "extremely disappointed" with a decision by the National Grid to award a contract to maintain voltage levels to the SSE-run Peterhead gas power station, which would have given Longannet a two-year stay of execution.

Unions called for the "catastrophic decision" to be reversed, saying Scotland will lose 2.5 gigawatts of generating capacity from the system with no replacement on the horizon, adding that the move would devastate the local economy.

Holyrood energy minister, Fergus Ewing, began urgent discussions with unions, Scottish Power and Fife Council and hinted that he had not given up hope that premature closure could be averted. A Holyrood debate over Longannet is likely to take place tomorrow.

Mr Ewing said: "The news that Longannet is now likely to close prematurely is very concerning for the Scottish Government. We will look to engage all relevant authorities and agencies alongside Scottish Power to secure the best possible outcomes for those affected throughout the local economy and further afield.

"Of course there has been broad consensus that the electricity system in Scotland will be less resilient if Longannet closes prematurely.

"It is vital, therefore, that these discussions also explore all possible options for averting the premature closure of the site, such as possible action to address discriminatory transmission charges, whether additional National Grid contracts could be available and whether the restoration coal proposal - mentioned in the UK Budget - could help the station's economics."

Scottish Power and the Scottish Government have hit out at a transmission charging regime which leaves Longannet facing huge charges to hook up to the national grid due to its location.

However, ministers faced fresh questions over their energy policy, with the closure of Longannet to leave Scotland increasingly reliant on importing energy from other parts of Britain.

Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser said: "The SNP is anti-fracking, anti-nuclear and obsessed with developing intermittent wind power.

"This approach will have serious issues in relation to security of supply and could mean we will have to start importing power from England unless we can find a way to fill this gap."

Prospect, one of the unions representing workers, said more than 1,000 highly-skilled jobs at the plant and in the wider supply chain were at risk.

Negotiations officer Richard Hardy said: "This decision raises two major concerns for our members - the impact on their jobs and the West Fife economy and the implications for security of supply.

"Removing such a large baseload generator from the system will make Scotland even more reliant on importing energy from England, at a time when England's generating capacity is also falling."

However, while environmental campaigners expressed sympathy with workers, they said the closure of the plant was an important step in securing a low carbon future. The plant has been named as the largest single source of pollution in Scotland.

Gina Hanrahan, climate and energy policy officer at WWF Scotland, said: "The Scottish Government and others now need to focus on attracting new low-carbon employment to the area so that we can secure a just transition to a clean energy future."

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: "The awarded contract is good news for Peterhead, a plant that is developing CCS (carbon capture and storage) technology which will help towards our carbon emission objectives.

"This will also help maintain high levels of electricity security for Scotland."