NICOLA Sturgeon has opened a new front in her rapidly escalating fight with the UK Government after she demanded a veto over Britain's energy policy.

 

The First Minister said UK ministers should take key decisions only after "consultation and agreement" with the Scottish Government.

Loading article content

The demand came as experts warned Scotland will rely increasingly on importing power from England to keep the lights on in the years ahead.

It is the latest in a series of confrontations between the Scottish and UK governments since the General Election.

The Scottish Government has already challenged Conservative plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, while a bitter row is brewing over proposals to devolve more powers to Holyrood.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said the First Minister's latest intervention amounted to an attempt "to unilaterally declare independence for Scotland".

Ms Sturgeon was speaking after a meeting of the Scottish Energy Advisory Board, a panel co-chaired by the First Minister and Professor Sir Jim McDonald of Strathclyde University.

She set out a list of specific demands, including an assurance that subsidies for Scotland's onshore windfarms will not be changed without the blessing of SNP ministers in Edinburgh.

She also called on the UK Government to commit to major offshore wind projects, where Scotland has lost out because of the higher costs of maintaining turbines in deeper coastal waters.

Ms Sturgeon also urged the UK Government to cut transmission charges for generators in remote parts of Scotland further than already planned.

Demanding inter-governmental consultation and agreement on key energy decisions, Ms Sturgeon said: "Scotland is an energy powerhouse but we have very limited powers on energy policy.

"That is why today I am calling on the UK to take a much more collegiate approach to policy-making on energy and ensure proper consultation with the Scottish Government on major areas of energy policy."

Stressing the environmental importance of Scotland's growing renewable energy sector, she added: "We have achieved a great deal in the renewable field, however there is still much to do and Scotland's natural potential makes it a cost-efficient place to develop renewable resources.

"We see a benefit to both Scotland and the rest of the UK in enabling this economically efficient development of renewable potential to continue."

Mr Fraser said: "You have to ask what role the SNP envisages for its 56 MPs at Westminster.

"They are in the House of Commons to help shape policy and contribute to these very discussions.

"If Nicola Sturgeon says they are not to have any role, why are they there?"

Energy policy is reserved to Westminster, though Holyrood exerts significant influence over the power generating mix in Scotland through its control over the planning system.

Ms Sturgeon's call for a final say on wider policy issues came as experts told MSPs Scotland would be increasingly dependent on electricity imported from England as more than half the country's generating capacity is due to shut down in the next few years.

Longannet, the giant coal-fired power station in Fife, is expected to close by March next year as new carbon emission rules will make it uneconomic.

Scotland's two ageing nuclear power stations, Hunterston and Torness, are scheduled to go offline by 2023. The three closures will cut Scotland's generating capacity by 55 per cent and leave the country's energy mix dominated by windfarms.

Addressing Holyrood's Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, Professor Gareth Harrison, of the University of Edinburgh, said: "In terms of lots of generation closing, if you're comfortable with that then you could probably cope assuming there is sufficient level of generation in the rest of the UK to cope with the inevitable swings in wind.

"My own personal view is that you should retain something.

"It provides you with a degree of flexibility that you wouldn't otherwise have."

Lawrence Slade, interim chief executive officer for Energy UK, said the UK as a whole has one of the most secure energy systems in Europe.

He said: "Certainly from National Grid's responsibility, we are confident that they have the tools and resources available to them to deliver security of supply in the coming years."