THE Scottish Government's pledge to meet the country's electricity needs from renewable energy by 2020 has been boosted by a new report that claims the target is achievable.

Environmentalists seized on the report, saying it effectively kills off controversial plans for a coal-fired power station proposed for Ayrshire because it casts doubt on the need for the new facility.

The Electricity Generation Policy Statement, based on research studies looking at future energy supply, storage and demand, sets out ministers' plans for renewable energy and fossil fuel thermal generation.

It says Scotland's future electricity needs can be met without the need for new nuclear power stations and says renewable generation will be backed up, with thermal generation progressively fitted with carbon capture and storage.

The statement argues that low-carbon energy policies will not only benefit the environment and create jobs, but also lead to lower household bills. It moots a figure of £1285 for an average household energy bill by 2020, whereas carrying on with "business as usual" would lead to a bill of £1379.

However, it came as an industry expert, Sir Donald Miller, warned that electricity bills will rise by at least 58% if the UK Government is to meet its target of 30%

of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020.

This could add around £283 to an annual bill in Scotland, and Sir Donald warned the more ambitious Scottish Government target of generating the equivalent of 100% of Scotland's own electricity demand from renewable resources by 2020 would mean even greater rises in household bills.

The Scottish Government report considered the potential of carbon capture and storage (CCS), which would be introduced to all coal-fired plants by 2025 under current plans. It could create up to 5000 jobs and be worth £3.5 billion to the Scottish economy, the report said.

But RSPB Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland and WWF Scotland said the policy statement confirmed that only 2.5GW of thermal generation will be required by 2020.

They say Scotland currently generates almost twice that total at Longannet (2.4GW), Peterhead (1.5GW) and Cockenzie (1GW), and they argue the document effectively rules out the need for Peel Energy's controversial coal plant proposed for Hunterston in Ayrshire.

North Ayrshire Council received more than 20,000 objections to the proposal for a plant with experimental CCS by Ayrshire Power, which is owned by Peel Energy. It voted against the development, which will now go to a public inquiry.

A Scottish Government spokesman said last night it would be wrong to think that the policy statement prejudiced any planning application and it did not pre-empt the planning inquiry.

Muir Miller, project director at Ayrshire Power, said: "Peel Energy welcomes the Scottish Government's refreshed Electricity Generation Policy Statement. We are encouraged the Scottish Government remains fully committed to having Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) form an integral part of the country's energy plans.

"The Scottish Government has consistently expressed targets for renewable energy to play a predominant role for electricity supply in Scotland by 2020 and they have restated that this 'will be supported by a minimum of 2.5 GW of thermal generation progressively fitted with CCS'.  The Ayrshire Power project is supportive of this and the target of 'demonstrating CCS at commercial scale in Scotland by 2020 with full retrofit across conventional power stations thereafter by 2025-30'.

"The document clearly states 'the Scottish electricity generation mix cannot currently, or in the foreseeable future, operate without baseload and balancing services provided by thermal electricity generation.  The scheduled closure of existing plants and the construction of a minimum of 2.5 GW of new or replacement efficient fossil fuel electricity generation progressively fitted with CCS would satisfy security of supply concerns and, together with renewable energy, deliver large amounts of electricity exports. This generation portfolio would be consistent with our climate change targets and reporting under the net Scottish emissions account.'

"We find it surprising that anyone having read the Scottish Government's Energy Generation Policy Statement could summarise that it any way indicates there is no requirement for the proposed CCS demonstration facility at Hunterston.

"We look forward to working with the Scottish Government to ensure Scotland is rightfully regarded as a world leader in developing a reliable and sustainable means of energy production with renewable energy at the heart of the policy, backed up by new efficient low carbon thermal generation."