ENGINEERS are to flick the off switch at Scotland's largest power station and bring down the curtain on almost half a century of service.

The last of four generating units at Longannet Power Station in Fife will be turned off today, signalling the end of coal-fired electricity production in Scotland.

Owners ScottishPower have blamed the high cost of connecting to the national grid for the shut down, saying is is no longer economical to keep Longannet running.

More than 230 people work at the plant, although all but a handful have either been redeployed or have chosen to take retirement.

Hugh Finlay, Generation Director at ScottishPower, said that the switch off was a "sad day" for everyone involved with the plant, which marked the end of an era.

He added: "The highly-skilled team at Longannet have worked hard in difficult circumstances over the last 6 months to ensure that the station continued to operate at a high level over the winter.

“Originally designed to run for 25 years, the success of Longannet has been driven by substantial investment over the years and by the dedication of the men and women overseeing the station’s operations.

"Over the station’s lifetime thousands of people have worked tirelessly to keep Longannet running safely, and our thanks go out to every single person involved.

"Although ScottishPower is at the forefront of renewable energy development, we will be reflecting today on the important contribution that Longannet has made in keeping the lights on for millions of homes and businesses for nearly half a century.”

The last megawatt from Longannet will be generated at 3pm when the final unit is shut down.

The station has been in operation for 46 years and was the largest in Europe when it came online in 1969. Capable of producing 2,400 megawatts of electricity for the grid, Longannet powered over two million homes on average every year it was operational.

No decisions have been taken on the future of the site, but plans are expected to be announced before the end of the year.

Environmentalists have welcomed the shutdown as it ends Scotland;s long association with coal-generated power.

Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “For the first time in at least 115 years there will be no coal being burnt to make electricity anywhere in Scotland.

"For a country which virtually invented the Industrial Revolution, this is a hugely significant step, marking the end of coal and the beginning of the end for fossil fuels in Scotland. It is also a big step for Europe, with Longannet the third largest coal plant in the EU."

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks added:

“The closure of Longannet marks an historic and inevitable step in our energy transition, as Scotland becomes one of the first nations to end its use of coal for power.

"While the power station has served the nation for many years, the world is moving forward to cleaner, cheaper forms of renewable energy generation."