SCOTLAND could earn billions of pounds a year by exporting electricity if Holyrood was handed full powers over the country’s energy sector, says a leading think-tank.
But the claims were attacked by critics last night as “incoherent and confused”.
A report from Reform Scotland said that the nation could become a “world-leader” in trading green energy if it switched from nuclear power to renewables such as wind and sea power to generate electricity.
The report also said the Scottish Government should shut all nuclear power stations north of the Border and instead become the biggest exporter of low-carbon electricity in Europe.
However, the demands for full energy powers to be completely devolved from Westminster were questioned by Labour MP Tom Greatrex, who said the report failed to explain how Scotland would produce enough renewables with the “substantial subsidy” he said it received from the UK.
The row came just days after a report from multinational firm Citigroup said payments from the UK’s 27 million households and 4.5 million business consumers to help subsidise Scotland’s renewable power stations would end under independence.
But Reform Scotland said the SNP government’s flagship policy target of reaching a 100 per cent renewable target by 2020 meant it was a “realistic possibility” that the economy could earn £2 billion a year exporting electricity.
The report by Reform Scotland trustee Graeme Blackett and think-tank director Geoff Mawdsley said this boost to Scotland’s economy would only be realised if energy policy was “fully devolved from Westminster to Holyrood”.
It went on to say Scotland could “become a world leader in new-energy technology” if the powers were devolved and all of the nation’s nuclear power stations should be “phased out”.
Mr Blackett said: “We would support the aim of a substantial increase in energy exports with a target of around half of electricity generated in Scotland being exported because, even using conservative assumptions on prices, this would increase Scottish exports by £2bn per annum, equivalent to around 17 per cent of manufacturing exports to the rest of the UK.
“With the right policies and drive, Scotland could become the biggest exporter of low carbon electricity in Europe.
“We support the policy of the SNP Scottish Government and the previous Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive, which has been to promote renewable energy development. This policy has been successful and it is now the time to go further.”
Mr Blackett went on to say SNP ministers were “right to encourage the further acceleration of renewable energy” as he backed the target of generating all of the country’s electricity through renewables by 2020. He said: “A large proportion of that target can be achieved by wind power – on-shore over the next few years and increasing off-shore as 2020 approaches.
“We do not think that Scotland’s existing nuclear power stations should be replaced and we believe that the sites should be used to develop new energy technologies.
“Energy policy is crucial to Scotland’s economic future. The energy sector has the potential to make a major contribution to the development of the Scottish economy.”
Mr Blackett said the £2bn figure had been estimated by looking at Scotland’s expected electricity surplus, which he said could be sold to other nations across the globe.
Energy minister Fergus Ewing seized on the Reform Scotland report to claim Scotland’s energy would “continue to be used across the UK and Europe” under independence.
He said: “We share Reform Scotland’s view that Scotland could become the biggest exporter of low-carbon electricity in Europe. We already produce 40 per cent of the UK’s renewable electricity and with the continued investment we are witnessing, Scotland’s energy will continue to be used across the UK and Europe in all future constitutional circumstances, including independence.
“Transferring powers over energy would enable us to go even further and make energy markets work better for Scottish consumers, industry and the Scottish economy.”
However, Mr Greatrex issued a stark warning that handing full powers over energy to Holyrood would harm Scotland’s economy, as he criticised Reform Scotland’s claims about £2bn in revenue.
He said: “Scotland has huge potential as a generator of renewable energy, but this incoherent and confused report fails to take the most basic point – the production of renewable energy requires substantial subsidy.
“While Scotland has a plentiful supply of raw natural resources, we don’t have the customer base to finance its full exploitation. That is why Scotland benefits immensely from being part of a UK-wide energy market, because subsidies for renewables are applied to customers’ bills across Britain.
“No credible or serious player in energy sector agrees separation would do anything other than make it harder for Scotland to realise its vast renewable energy potential.”
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, head of Holyrood’s energy committee, attacked the report’s call for the closure of Scotland’s nuclear power stations, which he said were “vital” to maintain power supplies north of the Border.
He said: “Most energy experts believe it’s essential to have a mix of energy sources, that should include nuclear capacity. Nuclear stations are vital to our energy sources in Scotland.”