Scotland 'risking a blackout' in a bid to go green

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THE "lights could go out" over Scotland unless new power stations are built in the next two years to ward off a looming electricity crisis, the head of one of Scotland's most successful companies has warned Alex Salmond.

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Rupert Soames, chief executive of power supply firm Aggreko, told the First Minister that the National Grid will lose a third of its capacity by 2018 as a string of nuclear, gas and oil-fired power stations across the UK are retired - including several in Scotland.

Mr Soames claimed that no other industrialised country in the world is at risk of losing so much of its energy supply at the same time - and without a realistic back-up plan.

He urged both the Scottish and UK governments to postpone green energy targets by a decade. Unless "the concrete is poured" on a new fleet of power stations within the next two years, Mr Soames warned, "we will be in serious danger of the lights going out".

His warning came as British Gas announced it will increase bills by an average of 7 per cent from 10 December. British Gas blamed rising wholesale prices.

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Mr Soames, the boss of the FTSE 100 firm - which has supplied energy for events including the World Cup and the Beijing Olympics, accused Scottish ministers of "wishful thinking" on renewable energy targets, which are among the most ambitious in the world.

"There is a danger in some quarters (in Scotland] of believing that if you wish things to be true, they will be true," he told an audience of MSPs and business leaders at the annual Business in the Parliament conference in Edinburgh. He said: "Scotland might wish to be a major exporter of renewable energy to Europe, and might wish to see an interconnector built across the North Sea, but does anyone really believe that we can get one built in the next ten years?"

Mr Soames attacked politicians for being too focused on long-term targets several decades away, and for having no "Plan B" when it comes to addressing the threat of more immediate energy shortages.

"We may wish the replacement to be wind; we may wish it to be tidal; but wishing isn't going to make it happen," he said. "We need a Plan B."

But Mr Soames did not reserve his criticism for Scotland.

"At the moment we as a nation are turning up to meetings with the bank manager in jeans and a T-shirt that says: 'Jesus loves you'," he said.

"All of this leaves investors shaking their heads.The UK is in danger of becoming an unattractive place to invest in infrastructure."

Mr Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill, has long been a critic of the government's failure to commission enough new power stations - but yesterday's comments are expected to spark a fresh row over the Scottish Government's ambitious renewables targets and its stringent anti-nuclear stance.

Scotland is committed to cutting carbon emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050.

Gavin Brown, energy spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: "The SNP needs to listen to the CEO of one of Scotland's most successful companies, a real energy expert, and find a credible policy for our energy needs.

"The chorus of criticism continues to grow against the SNP's dogmatic stance on nuclear power. Alex Salmond is refusing to face facts."

Niall Stuart, chief executive of trade body Scottish Renewables, admitted Scotland did face electricity supply problems in the short-term which could not be overcome solely through green energy generation, such as wind and tidal.

"Mr Soames is right in that we face massive challenges to replace the loss of existing generation in the network," Mr Stuart told The Scotsman. "We will need a mixture of other forms of generation for the foreseeable future. However, what he completely fails to understand is that Scotland is part of the British network and we need to focus on our massive strengths and the economic and environmental benefit of renewables.

"Our research clearly shows Scotland can aim to be 100 per cent renewables in the medium-term."

A Scottish Government spokesman said Scotland was on track to meet interim renewable energy targets. "The Scottish Parliament has united to set world-leading carbon reduction targets that have also been widely endorsed among the private, public and third sector," he said. "The on-going expansion of our low-carbon industries - in particular renewables alongside greater energy efficiency - will play a key role in reducing emissions.

"Since coming to office in 2007, the Scottish Government has consented 36 large renewable energy projects, while the Crown Estate has granted leases for more than ten GW of offshore wind projects and marine (wind or tidal) energy schemes capable of generating up to 1.6 GW off Scotland's north coast by 2020. The Scottish Government is confident of meeting our targets for the industry."