Leader: SNP must come clean on true cost of renewable energy

GERMANY'S bold declaration that it intends to be nuclear-free by 2022 - the biggest industrial power to renounce nuclear energy - is set to trigger powerful chain reactions of its own.

It will have major repercussions for its economy as about a quarter of its energy is currently derived from nuclear. And it also raises the bar for other Western countries, already locked in an intensifying political race to announce ever more impressive targets for the switch to renewables.

No details have yet been provided by Berlin as to the cost implications for business and household energy users, or from where the alternative energy will come. But the announcement was immediately welcomed by the Scottish Government. The SNP is pledged to generate the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland's own electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020. The German move will be seized as a double boost, seeming both to validate the Scottish government's ambitions in the face of public scepticism while strengthening its opposition to nuclear plants. But how much of an exemplar is Germany for the administration here?

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Whether its decision was driven by environmental conscience or political convenience is moot. In March the Green Party won the Christian Democrat stronghold of Baden-Wuerttemberg. German ambitions to scale down its nuclear plants were already well established before the Fukushima crisis in Japan triggered massive anti-nuclear protests. Chancellor Angela Merkel took the country's seven oldest reactors offline for a safety review and set up a panel to review nuclear power. These seven will not now be re-opened, while a problem-hit facility in northern Germany will also be shut down permanently.

Fanfaring the end of nuclear is one thing, finding an alternative source of 23 per cent of the country's energy supply quite another. And it is on the question of reliable, sustainable and environmentally clean alternative supply on which the nuclear-free policy will flourish or founder. It faces opposition from environmentalists to giant pylons and high voltage cables dividing the country - concerns all too familiar here. But the immediate worry is supply. If wind farms can't fill the gap, coal power could be a beneficiary.

Here some 200 billion will be needed for energy infrastructure to meet existing carbon reduction targets. Age UK calculates another 250,000 people will be forced into fuel poverty as energy bills climb further, while the chemicals industry is warning of plant shutdowns and an energy price regime that could force companies overseas.

If the Scottish Government wishes to follow Germany it needs to move beyond emissions targets to real transparency and honesty about the costs for households and businesses - the very ones now being hammered by the worst cost increases and spending squeeze for a generation.