Labelling the decision not to prioritise the development of the Scottish carbon capture cluster in the north east as a “serious mistake”, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero Michael Matheson accused the UK Government of making a decision on political, rather than scientific grounds.
Last week, the UK energy minister, Greg Hands, confirmed the UK Government would fund the development of two carbon capture clusters in Liverpool Bay and Humberside.
The Scottish cluster, which includes the Acorn project, has been designated a ‘reserve’ cluster and will be taken forward if either of the first two are deemed inappropriate.
In an excoriating statement, Mr Matheson said it was “astonishing” the UK Government had taken the decision it had, saying it “significantly compromises” Scotland’s ability to tackle carbon emissions in the short-term.
The minister added that Nicola Sturgeon – who labelled the decision “inexplicable on any objective grounds” – will write to the Prime Minister to press the case
He told Holyrood: “Let me very clear, this government believes plainly and simply that the UK Government has made a serious mistake which it needs to correct and to award the Scottish cluster Track 1 status.
"The Scottish cluster presents the best opportunity to reduce emissions by the mid-2020s.
“Not to recognise that smacks of politics, not science. This inexplicable decision shows the UK Government is guilty of empty words and broken promises, of ensuring a just transition for Scotland’s communities.”
Mr Matheson added the decision left the project “high and dry” and that there was no clarity on the reality of the ‘reserve’ status it now holds.
Liam Kerr, the Scottish Conservative spokesperson for Net Zero, said the decision was “disappointing”, but criticised the accusation the UK Government had made the decision on political grounds.
He said: “Far from being illogical or indeed inexplicable, this was an objective process based on objective criteria which the Scottish Government didn’t raise any issues about.
"It was judged against which of the bids hit that criteria.
"This is not the end of Acorn but the beginning of an ambition to have four clusters running by 2030 and Kwasi Kwarteng [UK business secretary] says Acorn will almost certainly be built in the next few years as part of the second phase.”
Responding, Mr Matheson said Mr Kerr should be “angry” and that he and his Scottish Conservative colleagues had been “sold down the river” by the UK Government.
He added: “To me it is very clear there is a lack of consistency in the UK approach which is why it smacks and smells more of politics rather than science.”
However, he did not answer any questions on how the Scottish Government would support the cluster financially, whether it would fund the cluster itself, or how much of the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Fund is set to go towards carbon capture projects.
The UK Government has been contacted for comment.