SNP and Greens in ‘embarrassing downgrade’ after halting energy company plans

SNP ministers have been accused of an “embarrassing downgrade” after “halting” work on setting up a public energy company – despite also being an ask of their new partners in government.

A publicly-owned not-for-profit power company being set up was a flagship announcement made by Nicola Sturgeon at the 2017 SNP conference when she stated that “energy would be bought wholesale or generated here in Scotland – renewable, of course – and sold to customers as close to cost price as possible”.

The First Minister told MSPs in June that her Government had “not done well enough” in generating energy and harnessing the economic benefits after Greens co-leader Loran Slater pressed her to speed up plans for a public energy company.

But the public energy company was notably absent from the First Minister’s Programme for Government, despite the influence of the Scottish Greens in their first venture into government.

READ MORE: Sturgeon admits SNP ‘not done well enough’ in setting up public energy firm

Instead, the Government will press ahead with watered-down plans for “a new dedicated national public energy agency”.

The Programme for Government states the energy agency will “harness the potential of decarbonisation at scale and provide leadership”.

It adds: “We will work to have a virtual agency established within the coming year and a dedicated physical agency by September 2025, with a remit to accelerate transformational change in how we heat and use energy in homes and buildings, aid public understanding and awareness, and coordinate delivery of investment.

“Fair Work First criteria will be part of the evaluation criteria for any future heat contracts.”

The SNP’s Net Zero Secretary has confirmed the plans for a public energy company were “halted” during the pandemic.

Scottish Labour has attacked the Government for ripping up its plans for a dedicated energy company and accused the Scottish Greens of having “abandoned their principles”.

READ MORE: Programme for Government: Climate activists ‘disappointed’ with SNP’s oil and gas plans despite Greens influence

The party’s net zero, energy and transport spokesperson, Monica Lennon, said: “This embarrassing downgrade lays bare the complete lack of ambition at the heart of this government.

“There is always a gulf between what the SNP promise and what they deliver, but even by their standards this is galling.

“This confirms once and for all how little influence the Greens really have in government – and how quickly they’ve abandoned their principles.”

She added: “A real public energy company has the potential to transform energy production in Scotland and drive forward the renewable revolution we urgently need. Instead it seems we’re about to be landed with yet another toothless government body.

“This is just not good enough. The Greens and the SNP must drop these watered-down plans and commit to delivering the promised national energy company in full.”

In June, while her party was locked in negotiations with the SNP, Ms Slater, now the Scottish Government’s Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity Minister, told the First Minister that “we can still do more here in Scotland”.

She added: “The Scottish Government has long committed to establishing a public energy company, which could provide tidal energy with the demand that it needs.

“Tidal energy technology was developed in Scotland. We are the world experts in it but, if we do not act now, we will lose that industry to other countries. When will the First Minister deliver a public energy company?”

In response, the First Minister failed to acknowledge her plans for a public energy company but admitted “we have not done well enough” in renewable energy.

Speaking in March of this year, the First Minister insisted that setting up a public energy company “is one of the many things that we want to get back on track as soon as we get out of the Covid pandemic”.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon orders her officials to restart work on independence plans

Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, Richard Dixon, said: “The continued silence on the commitment to establish a public energy company remains deeply concerning.

“This company should be driving change by creating new renewables projects, prioritising domestic supply chains and providing affordable energy.”

Net Zero Secretary Michael Matheson has confirmed in an answer to a parliamentary question from Ms Lennon that “work on a planned public energy company was halted during the pandemic”, adding that “ministers will now focus government efforts” on the new public energy agency.

He added: “This will coordinate and accelerate delivery of heat and energy efficiency work, inform and educate the public on the changes required, provide expert advice to national and local government, and work with public, private and third sector partners to deliver this transformative national project.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992