THE “just transition” away from oil and gas will have failed if Scots are still living in fuel poverty in the years ahead, the Government minister in charge of the area has said.

Richard Lochhead, the SNP Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work, told The National that it was key “no one is left behind” during the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Speaking at the final day of the SNP conference in Aberdeen, the Moray MSP said: “If we don’t get to a position where Scotland is benefitting greatly from the renewable energy resources on our doorstep, and if people are still in fuel poverty paying high fuel bills in the years ahead, then clearly the just transition will have failed.

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“That’s why we are working closely with the private sector and trade unions to make sure we have a just transition. That means that no one is left behind, we tackle fuel poverty, and we deliver affordable energy in the decades ahead.”

The Scottish Government defines a household as being in “fuel poverty” if more than 10% of income is spent on energy after housing costs have been deducted.

It has previously pledged a 10-year, £500 million “Just Transition Fund” for the north east and Moray “to diversify the regional economy away from carbon-intensive industries and to capitalise on the opportunities, including jobs and prosperity, that the transition to net zero will bring”.

In 2021, the Scottish Government dropped plans to set up a state-owned, not-for-profit energy company. Lochhead said that the constraints of devolution had made such a business unfeasible.

“Of course the Scottish Government is committed to a publicly-owned energy company, but we need the full powers of independence to deliver that,” he said.

“We don’t have power over the energy market, energy regulation, or some of the other issues that would be required to have a proper publicly-owned energy company to give us a stake in Scotland’s energy resources. That’s why we should have independence as a country.”

Asked about UK Labour leader Keir Starmer’s pledge to launch a publicly-owned “Great British Energy” company within one year of entering government, Lochhead said the Scottish Government was “sympathetic and supportive”.

“The question for us of course is what would that mean for Scotland?” he went on. “How will we be ensuring Scotland directly benefits from its own energy resources?

“We’re going to be in a position in a few decades where we’re creating five times what we require as a nation in terms of energy. That is a massive economic opportunity, it’s also a window to a better and more equal society in terms of eliminating fuel poverty and giving people affordable energy.”

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Lochhead was citing a report published by his SNP Westminster colleagues which estimated that Scotland’s annual green energy output could be increased from 12GW to 80GW by 2050.

The report was also hailed by Ian Blackford at the conference, who told the National it would mean “creating 385,000 jobs, dwarfing the jobs that we have today in oil and gas”.

Former first minister Alex Salmond (below) has called for the creation of a “Scottish National Renewables Corporation”. He said this should be “allocated a public share in every offshore wind, and other major renewable project, as a licence condition”.

“SNRC can then enter the market for production and supply as People’s Energy Scotland, to ensure that the benefits from these immense resources flow to the Scottish people,” he added.

The National:

Asked about Salmond’s proposals, Lochhead said: “Later this year we’re publishing for consultation our refreshed energy strategy. That is going to be a milestone in the development of Scottish energy policy, so clearly a lot of these issues will be addressed.

“We’re looking at also a strong evidence base for what the situation is for demand and supply of energy in Scotland, so we can look at what our energy profile should be in the decades ahead and the role of different technologies. We are considering all these issues and what more we can do as the Scottish Government.

“We are doing what we can with limited powers at the moment to maximise the benefit for Scotland from our energy resources, but clearly energy policy itself, as well as a lot of fiscal policy, is reserved to the UK Government. That’s why energy, and the future of Scotland’s energy is going to be a key issue in the independence referendum.”