Delays to low carbon hydrogen schemes threaten net zero progress, MPs warn

The government is being urged by a committee of MPs to give Scotland’s Acorn carbon capture project the green light in Wednesday’s Budget statement if it is serious about reaching net zero.

A new report released by the Scottish Affairs Committee on hydrogen and carbon capture in Scotland warns that “slippage in timings for hydrogen projects” could “delay the delivery of low carbon hydrogen projects and result in a failure to meet net zero targets”.

Scotland could hold the key to hydrogen and carbon capture being rolled out at scale across the UK, according to the report. “With the vast renewable energy resources it has available, Scotland can play a vital role in green hydrogen production for the UK and for export to Europe.”

But the report warns that progress is being held back by a lack of urgency on key decisions on hydrogen production, planning, storage and transportation.

“Scotland and the rest of the UK will not be able to deliver on their net zero commitments without carbon capture and storage: a factor that is critical to the success of the hydrogen industry in Scotland,” it states.

It recommends that the UK government “accelerates the deployment of carbon capture and storage in Scotland”.

The report highlights the case of the Acorn CCS and hydrogen project, which is linked to the St Fergus terminal in Aberdeenshire - where a third of the UK’s natural gas lands.

The project missed out on funding in the first phase of the UK government's carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) cluster sequencing process.

“Delays to decision making around cluster sequencing and the Acorn Project are disappointing,” the report states. It adds: “Furthermore, such delays lead to an even further deficit in carbon capture facilities in Scotland and the ultimate result is a prolonged period when carbon continues to be released at avoidable levels.”

Commenting on the report’s findings, Pete Wishart, chair of the committee, said: “Net zero is little more than a pipe dream without carbon capture.” He added: “It is deeply disappointing that the Acorn Project, that already has much of the necessary infrastructure in place, has been put on the back-burner and the lack of any certainty is majorly denting industry confidence. Clarity must be given at next week’s Budget.”

The Scottish government declined to comment, but a UK government spokesperson said: “We are making the UK a world leader in carbon capture, utilisation and storage and are accelerating development of this vital technology as part of our greater efforts to increase energy security and independence.”

The spokesperson added that the UK government is putting £1bn into CCUS and recognises “the strong role that Scotland can play in developing and expanding the use of CCUS.” Some £40m in development funding has been provided to Aberdeen and “we remain committed to ensuring this continues in Scotland and across the UK.”

But Friends of the Earth Scotland climate campaigner Alex Lee condemned the calls for greater investment in carbon capture. “The story of carbon capture is a long and inglorious legacy of failure. The UK Government must not listen to this pleading that will only benefit rich polluters like Shell and Harbour Energy who want to greenwash their fossil fuel expansion plans through the Acorn project.”