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The Acorn Project

Volume 712: debated on Tuesday 19 April 2022

The petition of residents of the constituency of Linlithgow and East Falkirk,

Declares that the UK Government’s decision not to back the Acorn project in Scotland was incredibly disappointing; further that a significant energy sector expertise exists in Scotland and that this decision will damage not only the energy sector in the North East, but also the downstream sector across the country, including Grangemouth; and further that this decision will have a serious detriment on Scotland meeting its 2045 net zero target.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to acknowledge the blow this decision will have on the energy sector in the North East and beyond, including its impact on climate change, and reverse its decision to give the Acorn project reserve bidder status, and thereby honour its commitment to support a just transition to a low carbon economy in Scotland.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Martyn Day , Official Report, 1 February 2022; Vol. 708, c. 256.]


Observations from the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change (Greg Hands):

In November 2021, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced that the HyNet and East Coast clusters have been confirmed as Track-1 clusters for the mid-2020s and will be taken forward into Track-1 negotiations. If the clusters represent value for money for the consumer and the taxpayer, then subject to final decisions of Ministers, they will receive support under the Government’s CCUS programme.

We also announced the Acorn project as a reserve cluster. A reserve cluster is one which met the eligibility criteria and performed to a good standard against the evaluation criteria. As such, we have continued to advise the Acorn project throughout phase 2 of the sequencing process, to help it continue its development and planning. This means that if Government choose to discontinue engagement with a cluster in Track-1, we can engage with this reserve cluster instead.

This announcement followed a transparent and objective assessment period, consistent with the criteria and process laid out when we launched the process in May 2021. By adhering to the published assessment process, we are ensuring that key principles of objective assessment and transparency are upheld. I would emphasise that the criteria used in our assessment provide a faithful and accurate representation of the Government’s strategic priorities for CCUS deployment specifically in the mid-2020s.

While I recognise the benefits of the Acorn project’s proposal, and its importance to the UK’s net zero transition, I remain confident in the robustness of our assessment, which found that both HyNet and the East Coast cluster performed better against the weighted criteria. I can also assure you that my officials have provided the cluster with feedback on their performance directly.

Given its status as reserve cluster, we have engaged with Acorn since the Track-1 announcement and will continue to do so throughout phase 2 of the sequencing process, to help it to continue its development and planning. The cluster has also been allocated over £40 million in development funding by the UK Government in recent years, and we are keen to ensure that the cluster is able to derive as much value as possible from this support. I have also met with representatives of Storegga, the T&S company, to explore next steps for the cluster, and my Department remains open to further contact where we can be of help.

We have also invited emitter projects seeking to connect to the Acorn project to participate in phase 2, with the aim of maintaining as credible a reserve option as possible, and we are grateful for the cluster’s ongoing co-operation in this regard. On 22 March this year, BEIS announced the phase 2 projects that have met the eligibility criteria required to proceed to full assessment1, including those intending to connect to the Acorn project.

This means that, if Government choose to discontinue engagement with either HyNet or the East Coast cluster in the event of delivery challenges arising, we can engage with this reserve cluster instead. Given the inherent delivery risks associated with these first-of-a-kind clusters, we place significant value on maintaining this credible reserve option, and the importance of this has been communicated to the cluster.

Looking beyond Track-1, the Government will seek to bring forward a process to facilitate the deployment of additional ‘Track-2’ clusters this decade, following our announcement in the net zero strategy that these clusters will enable an additional 10Mtpa of CO2 capture capacity by 2030. While I am not able to provide any further assurances regarding the Acorn project’s status in relation to Track-2, any cluster proposal which is mature and well-developed is likely to perform well in a future assessment process.

In the long-term Government remain committed to helping all industrial clusters to decarbonise as we work collectively to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and I am clear that CCUS will continue to play a key role in this process. I am also clear that, in transitioning to the net zero economy, we must ensure that the benefits of our action are distributed across all four nations of the UK; the net zero strategy includes measures which will benefit the people of Scotland across areas including heat and buildings, transport, heavy industry, and our net zero innovation portfolio.