‘DISCRIMINATORY” charges for Scottish electricity generators are to blame for the closure of a major power plant, ministers claim.

ScottishPower yesterday cited high charges for transmitting energy onto the National Grid as a key factor in its decision to shut Longannet power station in Fife and abandon plans for an East Lothian plant.

Longannet, built in 1973, is the last coal-fired power station in Scotland and employs almost 240 people, with hundreds more working in the supply chain.

The axe will fall in 2016 following warnings earlier this year that it would be unsustainable without action to reduce the £40 million extra transmission charges faced by the site.

Unions called the decision a “disaster for local jobs and the economy” as the Scottish Government blasted Westminster for providing economic obstacles for power firms north of the Border.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said: “Scottish Power’s decision to close Longannet in March 2016 is deeply regrettable and has far-reaching consequences for Scotland.

“There will be significant impacts in the Scottish supply chain, with hundreds of indirect jobs in the coal, transport and service sectors reliant on the power station.

“Today’s decision is ultimately an unfortunate and direct result of the UK’s discriminatory transmission charging system that penalises Scottish electricity generators in comparison to those in the south of England.

“In Longannet’s case the extra charges amount to £40m per year.

“Despite raising our concerns repeatedly with the Prime Minister, absolutely nothing has changed.”

Under the current system, energy generators face increasing charges for feeding their electricity into the national grid, dependent on their geographical zone, whether they are generators or suppliers and the amount they generate or supply.

ScottishPower said: “The combination of high carbon taxes and high transmission charging means that running a thermal plant in Scotland is uneconomic.

“Longannet Power Station will now close on March 31 2016, marking the end of its 46 years of power production in Scotland.

“ScottishPower has been working closely with the trade unions, local councils and the Scottish Government to assess and manage the potential impact of Longannet’s closure.

“A number of opportunities will be available for redeployment to other areas of the ScottishPower business, and early retirement and redundancy packages will also be available.”

The decision follows the announcement earlier in the year that Longannet would not be awarded a contract for grid-balancing services.

Until March, unions had been in three-year pay-deal talks and Unite, the largest union at the plant, called for action on grid charges.

Senior industrial officer Billy Parker told The National: “If I could talk to the UK Government I would say ‘why are we being penalised so heavily?’ If they had done something positive and brought the £40m down to a reasonable level then Longannet might still have another five years.” He added: “ScottishPower could have done more but the decision was made by politicians.

“ScottishPower has got a lot to answer for but at the end of the day ScottishPower decisions are made in Madrid, not Scotland.

“They might have a commitment but they don’t have political influence.

“When we had a meeting with Fergus Ewing I asked what he was going to do about it. His words to me were ‘you’ll have to wait and see who wins the general election and go and ask them’.”

The Prospect union called the news a “body blow” to workers, with negotiator Richard Hardy adding: “It is extremely disappointing that, despite the efforts of Scottish Power and the Scottish Government, it has not been possible to put in place ways of keeping Longannet open until its original planned closure date of 2020.”

A task force aimed at mitigating the impact of the closure will meet next week and ScottishPower says the same “economic conditions” have forced it to abandon plans to develop an efficient gas-powered plant at Cockenzie in East Lothian.

Yesterday Neil Clitheroe of ScottishPower said: “We have explored every potential option to keep the station open, and we still maintain that Longannet could continue generation in to the next decade under the right economic conditions.

“Our main focus now is consulting with staff to ensure we find the best outcomes possible for all of the 236 impacted employees, many of whom have spent their entire career at the station.”

The Department of Energy and Climate Change said “being part of the UK means Scottish consumers benefit from some of the lowest transmission charges in the UK as the costs are spread across the country”.

However, a spokesperson conceded that the announcement would make “disappointing news” for the local community

He added: “People in Scotland can be assured that energy security will be unaffected.

“Our top priority is making sure that UK families and businesses have secure, affordable energy supplies – our plan to power the economy is working and we have ensured that

National Grid have everything they need to manage the system this winter too.”