Up and down few weeks for renewables

It has been an up and down few weeks for the renewables industry in Scotland.

On the positive side Highland Council backed controversial plans for the world’s largest offshore wind farm off the Scottish coast saying the economic benefits far outweigh objectors’ concerns about visual and environmental impact. The £4.5billion project would see up to 339 turbines, some reaching 670ft above sea level, in the Moray Firth east of Caithness, covering a total of 114 square miles.  The objectors included Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, who said: “They are going to be in people’s eyes and in their windows. It will be inescapable. They will be a blot on the landscape which will be left for future generations to deal with. We have absolutely no idea what damage this will do to the marine environment.”

However, this claim is contrary to a YouGov poll commissioned by Scottish Renewables that found nearly two thirds of Scottish people are happy to host large scale wind projects. Some 62 per cent said they would support such a windfarm in their local council area, compared with just 24 per cent for shale gas and 32 per cent for nuclear. Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said the results showed campaigners against windfarms were in a minority: “While this polling evidence doesn’t mean that every renewable scheme proposed should be approved, it is important that people bear this research in mind when debating the pros and cons of the differing choices that Scotland could make to meet its future energy needs.”

Then we had the UK Energy Secretary in Edinburgh extolling the virtues of Scottish renewables. He claimed:  “Some 11,000 jobs supported by the renewable energy industry in Scotland. Over 35% of electricity used here generated by renewables. A massive source of inward investment. Over the last 2 years alone Scotland has seen announcements of over £2.3bn of investment in renewables with the potential to support over 4,500 extra jobs. Scotland already leads the UK in terms of installed capacity and there are billions of pounds of further investment in the pipeline.”

However, this upbeat assessment clearly is not shared by his cabinet colleague the Chancellor. He was promoting fossil fuels in the Budget and downgrading renewables. Niall Stuart said: “Budget tax breaks to the nascent shale gas industry suggested a repetition of the UK’s notorious failure to support an earlier pioneering generation of wind energy, which resulted in manufacturing jobs benefits being reaped by European rivals. Just as oil and gas turned people’s heads in 1970s, so shale gas is doing now. There are bigger economic benefits from offshore wind, but while the Treasury is quick to point out the cost of renewables and the benefits of shale gas, the fact is we need both.”

Not all wind developments in Scotland are successful. The company behind a controversial wind farm in the Highlands has decided to abandon the project in the face of the considerable local opposition. The company behind a controversial wind farm in the Highlands has decided to abandon the project in the face of the considerable local opposition.Falck Renewables’ plans for 17 turbines on Clach Liath, near Dingwall, were opposed by many groups including acclaimed climber, Hamish MacInnes. The company has indicated that it wont appeal.

A much bigger concern is growing doubts over the project to build two 450MW underwater cables between Lewis and Beauly. It would provide a means to export electricity from wind farms on the islands, plus offshore wind, wave and tidal power in years to come. But doubts began to mount over the project after SSE confirmed last autumn that costs had leaped from the original £490m estimate. Now they have refused to submit the needs case to Ofgem. Steven Vass in the Sunday Herald suggests that SSE believes it is impossible to say with certainty how attractive the islands will be to developers until a row over their transmission costs has been resolved. They currently pay far higher rates than mainland generators, and an Ofgem steering group is working to come up with a solution.

In summary, while schemes are progressing in Scotland, with public support, the energy companies are still concerned over mixed messages from the UK Government.

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