The Scottish Government will do all it can to help build the community renewable energy sector over the next year, energy minister Jim Mather pledged yesterday (Monday).
His comments came as the Highlands and Islands Convention met in Shetland during Alex Salmond’s first visit to the islands as first minister.
Yesterday the convention discussed tourism, housing, the voluntary sector, local government and renewable energy.
Throughout Mr Salmond, Mr Mather and finance secretary John Swinney stressed their determination to work with local government and local agencies, saying national government should deal with national issues and leave local affairs to local interests.
In the final debate Highlands and Islands Enterprise chief executive Willie Roe called on the government to spend the next year removing the barriers to develop Scotland as a world leader in renewable energy.
“I think we should use the next year to lay the foundations right across Scotland for substantial growth and development of the renewable energy economy so that we understand the barriers in the way of rapid growth in the sector,” Mr Roe said.
The energy minister backed his call, saying that renewables should become the sixth important industrial sector in Scotland.
“I will make sure this government is aligned as much as it can be to optimise this huge opportunity to make sure Willie Roe’s vision comes about,” Mr Mather said.
He said Scotland’s banking industry should be putting as much venture capital into the sector as London, Dubai and Callifornia.
There was also a call for the planning system to be simplified to allow renewable projects to be fast tracked.
Mr Salmond added his voice to the call for increasing Scotland’s ambitions in the renewables sector. “I have absolutely no doubt that we will meet our renewable electricity targets of 30 per cent by 2011 and 50 per cent by 2020,” he said.
“We want to turn our sights not just how to generate four gigawatts by 2020, but how we can make it possible to generate 10, 20 or 40 gigawatts of electricity.”
He said the most important thing was to create “highways of connectivity” to transmit power to the main electricity markets from the likes of the Pentland Firth, which he called “the Saudi Arabia of tidal power”.
“There is huge potential power but that has to get to the market place,” he said.
The government is demanding a fairer deal on transmission charges from the National Grid and the energy regulator Ofgem. They are also engaged in talks with the Irish government and Northern Ireland administration for a subsea interconnector off Scotland’s west coast.
Viking Energy project officer Aaron Priest gave an account of the plans for a 600 megawatt windfarm in central and northern Shetland.
The first minister spent the morning touring the facilities at the NAFC Marine Centre n Scalloway and visiting the new processing factor operated in the village by Scottish Sea Farms.
Later he invited the convention to nominate two delegates to sit on the country’s National Economic Forum as it tries to improve Scotland’s competitiveness.
By Pete Bevington
4 March 2008
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