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Scottish green energy drive ‘may create only 300 jobs’

The SNP’s green energy revolution will create as little as 300 permanent jobs compared to the near-50,000 projected by Alex Salmond, an industry expert has warned MSPs.

Richard Marsh, a renewable power economist, said the First Minister and green energy companies are “greatly exaggerating” the supposed benefits of their plan for a new swathe of wind and wave farms.

While they insist that 48,600 jobs will be created by the end of the decade, he said the real number of long-term posts is more likely to be 1,100 but could be as low as 300.

He will tell Holyrood’s economy, energy and tourism committee tomorrow that the large difference is because the higher figure includes temporary construction jobs created while green energy projects are being installed.

However, these will disappear after the building work has been completed. Mr Marsh concluded that the large taxpayer subsidy paid to green power companies means the industry is actually harming the Scottish economy.

He said diverting public funding into the industry instead of projects where it would have more economic impact in effect means that every renewable power job costs 3.7 posts that would have arisen elsewhere.

Mr Marsh, the director of 4-Consulting, has previously completed a series of “impact studies” for development agencies, companies and the devolved administration in Wales.

His intervention is a blow to Mr Salmond, who has pledged to generate the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and “re-industrialise” the country using green power.

In a written submission to the Holyrood committee ahead of his appearance, Mr Marsh said projected employment figures are “often greatly exaggerated” and exceed even the total for the whole of the energy sector.

He said there are only around 1,100 green energy jobs in Scotland at the moment and the SNP’s estimate is “misleading” because most of the jobs cited are generated through the installation of infrastructure.

“Overall demand for nearly 50,000 jobs may arise up to 2020 but most of this demand will be temporary and recede once infrastructure has been deployed in the North Sea,” he wrote.

Mr Marsh considered how many long-term jobs will be created in a series of scenarios depending on the speed of progress towards the SNP’s targets.

“With moderate success the offshore win industry could sustain ‘long-term employment’ of around 1,100 full-time equivalent workers,” he said.

This will increase to 2,200 if Mr Salmond’s 2020 target is met but would fall to 300 in the “worst case scenario”. He said these figures do not “provide a compelling reason” for a taxpayer subsidy.

In its submission, the John Muir Trust, a charity that aims to conserve Scotland’s wild land, warned reaching the target would be a “Pyrrhic victory” because of the cost to the environment and public purse.

It said that most turbines will be manufactured abroad and few people will be required to operate them because they are “employment-lite”.

However, Scottish Renewables, which represents the industry, called for planning rules to be changed to allow the more rapid “deployment” of onshore wind farms and claimed that offshore wind alone will create 28,000 posts.

But the Scottish Executive last night described Mr Marsh’s figures as “completely wrong” because jobs are already being created in the development of new green technologies and upgraded its own estimates further.

A spokesman claimed 70,000 people are working in the “low carbon economy” and this figure will increase to 130,000 by 2002.