As Deputy First Minister he helped kickstart Scotland’s wind farm revolution, pumping millions of pounds of public money into green energy.
Later, as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, he declared renewables firms should be raking in “big profits”.
Now Nicol Stephen, or Baron Stephen of Lower Deeside, appears to have taken his own advice and sits at the head of a rapidly expanding turbine empire worth more than £1.5million.
The Lib Dem peer is a director of 10 renewable energy companies, seven of them incorporated within the past five months, with four wind farms in the planning stages across Scotland.
More seriously, some observers believe he is using his powerful position in the House of Lords to lobby for the renewable energy industry.
Last month, he put forward three amendments to Westminster’s new Energy Bill – although two were withdrawn and one was left to lie on the file.
One amendment called for more UK Government support for renewable electricity storage, one of the biggest problems facing wind farm operators as their turbines work only when the wind is blowing and not when demand for energy is greatest.
A second amendment related to proposed changes to the generous public subsidy regime, with Lord Stephen calling for greater “certainty” over whether or not the payments “could be relied upon” to continue in the future.
The third called for an announcement on a “decarbonisation target” – the date by which fossil fuels must be eradicated from Britain’s power grid – to be brought forward.
Calling for greater unity within the Coalition over the Bill, he said: “Unless we show certainty and get away from the divisions and the delay that have clearly existed within government, we will send out the wrong messages to companies involved in this sector and we will fail to achieve that £100billion of investment that is so vital to driving the future of the industry.”
The House of Lords rules state that Members must be “especially cautious in deciding whether to speak or vote” in debates which relate to their private business interests.
Graham Lang, from pressure group Scotland Against Spin, said: “Lord Stephen has had a career in politics paid for by the taxpayer and is continuing to attempt to hoover up consumer paid subsidies with speculative and deeply unpopular wind farm proposals.
“As a Scot, he will know full well that rural communities have had enough of industrial turbines desecrating the environment for risible and very expensive amounts of electricity.”
Nine of Lord Stephen’s firms are part of the Renewable Energy Ventures (REV) network, which he set up with former Body Shop director Michael Ross, from Edinburgh, after retiring from Holyrood in 2009.
A REV “holding company” has £1.4million in capital according to the latest Companies House documents.
His other energy company – Pilot Offshore Renewables Ltd – was formed in April with industry expert Allan MacAskill as co-director.
Mr MacAskill, whose brother is Justice Secretary Kenny, saw a previous offshore energy venture sold to Spanish giants Repsol for £49million.
In the House of Lords register of interests, the former MSP for Aberdeen South currently declares his involvement only in parent company Renewable Energy Ventures Ltd.
Last year, it emerged the peer had made £110,000 when he sold a house in Edinburgh that had been partly paid for by the taxpayer under the now defunct Holyrood housing scheme.
REV’s first wind farm will see three 326ft turbines built at Clentrie Farm near Auchtertool, Fife.
It won planning permission in April, despite a survey which found 93 per cent of locals were against the plan.
James Glen, secretary of Lochgelly Community Council, said: “There are mixed views in the area, some support wind turbines but others are upset.
“They think that we have got enough with the Mossmorran petrochemical works on our doorstep and the nine turbines already at the Little Raith wind farm.
“I feel if any politician has a connection with a renewable energy company he should not be taking part in any debate about new legislation.”
Another REV subsidiary relates to a live planning application for eight 360ft wind turbines near Kellas in Moray.
Three further companies are connected to sites in Aberdeenshire, including a proposal for two 326ft turbines at Paul Matthew Hill, near Montrose, and another for two 326ft turbines at Cushnie, near Alford.
This is Lord Stephen’s fourth attempt to win planning permission at this site, with opponents claiming his application has been deliberately submitted during the summer holidays when many opponents are away.
Caroline Gerrie, from Stop Turbines in Cushnie, said: “In our opinion, this is not about farming wind nor about fighting for the rights of the people of the North-east.
“It is about farming subsidy for commercial gain, ignoring the advice of planning whilst damaging the lives of the people Lord Stephen once promised to fight for.
“Lord Stephen is, in fact, showing a total disregard for the opinions of the people in this community.”
She added: “This is the sixth application for wind turbines in this beautiful valley that the people of Cushnie have had to deal with in the last two and-a-half years, and the fourth from Lord Stephen’s company REV Ltd.
Despite repeated requests for an interview, neither Lord Stephen or the Liberal Democrats had anything to say.
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