Fergus Ewing MSP, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, announced a 'landmark moment' in community benefit from and investment in onshore renewable energy developments at leading law firm Harper Macleod's Scottish Highland Renewable Energy Conference (SHREC) in Inverness yesterday (Thursday).
SHREC celebrated its fifth anniversary in style, with around 200 delegates attending at the event's new venue, the Kingsmill Hotel. They heard the Minister, keynote speaker at the conference, announce the adoption of the Good Practice Principles for Community Benefit from Onshore Renewable Developments.
These will help the Scottish Government deliver its target of having 500 megawatts of community and locally owned renewables by 2020. The Minister revealed there is currently 285MW of such capacity operational around Scotland, an increase of 40% over the past year.
Mr Ewing said: "Community benefits from renewable energy offer a unique and unprecedented opportunity to communities across Scotland. The Good Practice Principles is a landmark moment in encouraging developers to invest in community benefit schemes arising from renewables development and overall contribute to our target.
"This document details good practice principles and procedures promoted by Scottish Government, and is intended as a practical guide to the process but also, through examples of what is already being achieved, as a showcase to inspire success.
"Featured schemes include the Allt Dearg Community Wind Farm, which, through partial community-ownership, generated £130,000 for the Ardrishaig Community Trust in the first nine months of operation to September 2013, and which is expected to generate £100,000 in annual income to the Trust."
Mr Ewing, pictured above at the conference with Harper Macleod's Head of Energy David Bone, Niall Stuart of Scottish Renewables, Harper Macleod and HIE Chairman Lorne Crerar and Jonathan Henson of Savills, also announced that Government will set up a short-term working group in partnership with Scottish Renewables to develop guidance to encourage community investment in commercial renewables schemes. To date communities involved in benefit schemes have reaped over £5.6 million for local projects and developments.
SHREC 2014 brought together representatives from major renewables companies and organisations, along with representatives from community groups, crofters, farmers, landowners and regulatory bodies. Together with industry experts and professional advisers, they tackled some of the main issues affecting renewable energy projects.
David Bone, one of the UK's leading renewables lawyers and Head Partner in Harper Macleod's award-winning Energy team, emphasised the progress that has been made in recent years as he took delegates through high-level issues such as the need to combat climate change, the influence of Europe and the current political position on renewables in the UK.
He said: "Despite some obstacles this has been another record-breaking year for the renewables industry in Scotland and we need policies, targets and support will allow these successes to continue. In the five years we've been holding SHREC, it's been clear what a strong industry can bring in terms of jobs, investment and community benefit.
"There are massive opportunities for the supply chain, with more construction work and more use of our ports and harbours. Those issues are vital to the people involved at the grass roots level of renewables in the Highlands and beyond, and it's great to see such positivity among them."
The upcoming referendum on independence was a recurring topic, with the Minister highlighting Scotland's renewable energy achievements and making the case for the industry flourishing in an independent country.
Various speakers and delegates contributed to a balanced conversation on the potential impact of independence, with delegates also taking part in a poll on the day, the results of which were announced by final speaker Grant Thoms, a political consultant specialising in renewable energy.
In answer to the referendum, question – 'Should Scotland be an independent country? – the vote was 38.2% Yes and 61.8% No. On a second question – 'Would an independent Scotland be beneficial for the renewable energy sector? – the result changed, with 53.7% Yes and 46.3% No.
Delegates also heard from Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, on what lies ahead for renewable energy development in Scotland. He said: "The only certainty for the industry is that there is going to be more change, and we're going to have to adapt to that change. I believe the country can still meet its target of generating 100% of it's electricity requirements from renewables by 2020, but it will only make it with the right support."
The main conference, chaired by Jeremy Sainsbury OBE, Director at Natural Power, also heard from Jonathan Henson, Head of Scottish Rural Business at Savills, and Ian Ross, the recently appointed chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage.
Beyond the main stage, special workshops focused on the issues that matter to those involved in all aspects of renewables across the Highlands and Islands. The potential for crowdfunding and other alternative methods of raising finance for renewable projects was raised in the session on 'Funding Decisions – how about doing things differently?'
Other sessions looked at how to develop your own energy project and how to get planning consent and a grid connection, and featured expert advice from speakers from utility companies, local authorities, community groups, lawyers, accountants, land agents and more.
Next year's SHREC Conference will take place at the Kingsmill Hotel on 30 April, 2015.