Energy Minister hails economic potential of community renewables at Scottish Highland Renewable Energy Conference

More than 150 delegates heard Fergus Ewing MSP, Minister for Energy highlight the potential for community renewables to aid the economy and environment when he delivered the keynote address at the sixth annual Scottish Highland Renewable Energy Conference (SHREC) in Inverness yesterday (Thursday).

David Fergus Ewing

Speaking at the conference, organised by leading law firm Harper Macleod, Mr Ewing said: "Scotland has always led the way in renewables and some of the most exciting things are happening in and around the Highlands and Islands. Renewable energy counts for over 20, 000 jobs in Scotland with many of these in the most remote areas, proving that renewables aren't just good for the environment, but also for the economy.

"Giving communities control over their own energy will help us tackle supply security, increasing costs, and environmental impacts, and at the same time spark economic renewal. This is why the Scottish Government has provided around £40 million so communities get the support they need – through loans, capital funding or simply advice and support.

"In 2014, provisional figures tell us just over 49% of our gross electricity consumption came from renewable generation so we're well ahead of schedule to achieve 50% by 2015. Events like this conference play an important role in getting the industry together so that we can maximise our renewables potential throughout the Highlands."

The SHREC conference brought leading industry players and those involved in the local renewable energy sector to the city's Kingsmills Hotel to examine the key issues affecting the industry.

Following the Minister's address, the conference hosted a Question Time on Renewables session, with Mr Ewing joined by a panel including Ian Ross, Chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, Calum Davidson, Director of Energy and Low Carbon at Highlands and Islands Enterprise and George Baxter, Head of Development Strategy at SSE.

Among the topics creating debate during the session, chaired by Jeremy Sainsbury OBE of Natural Power were grid connection, particularly to the Scottish islands, climate change, and electricity market reform. One topic on which the conference was united was the need to create new targets for generating energy from 2020 to 2030, and the legislative and financial framework to allow these to be achieved.

The conference came just days after two reports highlighted the impact and support for renewable energy across the UK. A report commissioned by RenewableUK showed that the UK's onshore wind industry contributed £906m to the UK economy last year, with more than 25% of the benefits enjoyed by the local area around each project.

Meanwhile the Department of Energy & Climate Change released its latest public attitudes tracker which showed that 78% of the UK public back the use of renewables to provide the country's electricity, fuel and heat.

David Bone, Head of Energy & Natural Resources at Harper Macleod and one of Scotland's leading renewables lawyers, said: "One of the key messages from the conference is that those in the industry want the next UK government to set a decarbonisation target for 2030 and lay out a routemap as to how we will get there and, in particular, the role which Scotland's renewables will play in reaching that target. That will give confidence to investors and the industry to push forward on new projects post 2020.

"The industry continues to break records as we strive towards ambitious targets of electricity generation in Scotland, and we need the will and support to maintain that momentum. A strong renewables industry means more jobs, more investment and more benefit to the community. We are seeing massive opportunities – from ports and harbours to offshore wind, and from communities developing sustainable revenue streams to a new generation of skilled workers."

"I'd like to thank the Minister for once again taking the time to speak at SHREC. This conference offers a microcosm of the industry, and while we face a wide range of challenges there is great positivity from those involved on the ground. Those working in the industry know just how far the renewable energy sector in the Highlands and Islands has come over recent years, but it is vital that we push on."

David Foster of public affairs consultancy Invicta PA brought the conference to a close by examining the political landscape and the impact of potential election outcomes on the renewable energy agenda.

Beyond the main stage, the conference featured special workshops focusing on the issues that matter to those involved in all aspects of renewables across the Highlands and Islands. Among the topics were upcoming developments in community and local energy, renewable opportunities for landowners, and funding and investment.