Paul Wheelhouse MSP, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, said the strengths of the Highlands and Islands renewable energy industry are central to the Scottish Government's strategy to meet future energy needs.
The Minister was speaking at the 8th annual Scottish Highland Renewable Energy Conference (SHREC), in Inverness on Tuesday, 25 April, organised by leading law firm Harper Macleod.
Delivering his keynote address at the Kingsmills Hotel, the Energy Minister said: "The choices we make about energy are among the most important decisions we face as a society. The supply of safe, reliable energy underpins both the continued growth of the Scottish economy and sustaining key services, and is at the heart of meeting our international climate change obligations.
“The low carbon and renewable energy sector in Scotland already supported 58,500 jobs by 2015, turning over £10.5 billion and greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland had, by 2014, reduced by 45.8% since 1990, helping us to achieve our 2020 climate target, six years early.
"The Highlands and Islands is an acknowledged powerhouse of renewable energy research and development, such as at EMEC in Orkney, & has recognised potential for jobs growth associated with the renewables supply chain, including manufacturing, installation and in operations and maintenance. The region is well placed to capitalise upon the wealth of wind, marine, and hydro resources in the area.
“The focus of this year’s SHREC conference was around the themes we included in our draft Energy Strategy for Scotland, and this highlights that the Scottish Government’s priorities for energy are well-aligned with those of industry in the Highlands and Islands."
The 2017 SHREC conference, which has brought leading figures in the renewable industry to the city since it was founded in 2010, had a particular focus on the technology and innovations which could drive the local renewable sector in the coming years, as it battles against numerous challenges.
These development included issues such as repowering existing renewable energy installations, advances in energy storage and the growth of heat networks.
David Bone, one of Scotland’s foremost renewable energy lawyers and head of Energy & Natural Resources at Harper Macleod, said: “We were delighted to welcome the Minister for his first visit to our conference, and particularly to hear him espouse such positive views about the future of the industry in this area and the Scottish Government's commitment to support the sector and promote development through its energy strategy.
"As we move from the end of the Renewables Obligation to a subsidy free world it is vital that, as the industry cuts cost to benefit the consumer, the Scottish Government supports us with the energy and planning policies which encourage investment and new developments."
The SHREC conference again highlighted local and community involvement in renewable energy projects and the conference took place just a day after one of the Highlands' first community owned large wind turbines started supplying power to the National Grid. The Coigach Community Development Company project near Achiltibuie, which specialists from Harper Macleod advised on, is expected to deliver more than £2 million of community benefit funds over the next 20 years.
Speakers included representatives from innovative projects such as the Fair Isle Electricity Company, a project Harper Macleod is also advising on which is developing a £2.65m scheme involving energy storage, wind turbines and a solar array which would provide a guaranteed 24-hour electricity for the remote island for the first time.
The conference also heard from key industry stakeholders including Kenny Taylor from Scottish Natural Heritage, Clive Meikle of Bidwells, Colin Anderson of Banks Renewables, Neil Douglas of BVG, Paul Moseley of Scottish Futures Trust, Stuart Reid of HWE, Neil Harrison of RE:Heat, Brad Doswell of Community Energy Scotland, Susan Clark of Great Glen Consulting and Keith Hounsell of Green Acorn.
Delegates also took part in a number of bespoke workshop sessions before a closing address from public policy expert and renewable energy observer Evan Williams of Newington.