This year's edition of the Scottish Highland Renewable Energy Conference (SHREC), organised by leading Scottish law firm Harper Macleod, takes place in Inverness on Thursday, 26 April.
The event, which has been held every year since 2010, will welcome Claire Mack, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, as its keynote speaker at the Kingsmills Hotel.
SHREC 2018 will have a particular focus on the planning and development of renewables projects in the Highlands and Islands.
David Bone, Head of Energy & Natural Resources at Harper Macleod and one of Scotland's leading renewables, said: “As well as giving a comprehensive overview of the renewables industry, we’ve always tried to look at issues which are important to people operating locally. It's a day where you can go and engage with other people involved in renewables, on your doorstep, and people want to be involved.”
This year's speakers include: Audrey MacIver, Director of Energy and Low Carbon at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE); Malcolm MacLeod, Highland Council; Michael Ansell, Forestry Commission Scotland; Kenny Hunter, Hunter Hydro Services; Liz McLachlan, Scottish Natural Heritage; Iain Maciver, The Stornoway Trust, and Jean Curran of Atmos Consulting.
The event has its roots in 2010, when the now sadly departed Maitland Mackie (who famously named his wind turbines after ex-girlfriends!) delivered the keynote address in which he called on the local rural sector not to miss “the biggest chance in the history of rural development” by failing to keep ownership of its land – a £1 billion opportunity that he said could be harnessed by implementing innovative initiatives such as forming a local consortium.
Since then hundreds of people involved in the renewables sector have gathered at SHREC to hear from key figures in the industry, but more importantly to join in the conversation about how the Highlands and Islands could make the most of its opportunity.
For Bone, the big question on the day will be how Scotland and the Highland and Islands can overcome the current challenges facing the sector.
He said: "Given the cuts in subsidy support, we need to keep moving towards subsidy-free renewables, particularly for onshore wind. One recent estimate indicated there could be subsidy-free onshore and solar installed by 2025 and subsidy-free offshore by 2030 but that still means some fallow years if there is no support in the interim.
"The cost of offshore wind is coming down all the time and, for example with the floating wind farm off Peterhead, we can see that there are great opportunities for that part of the sector. A new round of leasing for offshore wind projects is expected to go to consultation this summer, so it's potentially an exciting time.
"At the same time, will there be increased support for Scotland's wave and tidal technologies? The proposed Scottish National Investment Bank could be a solution to providing the long-term, strategic investment that this sector needs to reach a stage where it can reach full commercialisation.
"For onshore wind in Scotland it is vital to see what the government strategy can deliver in respect of the planning system and, particularly, repowering and higher tip-heights and therefore more powerful and profitable turbines."
The Scottish Highland Renewable Energy Conference takes place on Thursday, 26 April at the Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness. You can view the full programme here. To book your place email [email protected], call Megan Houston on 0141 227 9631 or visit www.harpermacleod.co.uk/events (Places cost £65 + VAT).