The UK’s Energy Minister Brian Wilson today outlined the pivotal role the Highlands and Islands of Scotland will play in securing Britain’s future energy needs.
Speaking at a conference on renewable energy on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, the Minister announced £19 million in new funding packages from both the government and the private sector, to encourage the rapid development of renewable energy, particularly wave and tidal technology.
‘These islands are surrounded by some of the best renewable resources in Europe, with strong prevailing winds and the power of the ocean,’ said Wilson.
‘Today we are contemplating the real possibility that these islands could become a power house on the periphery, making a serious and environmentally sustainable contribution to the energy needs of the whole nation. That is a prize worth pursuing.’
The minister hailed the ‘excellent progress’ being made in developing major wind farms on the Isle of Lewis, which when built, could provide over 1000 MW of energy (1% of the UK’s total energy needs) and provide hundreds of manufacturing jobs.
However, the minister was keen to point out the viability of other forms of renewable energy on the islands – particularly wind and tidal power – sometimes seen as the ‘poor relation’ of renewable generation, and announced his support for new initiatives to promote new technology in this area.
From the public purse, Mr Wilson announced £2 million of government funding to build a Marine Energy Test Centre in Orkney and £2million to promote research and development in existing and new tidal and wave power technologies.
The government will also work towards setting up a new capital grants scheme to support wave and tidal projects, worth at least £5million.
The minister also announced investment from the commercial sector, outlining details of a new joint venture between Scottish & Southern Energy and Weir Group to develop new technology and prototype wave power schemes, worth up to £10 million.
The Minister, speaking at the Creating Sustainable Futures conference at Lews Castle College, said the signals for the development of renewables were ‘encouraging’, and pledged continued support from the government, both in terms of policy and financial incentives, to encourage a ‘climate of confidence’ in the young industry.
Wilson acknowledged that a fundamental overhaul of the electricity transmission system would be essential if the energy generated by new renewable technologies in remote areas such as the Western Isles would benefit the UK as a whole.
‘There are massive challenges still to be overcome. I cannot emphasise strongly enough the point that there is no point in generating power – indeed, there is no prospect of that happening – unless we can ensure as part of the same package that it is capable of being carried to the markets which require it. Infrastructure is all. We must rewire Britain to adapt to the age of renewables and of distributed generation. This is key to ensuring our White Paper ambitions are fulfilled. I intend to ensure that we do not fail them.’