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Community Energy Scotland
Jamie McGrigor (Conservative)
I, too, congratulate Dave Thompson on securing today's debate. I pay tribute to all those who have been involved in the Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company, and I wish the company's transition to Community Energy Scotland every success.
As others have said, the potential for renewable energy in my region, the Highlands and Islands, is massive, and we would all agree that community involvement from the beginning is crucial to the success of renewable energy projects. There have been some good examples of such involvement. Dave Thompson stole my thunder and the joke that I was going to tell about the three naked ladies—the three turbines on the isle of Gigha, which made £100,000 profit for the community in their first year.
Last night, along with my Highlands and Islands colleagues, I took part in a seminar hosted by Viking Energy on its proposed Shetland wind farm, which would rely on a subsea cable between Shetland and the east coast of Moray. Such operations will help people in Shetland to keep the high standard of living to which they have become accustomed thanks to the oil revenues of the past, which will not last for ever.
I have just read the First Minister's call for a North Sea supergrid partnership as a milestone in Scotland becoming the green energy capital of Europe. It is a great concept, as long as it is backed up by practical suggestions on how that can be achieved. If we are going to be the capital, we must start with a few counties.
A constituent on the Isle of Jura has expressed his huge frustration at not being able to take forward a small-scale hydro scheme because of the lack of infrastructure on the island. We need a Government that has a real energy strategy and gives a steer on the form that energy production should take and the infrastructure that will carry it. I live in Argyll and Bute, where a good many wind farms are situated near hydro stations of the past
This morning, listening to BBC Radio 4, I heard that Ironbridge coal-fired power station had not met the European Union acid rain regulations and so is due to close down, along with eight or nine other coal-fired power stations. Add to those the four nuclear power stations that are due to go into decommissioning by 2015, and one can begin to understand why there are already warnings about the energy gap and lights going out everywhere.
New nuclear power stations offer an answer because they are carbon neutral, but on the principle that it is never wise to put all one's eggs into one basket, community energy projects are to be desired and encouraged. The Scottish Conservatives will certainly encourage them wherever they are appropriate.
I emphasise to the minister the difficulties that are being faced by small hydro schemes that have to abide by the new controlled activities regulations to which Scotland signed up under the European water framework directive. The licences that are now required are making the job far more expensive in Scotland than in England. Small hydro schemes are ideal for the Scottish climate and topography and they should be encouraged rather than held back by the CARs. I ask the minister to comment on that particular problem.