Renewable Energy (Highlands and Islands)

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 26th June 2003.

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Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 2:30 pm, 26th June 2003

To ask the Scottish Executive what measures are being taken to strengthen the national grid to accommodate the expansion of renewable energy opportunities in the Highlands and Islands. (S2O-279)

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Scottish and Southern Energy plc and Scottish Power have recently announced plans for considerable upgrading of the transmission network in their areas. The Scottish Executive will continue to work with the UK Government, the regulator and the industry to ensure that the grid is strengthened and that Scotland's renewable energy potential is realised.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

The minister should meet Highland Council's planning office more regularly. At last week's Highland Council planning meeting, it was claimed that consumers will have to pay more to finance a massive upgrade of the national grid. It was also claimed that the proposed grid upgrade will require pylons to be twice the size they are now, with heavier power cables criss-crossing Highland moors and mountains. Does the minister endorse the concerns of Highland Council? Will he meet Highland Council, those in the islands and the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure a more co-ordinated approach?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

We work with the DTI and others precisely to ensure a co-ordinated approach. Along with our partners, we take part in the DTI transmission issues working group, which is addressing how to put in place the transmission network that will be necessary to carry the renewable energy benefits that the north of Scotland in particular can produce. Our policy clearly supports the production of that renewable energy. We are clear that we will support the measures necessary to make it possible.

Along with our partners in the UK we are actively pursuing a proper system of trading in electricity throughout Great Britain, including with consumers in England, Wales and Scotland, so that we can spread the costs and ensure that the maximum benefits are achieved at realistic cost. We stand firmly by our objective of increasing and maximising the production of energy from renewable sources.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

Does the minister agree that, in spite of the caveats voiced by Highland Council, the majority of people in the Highlands are looking forward to the strengthening of the grid and the extra prosperity that will go to the Highlands with the development of renewables?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

That is right. Strengthening the grid will not be done for nothing, but the companies that are responsible will do it through investment. They will invest money because they will see a return for themselves. There will be economic benefits for the areas that are served through their ability to carry larger amounts of electricity to and from the national grid.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

The minister has referred to the differences in the regimes for the delivery of renewables between Scotland and England and Wales. He will also be aware that the Robin rigg wind farm will take up all the spare capacity in the south of Scotland, creating yet another problem for us. When will the minister be able to assure the renewables industry that all those problems are going to be sorted out with the DTI?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

In response to a written question at Westminster a few weeks ago, Brian Wilson made it clear that the transmission issues working group on which we serve had come to a view on the grid: over a 10-year period, it will be good value for money for the companies that are investing. Ofgem has given the companies the clearance that they need to proceed with planning the upgrade of the grid so that it can carry that additional power. Scottish and Southern Energy plc in the Highlands and Islands and Scottish Power in south-west Scotland have recently announced plans to make that happen and that is the right way forward.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Does the minister acknowledge that all the problems of trying to get the grid to work in the Highlands are creating developer hot spots down the east coast, and that the planning regime is not strong enough to deal with those issues? Does he agree that we require a new planning framework for renewable energy in Scotland, particularly a framework that will deliver a strategy for Scotland?

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

No, I do not accept that, because the renewable energy planning guidelines were revised as recently as 2000. That revised guidance to local authorities on how to consider planning applications is effective, and that is why, not just on the east coast but in the Highlands and throughout Scotland, successful applications are being made that are adding to our renewable generation potential. We think that that is the right way forward, and that the strategy is in place to achieve the gains that we want to make.