Renewable Energy (Pentland Firth)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17 September 2013.

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Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

1. To ask the Scottish Government what benefits the recently announced development in the Pentland Firth of the largest tidal array in Europe will bring to the marine renewable energy industry. (S4T-00448)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

This is a significant milestone for the marine industry in Scotland and sends a positive message to the wider supply chain. MeyGen is working closely with Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to maximise the local content of the project, having committed to investing in local businesses and skills. We are already seeing benefits as a result of MeyGen’s activities. The company has spent £1 million in the Highlands since 2010, recruited staff locally, and taken part in a successful supply chain networking event in Thurso, which was attended by 40 businesses.

Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

I welcome the benefits of such tidal projects, but does the minister share my concerns that the benefits of wave and tidal technologies may not be fully realised until the matter of disproportionate grid connection charges for island generators is addressed and unless a suitable contracts for difference strike price for wave and tidal generators is set?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Mike MacKenzie is absolutely correct that if all the islands—the Western Isles and the Orkney and Shetland islands—are to achieve their enormous potential, there must be the right support for them, and the evidence suggests that that means three island CFDs. In addition, it is essential that we properly incentivise the wave and tidal sector, as Mike MacKenzie rightly argues. That is at the very top of my priorities. I welcome the Department of Energy and Climate Change consultation that will be published on 18 September, but we believe that the proposals need to be improved if we are to realise the enormous potential that the islands have to offer for renewable energy.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

How quickly does the minister envisage the roll-out of further projects in the Pentland Firth site taking place? Does he believe that there is now potential for exporting this home-grown technology to other parts of the world?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I understand that the first stage in the MeyGen project will be to assemble the offices that it requires onshore in Caithness. Possibly next year or the year after that—depending on things such as the weather and the rate of progress—there will be an initial phase in which up to six turbines will be placed in the water.

On the nature of those schemes, the important thing is to demonstrate their efficacy and to learn from the real-life experience of trying them in the extremely testing conditions of the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters. However, we expect that, as Scotland is currently in the lead and there are several other projects, with due encouragement and support from the Scottish Government, the local authorities, the Crown Estate and the United Kingdom Government, many other projects should follow apace. To respond to the question, I confirm that we expect that the technologies that are developed in Scotland can be exported throughout the world in due course.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

The news is most welcome for my constituency as the next step in offshore renewables development. What benefits can MeyGen bring from the development in the long term once the arrays have, we hope, proved a success? Could it lead to more jobs in, for example, a data centre, which could provide a lot of sustainable work for many more people in Caithness than the construction phase?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I acknowledge Rob Gibson’s campaigning on the issue. Indeed, he has probably been campaigning since before some members of the Parliament were born—although not Alex Johnstone, I have to say.

Rob Gibson has made a serious point. The project is huge: it is the biggest tidal project in Europe. It has been consented in Scotland, and it has enormous potential to generate jobs and opportunities in Caithness, in particular in Scrabster, where the Scottish Government has invested approximately £20 million in a new deepwater quay. The port of Scrabster has now signed a memorandum of understanding with MeyGen to ensure that Scrabster is the location for the deployment and maintenance of the project’s initial phase. Highlands and Islands Enterprise has estimated that the project will create up to 100 jobs for the assembly, deployment and maintenance of the six turbines, the bulk of which will be in the Highlands and Caithness.

I will be happy to meet Mr Gibson to discuss with him the data centre idea.