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Pentland Firth energy pledge hailed as 'good news'

By Alan Shields

HIE’s Calum Davidson – ‘This is what we call the array commercialisation fund – and that is what the £18 million is for.’
HIE’s Calum Davidson – ‘This is what we call the array commercialisation fund – and that is what the £18 million is for.’

HOPES have been raised for the future development of marine energy in the Pentland Firth following a multi-million-pound Scottish Government pledge – but questions remain over how exactly it will work.

First Minister Alex Salmond announced on Monday an £18 million commitment to help develop the country’s first commercial wave and tidal power arrays in the firth, Orkney and other Scottish waters.

The money is to be used to take developers from single-test machines to the stage where they have multiple machines in the water.

Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership programme manager Eann Sinclair welcomed the news but warned details are sketchy at best.

“Any money that goes into the wave and tidal industry at the moment is good news and the fact that the overwhelming focus for the whole of Scotland – if not the whole of the UK – is the Pentland Firth means that we should all be welcoming it,” he said.

“It just remains to be seen how we can use the fund or if indeed we can. Either way it is a good thing because if the developers are using it to commercialise their devices the chances are they are going to be up here anyway.”

Mr Sinclair said details of how and when the fund will be administered remain vague.

A Scottish Government spokesman said officials are “still hammering out the details” and more information on the bidding process and distribution of the funds will be forthcoming – but no schedule was given.

However, he did reveal the fund will be used to “improve capability and infrastructure, as well as help to fund technology solutions and the roll-out of marine arrays”.

The Government will meet industry representatives to talk about the nature of the projects to be supported, and additional support will be made available for infrastructure and supply chain development.

This commitment forms part of the £35m the Scottish Government and its enterprise agencies will provide in direct support to the marine and tidal industry over the next three years.

Funds will complement those already announced by the department of energy and climate change and supplement the significant funds that could be made available through the EU’s New Entrant Reserve.

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Rob Gibson is confident the necessary provisions will be in place when the time comes.

“There is excitement about it and I’m sure they will work out an arrangement to share this fund around and, in particular, to successful demonstrators that can then be grown into full arrays,” he said.

“I think we’ve got to get a few more in the water before we know who will be getting the money.”

The SNP MSP said given around three-quarters of the marine renewables effort in the UK is in Scotland, with the bulk of that in the Far North, he would expect much of the money to come to the local area.

“This is where the marine renewables are to be found,” he said. “I would like to see it come to our area and most likely it should if the demonstration models are successful.”

Highlands and Islands Enterprise director of energy and low carbon Calum Davidson said it is now over to the developers to see what they can do.

“At this stage we are simply saying ‘okay guys the money is available, how best do we spend it?’,” he explained.

“We’re at the stage where we’ve got single machines and if in the next 10 years we’re going to build an underwater power station we need to help them get to the next stage which is testing three or four machines together.

“This is what we call the array commercialisation fund – and that is what the £18 million is for.”

The HIE energy director said this cash boost over the next two to three years should help get the industry to the next “crucial” stage of multiple machines.

Possibly in contention for a slice of the money are ScottishPower Renewables, Marine Current Turbines Ltd and MeyGen – all cited by Mr Davidson as the frontrunners for developing tidal arrays in the Pentland Firth.

On the wave side of energy harvesting, Pelamis Wave Power leads the pack as it is already testing small arrays off Orkney.

Support confirms move to commercialisation

THE chairman of Scrabster Harbour Trust, Willie Calder, said the multi-million-pound backing of the marine renewables industry in the Far North shows more justification for the work it is already undertaking at the port.

“I think that this is the type of fund that we would welcome as it strengthens the Government’s – and our own – investment in Scrabster and shows joined-up thinking,” he said.

“It confirms the movement towards commercialisation in the renewable sector and, as far as we’re concerned, it’s just another part of the jigsaw coming into place.”

Work is continuing at a fast pace at the harbour with noticeable changes over the past few weeks as the £20 million redevelopment progresses towards the finish date of phase one, set for the end of July.

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