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Shadow energy secretary invited to Caithness to get insight into tidal energy

By Gordon Calder

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UK SHADOW energy secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has been invited to Caithness to get an insight into the potential for tidal stream energy.

The invitation was made by Bill Mowat, the renewables director at Gills Harbour Ltd, which provides key services for the nearby MeyGen development operated by Simec Atlantis Energy Ltd. He wants the Labour MP for Salford and Eccles to visit the far north as part of her green jobs tour of the country.

MeyGen has installed four demonstration arrays in the Pentland Firth
MeyGen has installed four demonstration arrays in the Pentland Firth

In his letter Mr Mowat explains that Britain's and possibly the world's most advanced tidal demonstration array is in the Pentland Firth.

"Gills Harbour has proved an invaluable asset for 24-metre long workboats involved in sea-floor surveys, cable-laying and other tasks involved in installing the four electricity generating turbines on the seabed," he said. "Those have proven, beyond doubt, that they can generate electricity consistently and over a long time-scale.

"All efforts are now geared to ensuring that this can be done at a cost that does not penalise householders or small businesses.

"The advanced, practical technology for harnessing the kinetic energy contained in the fast-flowing currents of the Pentland Firth – and many thousands of broadly similar sites throughout the world – has only been developed in the second decade of the 21st century, largely in the UK. This is a field where there are genuine prospects for UK turbines and expertise to be exported to coastal countries worldwide, with commensurate jobs opportunities."

But Mr Mowat stresses the cost of generating the electricity can only be "substantially reduced" – to the price of power from offshore wind farms – if the turbines and accessories can be manufactured "in series".

"This is a feasible and far from an impossible task but some government-sponsored support will be needed in the next few years to fully commercialise this green technology to enable it to provide power locally and nationally and so that it can provide hardware to compete on an international stage," he wrote.

Mr Mowat added: "The unremunerated directors of Gills Harbour would be delighted to meet you on site. We will try to ensure that you meet relevant local businesses, community representatives and academics so that you get as good a briefing as possible on the prospects for marine energy in the form of tidal stream electricity."

Four demonstration turbines are in place at the Inner Sound and two more advanced and more powerful turbines are due to be installed at the site between October and late 2020. In the longer term it is planned to put in 269 turbines and generate enough potential energy to power 175,000 homes.

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