Industry at 'crossroads', says Wheelhouse

Minister issues hydro jobs warning to Westminster

Paul Wheelhouse: urges rethink (Photo by Terry Murden)
Paul Wheelhouse: urges rethink (Photo by Terry Murden)

Scottish Business Secretary Paul Wheelhouse says UK Government policy towards the hydropower industry is threatening investment and jobs.

Mr Wheelhouse said the industry is “at a crossroads” with new projects coming on stream but with future investments and jobs at risk because of the UK Government’s subsidy regime.

Mr Wheelhouse, speaking during a visit to a pumped hydro storage plant at Foyers, near Loch Ness, highlighted the role the industry could play in Scotland’s energy system.

Mr Wheelhouse said: “Hydro generation in 2015 was at a record high level – 5,780 GWh, up 6.3% on 2014.

“But the hydro sector is at a crossroads,” he said. “Pumped hydro storage – like the facility I have seen today in Foyers – is a case in point. This tried and tested technology can play a key role in enhancing energy security, providing local jobs and helping to integrate renewables onto the network.

“This part of the hydropower industry requires substantial government support – not the kind of extra hurdles that changes in subsidies from the UK Government have put in place.

“That is why I am using this visit to urge the UK Government to do all that is can to support the real and continued potential in this energy resource.”

Hannah Smith, policy officer at Scottish Renewables, said: “Cuts to UK Government support in recent years remain a matter of real concern for our members, and are likely to mean a sharp downturn in deployment in the next 12 months.

“However the potential for hydropower and pumped storage hydro in Scotland remains strong, and we are working with the Scottish and UK Governments to seek clarity over the support this valuable technology can expect to receive in future.”

Mr Wheelhouse’s comments come ahead of his visit to RWE Innogy UK’s latest run-of-river hydro scheme north of Fort William.

He will be joined the official inauguration by Hans Bünting, the company’s chief operating officer renewables.

Cia Aig hydro power scheme

The £12 million Cia Aig Hydro Scheme (above) is on the Abhainn Chia-aig river at the eastern end of Loch Arkaig. After a two-year building programme it became operational in February. 

Ahead of the event, Dr Bunting said: “Scotland is a great place to do business. We value the skilled supply chain that Scotland can offer and when developing our renewables projects, it is important to us that we are able to work with local companies and to maximise the economic benefits to the local economy.”

Mr Wheelhouse said: “The Scottish Government is committed to supporting the development of renewables – including hydropower – as part of Scotland’s balanced energy portfolio, and we are already developing an overarching energy strategy, setting out what we can do to optimise the benefits of Scotland’s significant energy resources and expertise through to 2030.”

Simon Hamlyn, chief executive of the British Hydropower Association, said there is now more than 177 MW of small-scale hydropower available in Scotland with approximately 1,700 people working in the sector in Scotland. 

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