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Death of King Coal while life returns to Aberdeen

Terry smiling headAs I mentioned last week, I spent a short spell in the 1970s working for the National Coal Board and it would have been unthinkable in those days to imagine a Britain without a mining industry.

Great swathes of Scotland, Northern England, South Wales and the Midlands were peppered with pits and whole villages existed only because of them.

We all know what came next. Barely a pit exists these days, and today another milestone was reached as Britain went coal-free for the whole day for the first time since fossil fuels were first used for generating electricity.

The National Grid control room tweeted: “It looks likely today will be the first working day in Britain without coal power since the industrial revolution!”

The event neatly coincided with the latest news that up to 200 jobs will be created at Kishorn Port in the north-west Highlands during the construction of the world’s largest floating wind farm.

The two events mark are symptomatic of the biggest transition in energy sources since we stopped burning trees.

Coal now accounts for just 9% of the electricity generated last year and, ironically, many coal plants have switched back to burning organic matter such as wood pellets.

The UK Government plans to phase out coal altogether by 2025 as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions in the UK as the dream of a renewables-only energy policy edges nearer.

Aberdeen on the mend

It only takes one major industry to falter for others to fall like dominoes. As noted above the coal industry’s collapse had a devastating effect on businesses and communities across the country.

We have seen the same impact from the slump in the oil industry and it should not have come as any surprise to politicians and media pundits to see it manifest in the recent weak figures on the Scottish economy.

So any sign of an upturn should have the opposite effect and latest data showed that Scotland’s financial and business services sector has enjoyed a bit of a rebound, partly as a result of a “significant improvement” in the prospects of the oil and gas industry.

The trend emerged in the latest survey on the economy by the Fraser of Allander Institute and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (Daily Business 20 April).

It could have been a blip, of course, but then came evidence from property consultancy Savills (Daily Business 20 April).

Its Aberdeen Offices Spotlight, shows the office leasing market picking up in the first quarter of 2017 with take-up reaching 181,000 sq ft.

This is the strongest quarter recorded since Q3 2013 and not far short of total take-up volumes for the whole of 2016 (183,000 sq ft).

Dan Smith, director in the business space team at Savills Aberdeen, believes the worst of the energy market downturn is behind us, and occupier confidence is slowly but surely returning to the market.

Backing him was his colleague and head of office Simpson Buglass, who said enquiries from overseas investors have picked up, with Aberdeen yields remaining attractive relative to the rest of UK.

Oil prices have certainly stabilised at about, or just below, the level at which many believe activity is viable.

The trade body Oil & Gas UK has also reported that companies have risen to the challenge of making themselves leaner and more efficient. The Wood report recommended collaboration as a way to solve some of the cost issues in the industry.

It seems from this early evidence that the plan is beginning to yield positive results.

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