Scottish Government Announces New Agri-Renewables Strategy

As we have covered previously on this blog there has been a growing demand for Scotland’s planning process for onshore renewable energy developments to be overhauled and simplified. A few weeks ago the National Farmers Union of Scotland wrote to the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney calling for an independent group of experts  be established to deliver a ‘clear, concise and deliverable renewables strategy’. Shortly after this the agri-business magnate Maitland Mackie distributed a document entitled ‘The Real Rationale for Renewable Energy‘ to councillors, MSPs and planning officers across the country. This campaign bore fruit yesterday as the Scottish Government announced the launch of a new strategy for Agri-Renewables.

It was at the annual Black Island Show that the Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead decided to make the much welcome announcement which he stated would “ensure that land managers can benefit from the renewables revolution and unlock the green energy potential of their land”. The strategy is intended to address the four issues that have been identified as key challenges for the sector. These are:

  • The Understanding of the Planning System
  • Access to Independent Advice
  • Pre-Construction Costs
  • Connection to the National Grid

The Secretary’s speech was as follows:

“Scotland is currently experiencing a renewables revolution and I want to see farmers, crofters and land managers working with local communities to ensure they grasp the benefits for their business and the nation

“Farmers and land managers have access to our nation’s abundance of natural resources, so it is no wonder they are already queuing up to grasp the opportunities presented by renewables.

“The renewables revolution offers our farmers and land-based industries the opportunity to cut energy costs, generate new income and contribute to our low carbon future. The list of benefits is endless.

“However, we are all on a steep learning curve, and need to quickly learn to take advantage of the industry’s increasing enthusiasm. We need to get our heads around the various challenges as well as the opportunities. Issues such as funding, planning, accessing grid connections, choosing the best technology, and so on, are all topics that farmers and others wish to see addressed in a well thought out strategy. I agree that this is the way forward, and that’s why we made a manifesto commitment to make it happen.

“Working with the industry, the Scottish Government is keen to deliver a strategy that ensures our renewable potential, boosts rural development, and a more profitable agricultural sector.

“The Agri-Renewables Strategy will be developed in co-operation with industry representatives and will build on the Scottish Government’s existing renewables activity in the agricultural sector.

“Scotland has some of the most ambitious climate change legislation in the world and there has already been a great deal of innovation within the farming sector.

“In a few years’ time I hope every farm in Scotland is benefiting from renewable energy in some shape or form. If we can make that vision reality, then that will be truly transformational.

“I look forward to having the new strategy in place by summer next year at the latest.”

The announcement has been welcomed by the NFU Scotland, who in a statement on their website remarked that they were “prepared to help wherever necessary in providing information and support all those involved in drafting the Agri-Renewables Strategy”. They also emphasised that they felt that the agricultural sector would be crucial if the Scottish Government was to achieve the “very ambitious” targets they had set for renewable energy generation. The NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller released the following statement in response to the Government announcement:

“The Scottish Government’s announcement that it will draw up an Agri-Renewables Strategy, with the assistance of industry representatives, is welcome and could be valuable for all farmers wanting to make the most of the opportunities for producing green energy on their land.

“The Scottish Government’s manifesto commitment to develop this strategy and, in particular, to simplify the planning process, were spot on. Scottish farmers and crofters have already contributed a great deal in terms of cutting carbon emissions and installing the means of producing renewable energy on their land, however, inconsistencies and constraints in the planning system mean that many farmers are struggling to get energy projects off the ground.

“The ambitious target to be able to produce 100% of our electricity demand equivalent from renewable sources by 2020 could be attainable, but we need a clear steer from the Scottish Government insetting out nationwide planning guidance and priorities for those applying for and approving renewable projects.

“NFU Scotland has built up a long list of examples from among its membership of where the system is and is not working and will offer to work closely with the Scottish Government and other industry representatives in order to help our farmers and crofters contribute to Scotland’s renewable energy aims.

“We have already got the ball rolling in tackling the planning issue and, in addition to our contact with the Scottish Government, we are meeting Scotland’s chief planner next week with a view to addressing the obstacles and anomalies that exist within the planning system and between Scotland’s local authorities.”

The Agri-Renewables Strategy could be absolutely crucial to achieving the aim of 100% renewable energy generation by 2020 as well as providing a much needed boost to agriculture and fragile local economies up and down the country. The only issue one could have on the subject is that it has not come quite soon enough.