Page last updated at 01:25 GMT, Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Renewables role for oil industry

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Oil and gas platform
The oil and gas industry has experience of working in harsh environments

The oil and gas industry is to be encouraged to play a bigger role in the development of marine power.

Scottish Renewables said the industry had the skills needed to help Scotland achieve the generation of a gigawatt of electricity - enough for 570,000 homes.

While not opposed to marine energy, conservationists called for the careful selection of sites and more research into the potential impact on wildlife.

Their concerns include the effect of noise pollution from tidal devices.

Scottish Renewables, the green energy trade body, will host a one-day conference on marine power in Aberdeen on 6 November.

Decisions are due from Scottish ministers on 34 renewable projects.
Major schemes up for consideration include Pairc Wind Farm on the Western Isles and Earlshaugh Wind Farm in the Borders.
Nine hydro projects are also among the 35 - including Allt Hallater Hydro in Argyll and Bute and Invervar Hydro in Perth and Kinross.
One wave power development is involved, Siadar Wave Energy on the Western Isles.

Supported by the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, the event will look at how Scotland can generate a gigawatt of energy by 2020 and an increased input from the fossil fuels sector.

The conference comes just weeks after the Crown Estate opened up the Pentland Firth between the north mainland coast and Orkney for development.

Scottish Renewables estimate a gigawatt - which is 1,000 megawatts - would prevent the emission of about 1.5m tonnes of CO2 a year, or 450,000 tonnes of carbon.

Scotland emits about 54m tonnes of CO2 each year.

Jason Ormiston, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said Aberdeen - the oil capital of Europe - was deliberately picked as the conference venue.

He said: "We hope to get a lot of interest from the oil and gas sector.

"We want to raise the profile of the renewables industry and show it is going places. The oil and gas sector has the skills for developing wave and tidal power.

"It works in a similar environment off Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles. The sector understands what the challenges are and they are significant."

'Huge opportunites'

Morag McCorkindale, chief operating officer at Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, said many Aberdeen-based oil and gas companies were already actively involved in green power projects across Europe.

She said in coming years billions of pounds would be invested in the development of offshore wind farms, while huge opportunities would emerge in the wave and tidal sector.

Friends of the Earth Scotland said it was "very enthusiastic" about the marine power potential of Scotland.

Chief executive Duncan McLaren said as with onshore renewable projects, marine schemes could not be established "everywhere and anywhere".

Thistles as light bulbs

Wind is the biggest generator of renewable power in Scotland - with 66 onshore projects and 875 turbines able to operate to a capacity of 1,384.68 megawatts (MW).

The grandfather of green power, hydro, currently can work to a capacity of 1,382.15 MW from 145 schemes. Glendoe near Fort Augustus is due to come on line next year.

There are 39 energy-from-waste projects capable of generating 99.68 MW, while 70 operating biomass schemes can produce up to 78.92 MW of electricity and 29.41 MW of thermal energy.

Two operating wave projects can produce to a capacity of 0.50 MW and one tidal scheme. The figures do not include the testing capacity at the European Marine Energy Centre on Orkney.
Source:Scottish Renewables

He said: "We would encourage a strategic approach which recognised that some part of our seas are particularly valuable for fisheries and marine biodiversity." Mr McLaren added that some sites could become "nurseries" for fish, which would help replenish stocks and protect threatened species.

Sarah Dolman, of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, was also not against the development of marine renewables.

But she said Scotland needed to conduct a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of areas of the sea and coast not covered by a UK Government-led SEA.

She said this would help to identify the needs of oil and gas, renewables, shipping and fishing and consider any threats to habitats.

Ms Dolman added that further research of the potential impacts of tidal devices on mammals would be required.

Harbour porpoise and seals were the most likely to be affected by equipment set up in shallow waters.

Ms Dolman said: "We have to be very aware of where to put these devices to make sure they don't change habitats and affect marine life through noise pollution.

"There is also the potential of collisions because the waters involved are fast flowing, visibility is poor in these waters and it is already quite a noisy environment."

The Pentland Firth provides habitat for harbour porpoise, dolphins and killer whales.

Mr Ormiston said environmental factors would be considered in the development of marine energy.

He said: "There will be environmental constraints and they will be taken very seriously. The developer will have to prove to the authorities that their project is acceptable."

Vital questions

Mr Ormiston added that a clear planning system, which was not complicated and inconsistent, and allowed projects to develop quickly was needed.

Meanwhile, an upgrading the electricity power line from Beauly, near Inverness, to Denny in central Scotland is a "keystone" to the future of renewable power in the country, the chief executive said.

The line - which would involve the construction of 600 pylons - would allow renewable energy from proposed wind and wave projects in the north to be transmitted to the major population centres of central Scotland.

But the proposal has been hugely controversial.

Campaigners claim the public inquiry into the plan did not address vital questions - such as whether a sub-sea cable would be a better alternative than the erection of 212ft pylons.

The Beauly/Denny landscape group, which includes the John Muir Trust and the Ramblers' Association, was unhappy that alternatives were not properly examined.

Mr Ormiston said the line was needed for building capacity and delivering surplus energy to the rest of the UK and Europe.

He said: "It is a keystone for the renewables industry because whilst there is a lot of development in the south of Scotland a lot of the significant is in the north of Scotland."

Scottish ministers are expected to make an announcement on the line next spring.

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