Andy McFarlane: An industry renewed
It is certainly an interesting time for the renewables industry in Scotland. Despite ongoing political (and consequent economic) uncertainty, the revival of the on-shore wind sector following the post Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) downturn continues apace, and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.
Those working in the development and regulation of renewables in Scotland have a real opportunity to think about how, as a country, we take things forward. What do we want the industry to look like in years to come, and how are we going to shape that?
The debate around fossil fuels is over, and renewables are going to play an increasing role in the energy mix going forward. Notwithstanding being burdened with finding their own route to market, on-shore wind developers continue to be attracted to Scotland. Our experience over the last year is that more overseas players are looking for a slice of the action with the model of a smaller, on the ground, development team being funded by larger player ever more popular.
How can we shape the onshore wind industry moving forward? At the end of September this year the Scottish government passed their Climate Change Bill setting some of the most ambitious targets in the world but those involved in the industry will be looking at how we achieve such those lofty ambitions.
It will be interesting to see the proposals within NPF4 (which will become Scotland’s new National Planning Framework) as they relate to the renewables industry. It will give an opportunity to the Scottish government to shape where new wind farms may be developed and what criteria they will have to meet. Will it support the current market trend for projects of larger capacity powered by taller, more efficient turbines?
Crucially it may also finalise whether there should be a presumption in favour of development in respect of existing wind farm sites. We would hope that the developers are given the opportunity to re-develop their existing sites, with larger and/or more efficient machines, enjoying the benefit of the developer’s skill to make them more sympathetic to their environment.
For our own part, we will continue to work with our developer clients to develop ever more competitive projects. With the need for a corporate PPA or a competitive merchant price, the challenge for on-shore wind developers has never been greater and they will have their eye on the future prices set for off-shore wind in the most recent CFD rounds.
If they are to maintain their advantage created by the certainty they offer investors (based on the performance of existing windfarms) onshore developers know will have to be ever more imaginative in achieving capital cost saving in development and maximum efficiency in operation.
We should be proud of our renewables industry as Scotland finds itself under the spotlight with the arrival of the UN climate change summit in Glasgow next year.
Andy McFarlane is a partner at Wright, Johnston and Mackenzie LLP