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Boost for Renewables As Minister Hints at Capping Grid Charges

Oct 10, 2007 - The Scotsman

The UK energy minister yesterday signalled he was prepared to intervene in a row that threatens to damage Scotland's potential to become a green-energy powerhouse.

Malcolm Wicks hinted he would cap charges to make it easier for renewable energy schemes in remote areas to connect to the national grid.

A report last month warned such producers in the Highlands and Islands could pay connection charges up to 30 times higher than in other EU countries.

A Scottish delegation told Mr Wicks such charges discriminated against rural mainland and island locations.

Officials from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the councils in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles outlined their concerns that the industry's growth could be impeded by an unfair charging policy.

Alex Salmond, the First Minister, has already called on the electricity regulator Ofgem to review the connection charges.

It was revealed last month that Ofgem had backed away from increasing charges for use of the national grid. It had previously suggested it was "minded" to charge electricity producers in remote areas more for connecting to the network.

Mr Wicks told the delegation he shared their frustration at the high cost of getting electricity from schemes in the far north to markets south of the Border.

He said that achieving connections to the islands in a timely and cost-effective way would be an "indispensable" part of unlocking the huge potential offered by their renewable energy resources.

A spokesman for the minister said: "We can cap transmission charges from the islands; it's a power we have.

"It's a tricky issue, with the renewable resource up in the islands of Scotland but the need for the electricity further south, so how do we get that electricity down there without it being prohibitive? The minister understands the concerns about the costs. The fact we put this legislation on the books, that's pretty much a statement of intent."

The delegation called the meeting with the minister "positive and encouraging".

Elaine Hanton, HIE's head of renewables, said it had helped press home the message that the charging policy was putting at risk a cutting-edge industry that could bring huge benefits.

She said: "The great irony is that the areas of Scotland which have the most to offer, in terms of their wind, wave and tidal resource, are the very ones which have to pay the most to get their energy on to the grid."

Scotland has 25 per cent of the available tidal power in Europe and 10 per cent of the continent's wave power.

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