The boss of Scottish and Southern Energy has said that Scotland is “rubbing its hands” as the country outpaces England and Wales in the renewable energy stakes.
Mr Marchant said the demise of England’s regional development agencies proved to be a game-changer for Scotland, because of the opportunity it presents to gain a competitive advantage over English regions in attracting inward investment.
Currently, Scotland is investing £70m in developing ports and infrastructure for renewable energy – £10m more than is being spent in England and Wales.
Mr Marchant told a sustainable energy debate that offshore wind was the “poster child” for renewables in the UK – a make-or-break opportunity to show that UK cable and turbine manufacturers and other businesses can play a major role in developing the infrastructure required.
The SSE chief was taking part in a panel debate at the annual conference in Bath of south west energy association Regen SW.
Also on the panel was environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, Sarah Rhodes, head of land-based renewables at DECC’s Office for Renewable Energy Deployment, Merlin Hyman, Regen SW’s chief executive, and Martin Wright, managing director of Marine Current Turbines.
On offshore wind, both Mr Wright and Mr Marchant issued a rallying call to ensure that the opportunity presented by new wind farms translates into many new jobs in the UK rather than mainly benefiting companies overseas.
“I despair at industrial policy that won’t take a long view,” said Mr Wright. “We need manufacturing jobs to produce wealth.”
Ms Rhodes told delegates that “we already lead the world on offshore wind” and that the government was determined to build on this to create new jobs.
She added that the renewables sector had done “remarkably well” in the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, stressing that funding for Feed In Tariffs had been maintained, the Renewables Obligation had not been cut and the government had pledged £800m to implement the Renewable Heat Incentive.
The panel were divided on the prospects for solar farms to generate electricity on a large scale. Ms Rhodes said large-scale solar PV is the first area her department is re-evaluating because of its comparatively high cost. “We are trying to restrict some of the ambition in this sector but not all,” she said.
Mr Marchant also expressed doubts, citing the area of land that would be needed for large-scale developments. But Mr Porritt said large-scale solar PV was needed to overcome the “symbolic and psychological problem” that the public have come to regard renewables as a top-up option rather than a mainstream component of the energy mix.
The fiercest criticism aimed at government policy was in relation to wave and tidal energy. Mr Porritt said the government’s ambitions were “pretty piddling” and warned that “if we don’t do it in the next five years, I don’t think it’s going to happen”.
Mr Wright said the south west’s pioneering Wave Hub project off the north coast of Cornwall represented “a step in the right direction” but argued that the government was “missing a trick” because it had failed to offer an incentive for investors comparable to the Feed In Tariff or Renewables Obligation Certificates.
He called for incentives of this kind not only for wave and tidal energy but also for energy saving, where he argued for households to be offered a concession in their council tax banding for adopting energy efficiency measures.