THE UK Government is poised to deliver a major boost to the Highland and islands economy by naming the Pentland Firth as Scotland’s first marine energy park.
The move would help promote the north as a global centre for wave and tidal renewable energy schemes – paving the way for new investment and thousands of jobs across the region.
The sea between Caithness and around Orkney would become the second marine energy park in the UK, after a stretch between Bristol and Cornwall was named the first earlier this week.
Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker yesterday indicated the Pentland Firth would win similar status this summer.
John Thurso, MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, has led calls for the waters to win such recognition.
He asked Mr Barker what progress was being made on the scheme, during a debate in Westminster yesterday.
The minister said: “John Thurso has played a key role in developing marine renewable potential in Scotland and I would like to invite him to host a board meeting of the Marine Energy Programme Board in Caithness in the summer where I hope we will have some good news on the creation of the second marine energy park in the UK in Scotland.”
A delegation involving Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Highland Council and Orkney Islands Council had met Mr Barker to press the case on Monday.
Last night, Lord Thurso said: “I am delighted that the minister is so favourably inclined to the Pentland Firth becoming Scotland’s first marine energy park.
“This will be an enormous boost for the industry on both sides of the firth. Invergordon and Nigg will also be very important players in this development. If we get this right, there will be work for everybody.”
HIE director of energy and low carbon Calum Davidson said: “The north of Scotland is at the forefront of the development of marine renewables and we are delighted that the UK Government is encouraging the development of marine renewables given its economic and environmental benefits.”
First Minister Alex Salmond has said the P entland Firth has the potential to become the Saudi Arabia of marine power.
In 2009, the Crown Estate received 42 applications from 20 bidders trying to secure leases for the seabed in the Pentland Firth and around Orkney.
Detailed plans are being drawn up for 11 schemes in the area – six wave and five tidal-based – with a total power capacity of 1,600MW and worth about £6billion in investment costs.
At one of the sites in the Inner Sound of the firth, a consortium called MeyGen – involving energy giant International Power and investment bank Morgan Stanley – is preparing to install up to 400 turbines over the next decade.
Eann Sinclair, programme manager for Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership, welcomed the government’s move.
“It is excellent news,” he said. “It reinforces the point that this is the epicentre of the wave and tidal industry of Europe, if not globally.
“It is the only place that is looking beyond industrial testing of devices, towards the much larger-scale wave and tidal devices which can be commercially viable.
“For us in the north, with the rundown in job numbers as Dounreay decommissions, we can see the substantial benefits arising from these types of projects.”