Nicola Sturgeon predicted that the Highlands would soon be “powering the world” as she unveiled a £500million clean energy project that could create thousands of north jobs.
The first minister was at the Nigg Energy Park in Easter Ross yesterday to mark a “real milestone” in the MeyGen tidal energy development.
The project will harness the waves of the Pentland Firth to eventually produce 398MW for the National Grid – enough to power more than every home in the Highlands.
Led by Atlantis Resources, it is the world’s largest tidal energy scheme and the first on a commercial scale.
Ms Sturgeon travelled to Nigg to officially unveil the first turbine of the 6MW initial phase of the scheme.
The SNP leader said: “This is a very, very special day for MeyGen, for tidal power, for Scotland, and for all of these reasons and many, many more, I’m delighted to be here to celebrate it. It is a real milestone.
“This project is the biggest tidal stream project in the world, and the first on a commercial scale, so I think it’s really not possible to overstate the importance of this project for MeyGen and for Scotland.”
Ms Sturgeon, who toured the fabrication yard at Nigg and unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion, added: “We’re looking forward to the later stages of MeyGen and if we think the first phase has significant benefit, both in power and economic advantage, the phases yet to come have even greater benefit.
“The next phase will lead to economic benefit in this area running into the hundreds of millions of pounds, and potentially many thousand jobs.”
The SNP leader also highlighted “challenges” in ensuring the next phases were a success, including the UK Government honouring contracts which guarantee energy prices.
But she added: “This really does put Scotland on the world stage. It’s no exaggeration to say that the eyes of the world are on Scotland as this project develops.
“We are very lucky to have something in the region of a third of all of the UK’s tidal power resource.
“We’re coupling that with the technology, the manufacturing capability, so that we can enjoy the economic advantages here in Scotland but put ourselves at the heart of what is a global industry, so that we’re not just powering Scotland, we’re potentially powering the world through technology and manufacturing here in Scotland.”
Atlantis Resources hopes to produce the first energy for the National Grid from the turbines later this year.
Global Energy Group chairman Roy MacGregor, which operates the Nigg park, said the birth of the new tidal energy industry reminded him of arriving at the fabrication yard as a graduate in the early days of the North Sea oil and gas boom.
“I was involved in starting a local workforce in an industry that was alien to Scotland, but over the 40-odd years became the envy of the world,” he said.
“In many ways, as we start another journey with renewables, it’s like just putting the clock back for me, and looking forward to the prosperity that this industry will give another generation.”
He added: “It does bring hope to this area. At peak this yard employed 5,500 people. Six months ago we had just over 3,000 people working here, today there’s not quite so many.
“But we do need renewables, not just for this generation but for tomorrow’s generation.”
Atlantis Resources chief executive Tim Cornelius thanked Ms Sturgeon for the Scottish Government’s support and promised to deliver £500million of investment.
“We guarantee you that with your continued support, and with the help of Westminster, we will deliver a half a billion pounds worth of capex expenditure into this industry and into Scotland, which is the epicentre.”
On Nigg, he added: “This is the yard which we believe will obviously start to generate a hell of a lot of work, a hell of a lot of jobs in the renewables sector.”