Highland Council’s new policy for offshore energy developments has come under fire from an industry leader.
Martin Mathers, Scottish Power Renewables onshore policy manager, criticised the council’s offshore developments policy, which will seek £5,000 per megawatt (MW) annually for communities, 20% of which would go to coastal communities with the remaining 80% heading to a Highland-wide community fund.
He said: “Highland Council seems to be seeking to add a burden to this developing sector. There is a risk that we kill the goose that might lay the golden egg.”
He said his firm’s 10MW Sound of Islay tidal scheme would be a test project and a loss leader for the company.
Mr Mathers added: “The suggestion to pay community benefit off this meagre income stream is ill-judged and ill-timed.”
Council leader Michael Foxley said the suggestion the new policy could hit future multimillion-pound offshore energy developments in the Highlands and islands was “nonsense”.
Speaking at a recent council-organised renewable energy conference in Inverness, he said: “We would be looking for community benefit after the research and development phase when things are commercially viable.”
Also at the conference were Highland community councillors, who called for community benefit to be incorporated into planning conditions.
Pete Campbell, chairman of Creich Community Council in Sutherland, said: “Instead of negotiating community benefit, why not look at legislating for it through the planning process?”
Another community council member said: “Planning applications are about the creation of wealth and wealth should come to the community as part of the application.”
Mr Foxley said he had raised the question with government ministers.
Liberal Democrat Inverness councillor David Henderson said: “It is naive to pretend that these voluntary payments are anything other than bribes.
“These companies are not acting out of any sense of philanthropy or local citizenship.
“Their intention is solely to secure the acquiescence of local people to theirproposals when theyseek planning permission.
“In many instances, the offer of payment has divided communities and by involving itself in the promotion and management of these funds, the council has seriously compromised itself.”