EXCLUSIVE: Scottish solar power chiefs confident of Scot-Govt. climb-down in business rates row

BRIGHT FUTURE: Heather ‘The Weather’ Reid helps six-year old Abi Kinloch to launch the Edinburgh solar power co-operative.
BRIGHT FUTURE: Heather ‘The Weather’ Reid helps six-year old Abi Kinloch to launch the Edinburgh solar power co-operative recently. (Colin Hattersley Photography)

EXCLUSIVE by Scottish Energy News

Senior players in the Scottish solar industry are quietly optimistic of major concessions from the Scot-Govt over business rates.

The solar industry has been heavily lobbying Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse and senior civil servants at St. Andrew’s House since the issue ignited in Spring this year when local cooncils announced the business rates for financial year 2017-18.

As with the Scottish small hydro energy sector, solar power providers in Scotland immediately erupted in an industry fury after business rate rises of up to 500% were announced.

The Scot-Govt swiftly announced a temporary business rate relief package and – after the initial political heat subsided – senior managers in both small hydro and Scottish solar power providers have since held a series of confidential meetings with the Scottish Energy Minister and his advisors.

John Forster
John Forster

John Forster, Chairman of Forfar-based Forster Energy – and also Chairman of Solar Scotland – told delegates at a sun-power conference yesterday in Edinburgh:

“We have been holding meetings with the Scot-government over business rates and it is highly likely that an announcement will be made soon.”

A Scot-Govt spokesman added: “We’re in ongoing dialogue <with the solar industry> and recognise that business rates are an issue.

“We are very keen to help the solar power industry in Scotland and this has to be a big part of the answer to de-carbonising the heating sector in our draft Scottish Energy Strategy.”

If the Scottish Energy Minister does come up with a permanent solution to the vexed issue of business rates and/or the Scottish rating system for the solar sector, it is also highly probable that the same, or at least similar, solution will be announced for the small-scale Scottish hydro power sector.

Meanwhile, removing major barriers that lie on the road ahead for the solar energy sector in Scotland could see a 400% increase in installed capacity – from 1.51 GWh to 6.5GWh – by 2030.

The Solar in Scotland conference was told that ‘major barriers’ included the government’s Scottish Energy Strategy (and/or lack of, in some cases) on regulation to meet both increased carbon-reduction emissions and/or increased energy-efficiency and – thereby – also helping to reduce fuel poverty, as well as a chronic lack of electricity grid and network connections to supply and distribute Scottish solar power.

Keynote speaker Simon Coote, Head of Energy Solutions at Scot-Govt., explained; “For the first time, our <Scottish Energy> Strategy is taking a ‘whole system’ approach to de-carbonising both energy demand and supply.

“The Scot-Govt has set tough carbon-reduction targets which require us <as a society> in

  • Transforming our energy use
  • Meeting our energy supply needs, and
  • Increasing smart-er and more local grids and community energy generation.”

With heating contributing more than twice (53%) of CO2 emissions in Scotland as transport (22%) or electricity generation (27%), Coote said that the Scot-Govt is ‘very keen’ to support Scottish solar energy.

Whilst acknowledging that the Scottish Energy Strategy ‘could have said more about solar’, he added: “There is a big market potential for solar PV and solar thermal heating system, and regulation is going to a big part of that <by imposing new requirements for energy-efficiency on landlords and by ‘building-in’ solar systems in new-building housing> – and some one’s going to make money out of that”.

John Forster agreed. He said: The SNP’s Scottish Energy Strategy has been too heavily-focused on wind – particularly onshore wind – in the past.

“Solar power – which can complement wind power, particularly when coupled with energy storage – can make a big difference to both protecting our climate and in tackling Scottish fuel poverty.

“This is all the more so when you bear in the mind the very rapid reductions currently going on in the cost of solar energy systems and technology as a result of the speed and scale of solar investment in 100 GWh farms in China and India.

“We’ll never have a solar power technology manufacturing sector in Scotland, but using the technology, we are a viable and growing industry in supply and installation.

“And as an industry, the solar trade is very pleased with the positive relationship we had with former Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing and now also with his successor in the Scot-Govt. In contrast with England, the political and commercial landscape for solar is much brighter than south of the Border.”

“The past two years under the (UK) government have been challenging – not just for solar, but for all renewables. In fact, the eponymous energy conference of the same name in Glasgow last month was the smallest All Energy conference ever held by the organisers in the city and the solar industry in the UK has lost jobs.

“But – at least as Forster Energy Group is concerned – we’ve stopped cutting jobs and are now adding to our workforce.”

Meanwhile, construction of a new 250-kW ground-mounted solar energy parc is due to start this summer near Aberdeen airport.

Local employer Charles J Marshall (Aberdeen) Ltd., is looking to construct a solar farm to secure their company’s energy supply, as well as providing additional income for the business at its Chapel Works in Bucksburn.

The development was granted full planning permission after a report by Neo Environmental demonstrated that ‘glint and glare’ from the solar panels would not adversely interfere with flight operations from the airport to offshore oil and gas platforms.

 

 

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