ANTI-wind farm campaigners believe Scotland may be seeing the first signs of a slow down in the dash for onshore turbines as a major company announced plans to shift its focus away from turbine projects.
Atmos Consulting is to relaunch its Inverness office, just months after the UK Government announced it would cut windfarm subsidies.
It has already trebled its expert staffing, as it announces a shift away from investing in turbine-led power towards wider development opportunities in the north.
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In June, the newly elected Conservative Government said that it is to cut subsidies to new wind farm projects.
Campaign group Scotland Against Spin said Atmos's decision follows a number of windfarm projects being abandoned at the planning stage, mothballed or rebranded as community led project.
Atmos denies this week's move is linked to the decision.
It says it had decided on the strategy some time ago, as a vote of confidence in the development prospects across the Highlands and Grampian, at a time when the oil industry is also in trouble.
Inverness winning a City Deal, already agreed in principle by the UK Government and which could herald a reported £300m in new investment, is just one of the factors in its thinking.
Established in 2007, Atmos Consulting became a fully independent environmental consultancy practice in March 2014, following the sale of its former parent company, West Coast Energy. It has offices in England, Wales and Scotland.
Managing Director, Stewart Lowther said “Atmos has always been an environmental consultancy. We have never been just a wind farm consultancy, although onshore wind has dominated our work in the last few years and we may too often be seen as associated only with wind energy developers. We are not turning our back on wind, which still has a future in the region. However our skills and expertise are much broader and we feel the time is right to make a bit more noise about that. We don’t want to be seen as just involved in wind farms.
“This widening of our focus pre-dated the government’s announcement on the curtailment of onshore wind subsidies. We have been working on changing our strategy for about 18 months, recognising what was happening in the north.”
He said the Inverness office had long been important to Atmos, covering an area where there had been a lot of wind farm activity.
“But we have recognised that the region as a whole is one where economic development has really picked up, in terms of housing and commercial development around Inverness and the wider region across the Highlands and Grampian.”
He said you only had to look at how the population had been increasing and was projected to continue – 21,000 more people are expected to be living in Inverness by the year 2035 compared to 2012 - to see that there was going to be an increasing demand for houses, for schools, hospital facilities, and other infrastructure.
Linda Holt, spokeswoman for Scotland Against Spin, which campaigns for reform of Scottish wind policy, said:
"This is a wise move by Atmos which recognised over 18 months ago that the boom in onshore wind development in Scotland was ending. Shrewd investors like the original West Coast Energy directors got out of the game long before the new Conservative government made good on its promise to end subsidies for new wind farms.
"In the last few months, a number of wind projects at various stages in the planning process have been abandoned, mothballed or rebranded as community projects in the hope that they will attract Scottish Government funding."
One industry source pointed to the recent research done for trade body Scottish Renewables which confirmed fears investors were turning away from onshore wind.