Energy industry specialists, investors and others have been in Edinburgh at the Scottish Renewables conference.
The trade body is keen to highlight the success the renewable energy sector has been in Scotland. It is right to do so. When UK grid infrastructure work is included, almost 12,000 people in Scotland are employed in the wider renewable energy sector, with enticing prospects for growth and development.
Yet there are worrying signs that the sector may be entering a more troubled period. Recently, developers cancelled plans for the UK's largest offshore wind farm off the coast of Argyll. Investment has dwindled to a trickle, storing up problems for the future and leading developers to question whether they would not be better off taking their manufacturing and associated supply chain jobs overseas. The Coalition's mixed messages are causing some in the industry to question whether the Government sees a long-term role for renewables.
With proposed constitutional change threatening continuation of the pooling and sharing of support for renewable energy across Britain, a reluctance to commit is predictable. We cannot afford to have the prolonged hiatus in low- carbon investment we have seen since 2010, both for our energy needs and the wider economy. That is why it is important for government to be focused on providing the framework for delivery in energy policy.
A significant first step is to close out the political uncertainty by cementing the long-term direction of policy, to stimulate investment, drive the supply chain and bear down on costs. The Labour Party has pushed for a 2030 decarbonisation target, a pledge to minimise emissions in the power sector. The policy is supported by many in the industry and the investment community and provoked the second largest rebellion in Parliament when proposed as an amendment to the Energy Bill.
The next step is to restart investment, stimulating the capital sitting idle in pension funds or infrastructure investment portfolios looking for opportunities to invest but with no experience in this market. We can unlock additional sources of funding by granting borrowing powers to the Government's Green Investment Bank. The Government says it has plans to grant borrowing powers but not until the back end of the decade. By unshackling the bank now, we can get things moving in this market while interest rates are low and demand for investment is pressing.
Finally, we need to work harder in Scotland to provide the skilled professionals this hi-tech industry craves. We need to view education in a much more joined up way, working closely with employers and further education institutions to smooth the transition from study to employment.
The inherent climate scepticism of the Tory right has gone unchecked by the Liberal Democrats, damaging both our ability to tackle climate change and our green industry.
While the SNP assert that, having left the UK, a neighbouring country's consumers will automatically continue to pay for renewable support on their bills, the UK Energy Secretary rightly states that this cannot be guaranteed. With one-third of the support coming to generators in Scotland, on a less than 10% share of the consumer base, it is self evident that the current set up works well for our renewables industry. The pooling and sharing of resources works for us in Scotland and, by getting power on to the wires, for everybody else in the UK too.
For Scotland's renewable energy sector to continue as the success story of the recent past, the work of devolved agencies underpinned by UK policy-driven support has to continue. Without both, the opportunities for further progress are hampered.
While the political debate may be all-consuming for some, its consequences are all too real in a sector where we punch above our weight. Continuing that partnership is the best way to secure investment, growth and jobs for the future. It makes no sense to put that in jeopardy.