By Susan Law

THERE’S no denying Scotland’s strong intentions around renewable energies. But if we are to truly accelerate the nation’s drive to net zero, we need to get serious about investing in the infrastructure needed to make this happen.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made it clear in her latest Programme for Government that the nation’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic must be a green one. She committed to transform how we heat our homes, giving greater opportunities to meet environmental and climate change ambitions.Yet, aside from politics, there are practicalities which must be addressed – and they are critical to the very basics of getting the technology needed to fuel our green revolution where it physically needs to be.

What’s acutely clear from the vast work that I do with renewable energy developers – wind power, in particular – and landowners is that issues surrounding infrastructure are the biggest problems faced in getting schemes off the ground.

It goes without saying that the windiest parts of Scotland are those most suitable for wind energy. And it can also be of little shock to anyone that the majority aren’t in the most accessible areas.

But what’s surprising is the under-appreciation of the fact that you need to be able to transport all of the materials needed to build windfarms to development sites. Sometimes that may mean widening roads, creating purpose-built routes to sites - and installing the equipment needed to ensure the energy generated can make its way to supply routes that feed our homes and businesses.

Yet there is often a worrying lack of foresight in this respect, with people more willing to risk damage to existing infrastructure – often narrow rural roads – than invest in a more effective solution.

This must, of course, be done while showing empathy with the natural environment. However, this has to be tempered with the realisation that this is not about damaging our environment, but ensuring the practical measures necessary are in place to ensure Scotland can meet its climate change target of net zero by 2045.

This means there must be a joined-up approach between the Scottish Government and councils to ensure the top-level vision for a green recovery and rapid progress towards driving down emissions – building a stronger economy and creating jobs – is mirrored in grassroots policies and local development plans. Little progress will be made if one does not follow the other, which is the situation developers often face.

Generally, I also believe that – in certain situations – developers, who help many landowners diversify their income, should be granted compulsory purchase rights, in the necessary circumstances, to ensure they can put the infrastructure in place to safely and get the turbines in and the power generated out.

Nationally, planning and grid connection consents need to be streamlined, taking the need to reach renewable energy targets into account.

The economics of wind farm developments are complex and there can be no doubt that it has become more difficult to invest in onshore wind, which is Scotland’s most successful renewable technology.

Reaffirmation of the importance of Scotland’s green recovery potentially marks yet another critical juncture for renewable energy – but only if it comes with the muscle needed to ensure progress in the most practical, basic sense also. Expecting to lead the world in wind energy when you can’t get the turbine parts to where they need to be seems somewhat counterintuitive.

Susan Law is a Partner at Lindsays