SCOTLAND cannot move towards a low carbon economy without strengthening and increasing the capacity of its high voltage transmission system.

Up until now there has been a major problem. The best locations for water and wind power are in remote bays and on windswept ridges but these tend to be in far-flung, sparsely populated areas, such as the far north of Scotland, while the biggest demand for electricity is in the densely populated south-east of England. This creates a challenge for energy transmission because transmitting the power over standard alternating current power lines leads to very significant losses. High-voltage transmission considerably reduces energy losses and makes the use of remote generating centres more feasible.

Yesterday it emerged that a plan to invest more than £7bn in the Scottish network to modernise its high-speed grids is to be fast-tracked by the energy regulator Ofgem. Upgrade plans from Scottish Power and SSE were launched, ahead of the National Grid's proposals for England and Wales. The proposals include vital subsea cables to the Scottish islands and to England. The Scottish Government's challenging renewables target relies on being able to sell surplus electricity to English consumers. Scottish Power will use its investment to connect around 11 gigawatts of onshore and offshore wind power projects, as well as doubling the electricity export capacity between Scotland and England.

Scottish Power called its plans "the most important upgrades to the electricity network in central and southern Scotland for more than 60 years". The schemes from the two generating companies are expected to create thousands of jobs between them.

Yesterday's announcement has been hailed as a win-win situation, creating employment, improving security of supply, unlocking the potential of both onshore and offshore wind power and costing the consumer next to nothing.

However, the John Muir Trust is not likely to be the only critic to suggest that this proposal looks too good to be true. (The two companies say the work will add just 35p a year to the bills of Scottish consumers between 2013 and 2021. This is because transmission charges make up barely 2% of household bills.) Of course, the cost of building offshore wind farms, as well as generating enough energy from other sources to provide a base load for windless or stormy days, is a separate consideration. Opinions remain sharply divided as to whether these investments will address or aggravate the issue of fuel poverty in Scotland, as nuclear stations are decommissioned.

In the meantime, however, given that wave, tidal, hydro and wind power are all important elements in the green energy mix, investment in high-speed transmission is essential. And, with no end in sight to the current austerity, major job-generating infrastructure projects such as these are vital in the search for economic growth. Even so, there must be genuine consultation. It is questionable whether the current timetable allows for this, especially when some of the projects that this investment is designed to serve are still the subject of public inquiries. At the end of the day, we want Scotland to be both a green and a pleasant land.