"Start planning now for the offshore renewables boom, or there is a danger that the region will lose out on the benefits of its rich natural resources", is the message being delivered to Argyll businesses at today's (Friday 2nd March) energy event being held at the Scottish Association for Marine Sciences, at Dunstaffnage, near Oban.
Calum Davidson, Director of Energy and Low Carbon at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is giving a key note speech to delegates of the EU Offshore Wind and Marine Seminar. He will highlight the huge opportunities for Argyll's businesses, particularly those involved in marine services to expand into this emerging market. But he will issue a warning to business that they could lose out.
"Without collective working between the public and private sectors, and a proactive supply chain, there's a real danger that the economic benefits will simply pass Argyll by - and the projects planned for the region's waters will be built and serviced elsewhere in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
"Now is the time for us to start planning and ensuring the supply chain and infrastructure is in place to make the most of this exciting phase in Argyll's economic and community development. When you see the projects planned for Argyll and the west coast, you realise just how significant this area is for Scotland's energy future, and we want to ensure that the communities at the heart of these projects see the rewards."
Mr Davidson will point to the fact that the planned offshore wind farms are now moving into the development phase. "The east coast, including the Moray and Cromarty Firths, are first in the queue for the associated manufacturing and assembly of projects such as the Beatrice and Moray offshore renewables projects. However we know that within five years there's going to be significant offshore wind-related activity in Argyll.
"At the same time you're going to see marine energy activity, including the world's largest tidal energy array off Islay, and over the next two to three years developers are going to be establishing deployment bases and new operation and maintenance facilities will be required."
Mr Davidson will highlight the work that HIE and its partners are doing to ensure the region's infrastructure is in place to support the growth of the offshore renewables sector. Indeed HIE estimates that there is currently £70m of investment in ports, harbours and fabrication facilities underway or committed around the Highlands and Islands.
"A key investment is at Machrihanish," he said. "Home to one of Argyll's most promising high-growth energy companies, Wind Towers Ltd, which is nearing completion of a significant expansion of its site to enable the manufacture of larger towers for the offshore wind market.
"This, alongside Argyll and Bute Council's investments in upgrades to the road between the factory and the harbour at Campbeltown, including large-scale works to provide deeper water access and reinforcement of the quayside, will mean the area will play a prime role in Scotland's offshore wind supply chain."
Keen to encourage learning from other parts of the Highlands and Islands, Mr Davidson will refer to the successes of businesses in the marine services sector in exploiting opportunities in renewables.
"Experience in Shetland and Orkney demonstrates that marine services companies can successfully expand into marine renewables, whilst continuing to service other sectors such as oil and gas, fishing and tourism. These SMEs have the skills and expertise to quickly respond to these emerging opportunities."
The event, being hosted by Argyll and Bute Council, will discuss how European policy and funding can be used to help develop the renewables potential of the west coast of the Highlands and Islands to encourage sustainable economic growth in the area.
The seminar, which will take place at the SAMS at Dunstaffnage will be opened by Argyll and Bute Council leader Dick Walsh and Fergus Ewing MSP, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism. It will bring together national and European policy experts as well as key figures from the renewables industry. Construction of the ambitious European Marine Science Park is currently underway at Dunstaffnage, it will offer commercial space for businesses to take advantage of opportunities.
Many topics will be up for discussion at the seminar including the physical infrastructure requirements needed to support offshore and marine renewables, what opportunities exist in relation to business and skills development in the renewables sector within the area and to identify how European policy and funding can be used to help unlock the renewable energy potential of the west coast.
Council Leader Dick Walsh said, "Argyll and Bute and the wider west coast have some of Europe's best renewables resources and can make a significant contribution to the ambitious Scottish, UK and European renewable energy and carbon reduction targets if the right legislation, regulatory conditions and funding support allows. "