Sumitomo ground-breaking ceremony at Port of Nigg

Two announcements in May show the vital role the Highlands and Islands is playing in Scotland's renewable energy sector, says HIE chief executive Stuart Black. 

It’s a rare privilege to witness history in the making – and incredibly exciting when it happens on your doorstep. 

That’s what I had the good fortune to experience recently when two projects that could prove genuinely transformational for Scotland’s economy each took a significant step forward.

I’m referring to two huge investments in our region, from energy companies Haventus and Sumitomo Electric Industries, that are jointly worth around three-quarters of a billion pounds and look set to create hundreds, if not thousands, of high quality jobs for many years to come.

Both projects demonstrate the Highlands and Islands’ potential to help make Scotland a global leader in renewable energy, and offer an early signal that the benefits generated by the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport are already having an impact. 

First out the gate on Monday 13 May was Haventus, energy transition facilities provider and owner of Ardersier Port. First Minister John Swinney led a ground-breaking ceremony to mark the former oil and gas fabrication yard’s rebirth as a major offshore wind deployment and manufacturing hub. 

At the same time, the company announced it had been granted a £100m credit facility by the Scottish National Investment Bank and the UK Infrastructure Bank. That’s in addition to £300m that had already been pledged in Ardersier by leading US-based energy investment firm Quantum Capital Group. The development of a 650m new quay at Ardersier means work for hundreds employees on site, both in the construction and operational phases, plus many more in the supply chain. 

Just 24 hours later, it was the turn of Sumitomo Electric Industries to begin construction at Port of Nigg on a £350m super-factory that will manufacture high-voltage subsea cables to connect offshore turbines to the national grid. The factory will create more than 150 direct jobs and a similar number in associated businesses across Scotland. 

Introducing the capacity to make and deploy such cables in the Inner Moray Firth brings a new dimension to our region’s manufacturing base and ensures that more of the economic benefits that renewable energy is set to deliver will be captured and held in Scotland.  

Speaking at Ardersier, the First Minister said: “Scotland’s growing offshore wind capabilities present an era-defining opportunity – not only to achieve a just transition to net zero, but to harness the skills which lie across our energy sector and wider supply chain to create thousands of green jobs and transform our regional and national economies.”

At Sumitomo’s ground-breaking ceremony at Nigg Màiri McAllan, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Energy, added: “Scotland is fast becoming a renewable energy powerhouse. Today’s ceremony highlights this and is an excellent example of the public and private sectors working together to grow Scotland’s economy and protect our environment. 

“Backed with £24.5m of public sector funding, this will be Sumitomo’s first cable factory in Europe and the first high voltage direct current cable factory in the UK, creating hundreds of jobs.” 

The public-private partnership referred to by Ms McAllan has been vital in the growth of our renewable energy sector over the past 20 years or so, with Highlands and Islands Enterprise playing a key role. 

Our subsidiary company Wave Energy Scotland and the European Marine Energy Centre, part of the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus, have put the region at the international forefront of research, development and testing of renewable energy devices.

Investment over many years in ports and harbours – not only in the Inner Moray Firth, but also Stornoway, Kishorn, Lerwick, Kirkwall, Stromness and Scrabster – means that companies and communities across the region are today exceedingly well-placed to take advantage of new opportunities that are now set to come to fruition.  

Many of these opportunities lie in the offshore wind sector, driven by Crown Estate Scotland’s ScotWind leasing round which will see 20 major sites developed, the majority of them in waters off the coasts of the Highlands and Islands. 

Still others are in innovative technology, including green hydrogen, which, while still in its infancy, has the potential to create several thousand Scottish jobs in the coming years. 

Of course, even outstanding economic opportunities like these don’t simply translate into success by themselves. 

HIE and our partners in central and local government and other agencies are acutely aware that we need to pull together and seize this moment. That’s how we’ll ensure that the tremendous potential of our region to contribute to Scotland’s economic transformation is fully realised, for the benefit of future generations as well as our own.

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