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by Samantha Coyne, Director of Corporate Development, Muirhall Energy
19 June 2024
Associate Feature: A more sustainable future

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Associate Feature: A more sustainable future

What would your organisation like to see next from devolution?
As Scotland continues to advance its devolution journey, there are several key areas of progress that align with our commitment to a sustainable and equitable energy future. 

1. Enhanced commitment to net zero, including greater legislative autonomy here in Scotland to implement innovative energy policies and increased funding and incentives for renewable energy developments.
2. Devolution of grid, to allow Scotland greater control over its renewable energy sources. 
3. Reformed pricing mechanisms to reflect the true cost and benefit of energy generation from renewable sources, alleviating the disadvantage on Scottish consumers. 
4. Increased subsidies and financial incentives for community renewable energy projects to promote local energy independence. 

I believe that any further devolution should focus on empowering Scotland to lead in the transition to a net zero economy. By granting greater autonomy over grid and energy management, and by ensuring fairer charges for energy generation, Scotland can better harness its abundant renewable resources and innovate towards a sustainable future. These measures will not only support Scotland’s environmental goals but also drive economic growth and help deliver a just transition.

How might the Scottish Parliament help your organisation accomplish your aims in the coming years?
Muirhall Energy is deeply committed to advancing Scotland’s renewable energy capabilities and the Scottish Parliament plays a crucial role in facilitating our efforts to achieve these aims. The biggest challenge we face as an industry lies in the planning regime. The Scottish Parliament should allocate more resources to planning authorities to streamline the approval processes for onshore wind projects. This includes reducing bureaucratic delays and ensuring that planning departments are adequately staffed with skilled personnel to handle the increasing volume of renewable energy applications. 

Muirhall Energy has really led the way with community shared ownership, but the Scottish Parliament need to do more to support local communities in the journey to net zero. I’d like to see policies that promote and simplify shared ownership models to empower local communities to invest in and benefit directly from onshore wind projects. This could involve financial support schemes and advisory services to help communities navigate the investment process.

My final thought on this question is around jobs. The renewables industry will provide thousands of jobs in hundreds of different specialties, including engineering, project management, accountancy and marketing. I’d like to see the Scottish Parliament fund and support training programs focused on renewable energy, particularly with universities, colleges, and technical schools to create the skilled workforce that will meet the needs of the industry.  

What has been the greatest highlight for your organisation during the past 25 years? 
Muirhall Energy was founded back in 2002, and has grown exponentially in the last 22 years. In the last two years alone, we have opened an additional two offices in Scotland with the team now 55 strong and rapidly growing. 

Muirhall Energy has developed into the industry acknowledged ‘people-first’ developer, leading on innovative community engagement including the launch of our Initial Investment Fund and large-scale shared ownership agreement with the nearest neighbours to the development.

How do you think your sector will evolve in the next 25 years? 
Looking forward, 2050 will see the fulfilment of the UK Government’s net zero ambitions. In order to reach this, we will have seen our goal of 20GW of onshore wind deployed across Scotland by 2030 met, with additional developments in place and repowering to maximise the effectiveness of these sites common practice.
I would expect to see further positive changes in public attitudes towards onshore wind and other renewable energy generation across the country. With both the Scottish and local economy seeing the full benefit of Scottish renewable energy generation, rural communities will have felt the real and persisting impacts of community investment, supporting community wealth building and empowering lasting economic prosperity.

What have been the economic benefits of devolution to your sector? 
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that devolution is the reason our sector has grown to where it is now. The consistent and supportive policy framework in Scotland, including the devolved planning system, has allowed renewable technology to thrive in Scotland and has made us a world-leader in the fight against catastrophic climate change. I am proud that Scotland, as the birthplace of the industrial revolution, has recognised the impact our legacy has had on communities across the world and has embraced the net zero challenge so wholeheartedly.

As well as the obvious contribution to decarbonisation, Scotland’s progressive approach to renewables has had a significant impact on Scotland’s economy.  Work undertaken by the Fraser of Allander Institute last year estimated that the renewable energy industry had a turnover of £6.1bn and 13,600 FTE jobs in 2021. This study also recognised that the economic activity supported by the renewables sector is far greater than its own turnover and employment. The renewable energy sector supports economic activity throughout its supply chains and this economic activity supports wage spending across Scotland. Including these spill-over effects, this report estimated that the renewable energy industry supports over £10.1bn of output, over £4.7bn of gross value-add and over 42,000 FTE jobs across the Scottish economy.

How has devolution managed to find (in the words of Donald Dewar) ‘Scottish solutions to Scottish problems’?
Muirhall Energy is the largest independent Scottish renewable energy developer, headquartered in Scotland and developing predominantly in Scotland, so I would definitely agree with this. Devolution has allowed the development of a buoyant renewables industry in Scotland and that has meant that Muirhall Energy has been able to grow from its first smaller wind farm development in 2002 to developing larger scale onshore wind, and investing millions into communities, across Scotland. The environment we operate in has fostered the development of innovative approaches to engineering and technical challenges as well as providing a supportive framework to develop our ‘people-first’ approach.  

Muirhall Energy believes in nurturing long-term relationships with our host and neighboring communities. This is not simply a box to tick for the planning process, this is a 40-year relationship and we believe that renewable developments can offer transformational funding to our rural communities. We have managed to secure the largest community shared ownership of a commercial-size wind farm at our Crossdykes development, and we are taking this learning and commitment into all future developments, offering up to 10 per cent to our communities.  Community Shared Ownership and Community Investment Funding are Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. Where previous policies have left our post-industrial villages underfunded and with limited opportunities for growth or for skills development, community investment packages are managed  in the community for the community and provide much-needed investment. With the 42,000 FTE jobs I mentioned earlier only set to grow as the sector grows and develops we believe in ensuring these opportunities are open to all, and that our transition to a net zero economy is truly a just one.

Where were you in your career in 1999? 
At that time, I was still a student, studying for my Standard Grades at school. I had a keen interest in current affairs, often staying up to watch Newsnight and I remember a feeling of excitement when devolution became a reality. But I wasn’t too aware of renewables at that stage. My career took a few twists and turns, with a career in law leading into the energy sector, renewables and ultimately leading me to my current role in development.

This article is sponsored by Muirhall Energy

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