Weekly update, 17th September 2012

Energy:
Scottish Renewables’ Marine Conference and Exhibition took place in Inverness this week, with over 250 delegates and over 40 exhibitors including Kongsberg Maritime, Caithness Renewables and Invest Caithness. To coincide with the Conference Scottish Renewables published data indicating that the costs of connecting to the National Grid for Caithness-based Pentland Firth wave and tidal projects had decreased against previous estimates, whilst connection charges from Orkney had dramatically increased. This is despite Ofgem’s recent review of transmission charging in the UK. Further info at http://www.scottishrenewables.com/news/pentland-firth-and-orkney-marine-grid-charges-100m/

Caithness Renewables began operating from its new offices – Renewables @ No. 10 –  in central Thurso this week, offering hot-desking facilities aimed at incoming energy-related companies. The venture has been supported by Highland Council through the EU LEADER programme. Company founder Louise Smith says the venture was inspired by the area’s recent successes in attracting both Marine Energy Park and Enterprise Area status.

Energy North and HIE are holding a “meet the buyer” event next month with RWE Npower Renewables. The event will be held on Wednesday 10th October at North Highland College, Thurso. Attendees will form part of a register of local and regional businesses, areas of expertise and experience for companies interested in working in renewables for onshore projects with RWE NRL and its contractors. For more information and to book a place please see http://www.energynorth.co.uk/Events/-Meet-the-Buyer–event—Caithness.aspx

Scottish Government Energy, Enterprise & Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing MSP was in Caithness this week to deliver an Institute of Directors lecture on leadership. At a discussion session afterwards with local representatives the Minister heard views on a number of issues, and re-emphasised the views expressed in Thurso two weeks ago by the First Minister that the area was very much at the centre of energy sector developments in Scotland.

Tourism/ Food & Drink:
North Highland Initiative and HIE, in partnership with Scottish Government, the Prince’s Regeneration Trust and Historic Scotland held a “North Highland Symposium” yesterday (Friday) in Brora to focus on the tourism and food & drink sectors in the north, and on opportunities for collaborative working. The keynote address at the event was given by Richard Lochhead MSP, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, who announced a £100,000 “North Highland Challenge Fund” to support collaboration in the tourism food & drink industries. More information on this fund over the coming weeks, with its anticipated start date being February next year. Over the past two weeks the Partnership’s Advisory and Executive Boards have discussed issues and opportunities related to better collaboration in the tourism industry in the north, so it was very encouraging to hear positive examples of collaboration, and to hear the Minister talk of the Regeneration Partnership as a positive example of public/ private sector collaborative action. http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/News/Fund-to-help-food-and-tourism-sectors-21092012.htm

The Mackay Country Community Trust is currently seeking to recruit an administrator for its ambitious and innovative community tourism and cultural heritage programme, which is supported by the Caithness & North Sutherland Fund and HIE. Deadline for applications is Monday 1st October, and more details are available from admin@mackaycountry.com
One of the latest VisitScotland “Surprise Yourself” marketing videos is based around the Natural Retreats development at John O’ Groats. The film shows a journey through the Highlands with Caithness as the destination. You can view the promotional film at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIupSRO6mYg

Enabling activities:
BT has announced an £8M investment to create a fibre link between Inverness and the Northern Isles, which will have the effect of enhancing broadband capabilities in Thurso and four other towns. This is a separate announcement to the anticipated roll-out of superfast broadband currently being procured by HIE. BT’s £8M investment will allow speeds of up to 20mbps and will also allow “ethernet” services for businesses. Access to the link will be available on a wholesale basis to all communications companies providing business services. http://www.itpro.co.uk/642928/bt-to-build-8m-fibre-optic-link-to-the-highlands-orkney-and-shetland-islands

Communications:
As part of an ongoing process of helping communicate progress with the delivery of aspects of our economic transition programme CNSRP’s partners work together to generate news stories for local, regional and national media. I also speak on a regular basis to individuals and organisations across the area to update on progress. This week:

  • North Highland Young Engineers have reached the final of a national competition for electric cars. Two Caithness cars competed at the Aintree racing circuit in north west England, sucessfully qualifiying for the UK final at Goodwood. This one of the main events used to encourage young students to consider STEM-related subjects, and supports DSRL and HIE funded pilot work going on in all local high schools in the area to boost the teaching and learning of STEM subjects. The students’ participation was made possible by support from local businesses, charities and Babcock International. North Highland College also contributed use of the facilities at the Engineering, Technology & Energy Centre. http://www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk/News/Young-engineers-power-to-Goodwood-final-19092012.htm
  • As I indicated in last week’s update, Scottish Provincial Press has published its quarterly “Energy North” supplement, containing a number of relevant articles, including one I wrote on the summer flurry of marine and offshore energy activity off our area’s coasts. The supplement is issued free with copies of SPP titles across the Highlands and is now available to view online at http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/launch.aspx?eid=77b27d71-865c-497e-93cb-8f50482e3559