Mackie's challenge on renewable fund

Farmer, ice cream maker and potato crisp manufacturer Maitland Mackie yesterday challenged to the Scottish Government to come up with the cash to enable rural communities to benefit from the current surge of interest in renewable energy.

A year ago, Mackie suggested a rolling fund so that communities rather than multinational energy companies could become involved in bringing forward their own projects and benefiting from the income generated.

At that time, he suggested 1 billion could be injected into the Scottish rural economy if there was such a fund to help kick start renewable energy projects to benefit local residents.

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A survey which Mackie said was supportive of his idea has been carried out by the Scottish Agricultural College but so far, the Scottish Government has not made any decision on putting the initial funding in place.

"I fear that unless we get a move on, then those who live in the country areas will lose out," said Mackie who was due to speak at a major conference on renewable energy in Edinburgh yesterday but which fell victim to the weather. "Almost every day there comes news that another big energy company is developing another site where the profits will go into their coffers.

"It is time to remove the barriers and unleash the rural sector entrepreneurs to lead the charge."

His advice on how the whole rural community could benefit came from his own experience where renewable energy in the form of three wind turbines has transformed the family business.

These are not only fuelling the business but also feeding large quantities of electricity into the National Grid. He reckons the family firm will get a double digit return on their investment. Having seen what can be achieved, he is keen to promote the idea of local communities "getting in on the action", describing the current subsidy system, the Feed In Tariff, as promoting the wrong scale of power generation.

"Feed In Tariffs, where electricity suppliers get paid for putting power into the grid, incentivise the innocent to invest in very inefficient small-scale power generation. As a vehicle to deliver renewable energy, they encourage dreadfully inefficient investment and they deliver an insignificant amount of energy."

For farmers and landowners approached by major energy companies, he said, it was too easy for them to "sell the pass" to the big operators leaving them to develop big projects in return for a rent.

Mackie said there was no doubt the world was entering a period where existing power sources would not cope with demand and the only hope was to work up sustainable power projects.