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14 Million For Major New Centres At Thurso

18th June 2009


The North of Scotland strengthened its reputation as the hub of the global marine energy industry this week, with the announcement of 14m investment for energy-related skills development and research projects.

The projects will be based at the North Highland College UHI in Thurso. Positioned beside the Pentland Firth, one of Europe's principal marine energy resources, the college will be developing a research project into marine energy and the environment, a new Centre for Engineering Skills and a Centre for Energy and the Environment.
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said: "The Pentland Firth, Scotland's Saudia Arabia of tidal power, has been opened up for development in clean, green energy. The interest, the capacity and the opportunity in these waters is vast. Already, the Crown Estate has been approached by 42 developers to put wave and tidal test devices into the Pentland Firth.

"The Scottish Government is happy to support this 14 million investment to develop new training and research facilities at the North Highland College UHI in Thurso. It is imperative that we continue to support the development of skills, research and infrastructure to ensure we exploit Scotland's full potential in renewable energy and help, building on our strengths, to support a strong economic recovery. This project will significantly strengthen Scotland's well established reputation as the European leader in clean, green energy."

Funders include the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands; the Scottish Funding Council (SFC); the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and Highland Council.

The projects comprise:

* The Marine Renewable Energy and the Environment research programme (MaREE): - In collaboration with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) near Oban in Argyll, this 4m research project will be led by the Environmental Research Institute-North Highland College and focus on issues surrounding marine energy development in Scotland. Providing 17 FTE jobs including six PhDs, it will look into aspects such as grid constraints, design expertise, environmental impacts and synergies between the oil and renewable industries. Cost - 4m, funded by ERDF; HIE, SFC and UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands.

* Centre for Energy and the Environment - Delivery of the MaREE project will require expansion of the ERI's current premises. Consequently a brand new campus building will be attached to North Highland College UHI. It will also be used as a teaching facility offering post-graduate qualifications such as MSc Environmental Management and Renewable Energy. In addition it will provide space for the ERI's long-term growth options, commercialisation and for spin-outs and small scale inward investment. Cost - 3m, funded by the ERDF, HIE, SFC and by UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands.

* Engineering Skills Centre: - Subject to planning approval this new centre will work alongside the CfEE to deliver high class training facilities both for the immediate need for decommissioning skills at the Dounreay nuclear site, as well as those for future sustainable development, focusing on marine renewable energy in particular. It will become a hub of vocational skills for science and engineering developments across the North. Applying an innovative and entrepreneurial model, it will adopt a 50-week per annum 08.00 to 2100 timetable maximising availability for companies and trainees throughout the north of Scotland. Cost - 7m funded by NDA, SFC, ERDF and The Highland Council.

Sandy Cumming, chief executive of HIE said: "Our agency is contributing a total of 2.2m to the creation of the Centre for Energy and the Environment and the MaREE project. We continue to have a strong supporting role in marine energy development and to the major advances being made in the Pentland Firth. We are committed to working with our partners to co-ordinate all the key drivers for renewable energy generation. This investment, part of an additional 12m we committed to economic regeneration in this area, will be welcomed by all who want this sector to be an exemplar of industry development."

Professor Bob Cormack, UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands, said: "We have been able to secure much of this funding through our role as a key allocator of European funding, recognising our importance to the regional economy. Environmental research is one of our major strengths, and we are delighted that our partner college in Thurso will be able to develop the fine work it has already begun."

North Highland College UHI principal Rosemary Thompson said: "This investment in estates and research funding demonstrates the confidence that the college and all of our partners have in a bright future for Caithness and the Highlands. It represents the culmination of a steady increase in investment in curriculum and research within the key sectors of the North Highlands and Scotland in general, particularly the energy sector."

Randall Bargelt from the NDA said: "Although our primary mission is the safe decommissioning of Dounreay, we are also committed to helping reduce Caithness and North Sutherland's dependence on the site through the development of sustainable industries. The Engineering Skills Centre will play a big role in developing the skills needed to diversify the county's economy and we are pleased to be part of that."

Dennis Malone chief executive of Highlands and Islands Partnership Programme managing the European Regional Development Fund in this region, said: "We are delighted to be investing significant funds in new technologies. These projects will significantly add to the capacity of the North of Scotland's workforce and to Scotland's advances in this emerging industry."

Mark Batho, Chief Executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: "The Funding Council is pleased to invest in this development, which will build key skills and research facilities for the advancement of the already strong Scottish marine energy industry. We welcome the joint working which will create opportunities for knowledge exchange and bring benefits to the sector, the region and to Scotland."

Chairman of The Highland Council's Education, Sport and Culture committee Bill Fernie said: "I am very pleased that Highland Council is able to contribute capital funding into these exciting new ventures in Thurso. This centre will offer school leavers across the north of Scotland the opportunity to gain skills relevant to one of the most important industries in the world. It is an excellent fit with The Highland Council's policy to promote targeted industry-related training."

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