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Gills Harbour Ltd's Chair Welcomes MPs Conclusions

18th March 2012

The Chairman of the community body that owns and operates Gills Harbour, on the shores of the Pentland Firth's Inner Sound, is welcoming the findings of a group of Parliamentarians whose Inquiry report 'The Future of Marine Renewables in the UK' has just been published.

The Westminster MPs of the Energy & Climate Change Committee looked at the future for electricity that can be generated by harnessing the 'kinetic energy' in flow of Britain's tidal streams and from the power of the waves; both technologies are experimenting with turbines that are still at the 'prototype' stage.

The harbour, which belongs to the 550 electors of Canisbay Parish's North Coast, from West Mey to John O'Groats (inclusive), lies only one mile and four miles respectively from the only two seabed sites off Caithness which have been leased by the Crown Estate for generating tidal stream electricity.

The community's trading company is known as Gills Harbour Ltd (GHL) and is chaired by former Councillor Bill Mowat, of John O'Groats.

It aims to 'manage, operate maintain, improve and develop' the busy little port 'for the encouragement of employment through trade, commerce, industry, transport, energy and marine activities' at or in the vicinity of the harbour for the benefit of local folk and 'the wider North of Scotland communities.

The Energy & Climate Change group's report is the first of two House of Commons 'Select Committees' to look in aspects of future tidal stream energy: The Scottish Affairs Select Committee launches its Inquiry report into the Crown Estate in Scotland at the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness next Monday (19.03.12).

Both groups visited Orkney, but the Scottish Affairs Committee, which has three MP members with close Caithness connections, travelled across the Pentland Firth last summer on the modern catamaran ferry Pentalina to Gills Harbour last summer as guests of the community company, while Pentland Ferries managing director Andrew Banks and harbour office-bearers pointed out the locations of the seabed sites.

The Energy Committee, chaired by Conservative MP Tim Yeo, states that marine renewables, that it defines as wave and tidal-stream, have the potential to supply 20% of Britain's current electricity needs from 20210 onwards.

It states: 'The priority over the next decade must be to focus on reducing the costs of marine renewables'.

The MPs urge the UK Government's Department of Energy and Climate Change to set specific cost-reduction targets so that progress can be tracked.

But it states the Britain is currently a world-leader in the field and it wants the UK to 'follow the example of Denmark in the 1980s in establishing a domestic wind-power wind-power industry'.

It argues that marine renewables 'could provide new jobs and industries, while the UK could also gain by exporting goods and skills as other markets begin to emerge around the world'.

Amongst those providing evidence to the Committee was Mr Dan Pearson, the managing director of MeyGen Ltd, which holds the seabed lease for the Inner Sound, the narrow 1.5 miles wide channel between Canisbay and Stroma Island. Mr Pearson has become a well-known 'face' locally as the company's scheme progresses for a 400MW subsea power station.

MeyGen Ltd aims to take the generated power ashore by underwater cables and feed it into three large rectifier/transformer buildings on the Inner Sound's coast; from there will go by underground cable to a planned large electricity sub-station planned by Scottish Hydro-Electric Transmission Ltd for near Philip's Mains farm in Mey, before it is sent by two separate wooden-poles lines to link with the upgraded Dounreay to Beauly (near Inverness) National Grid pylons line.

Yesterday Mr Mowat said: 'The MPs are absolutely correct to focus on cost reduction as being a key element in developing a successful industry, both locally and nationally.

'We believe that we at Gills Harbour will be able to help there by providing a base for short-distance sea transport, which cuts out the need for long carbon-consuming sea-miles, especially for vessels in the 25 metre and under class'.

The Pentland Firth stretches 16 miles Eastward from Dunnet Head to the Pentland Skerries and commercial interest is focussed on its narrower eastern end, where the constricted tide-streams flow most swiftly. Gills Bay is the most sheltered inlet on the Caithness side of the Firth and the harbour lies at its inland apex.

Mr Mowat added: 'The other key issue to be faced is marine safety. Gills Harbour lies in between the two 'tide-races' emanating on the Caithness side of the Firth; the Merry Men of Mey and the Bore of Duncansby.

Those are the two best-known sea hazards of the sea-area where white-water waves break every day of the year on the appropriate tide.

'Neither needs to be transited by vessels sailing out of Gills to any of the four leased seabed tidal-stream sites, two of which are in Orkney waters, the other being Scottish Power Renewables Ness of Duncansby lease, four miles east of Gills.

At the Merry Men of Mey multi-directional swells can rear up as high as 12 metres ( the equivalent of a collapsing 4-storey building) when the streams are opposed by prevailing Westerly gales and distantly-generated Atlantic waves in winter conditions.

Next Tuesday evening (20.03.12 at 19:30) Gills Harbour Ltd is holding its AGM at the new Pentland Ferries terminal building at Gills Harbour, to be followed by a regular members meeting.

Mr Mowat added: 'Because of the potential importance of tidal stream electricity developments to Canisbay, we urge as many local persons as possible to attend. We aim to facilitate around 50 new sustainable jobs in this area, which will have a substantial positive effect on the economy of Canisbay and beyond and do our bit to help to ameliorate the effects of the Dounreay run-down.'.

2012/13 annual membership cards are available from secretary/treasurer John Green, also of John O'Groats, at 10:00 each.


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