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Energy Minister Fergus Ewing MSP to visit Gills Harbour

30th April 2014

Scotland's Energy Minister Mr Fergus Ewing, MSP, has promised to pay a visit to Gills Harbour, on the shores of the Pentland Firth's Inner Sound.

The Minister made the pledge to harbour company chairman Mr Bill Mowat, prior to Mr Ewing providing a keynote speech to the annual Scottish Highland Renewable Energy Conference in Inverness on April 24th.

Earlier this year, the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism was a guest of Caithness Chamber of Commerce at a function in Wick's Mackays Hotel and, in answer to a question, confessed that he did not know Gills, although he was familiar with Wick and Scrabster Harbours.

Mr John Green, the secretary of community-owned Gills Harbour Ltd (GHL) which owns the North Coast facility, promptly sent his office an invitation to visit, but an aide responded by stating that the Minister's 'diary was full'.

At the SHREC event in Inverness's Kingsmills Hotel, Mr Ewing , who represents Inverness & Nairn in the Scottish Parliament, told Mr Mowat that he intended to fit a Gills Harbour visit into his future schedule, although he could not yet be specific about a date adding :' I do intend to come'.

The Canisbay community-owned company recently appointed Caithness Renewables Ltd, of Thurso, to advise it on harbour upgrading plans.

Several vessel-owing marine engineering contractors likely to be bidding for 'tidal stream electricity' works in nearby waters have indicated a preference to operate out of Gills, due to its proximity to the Crown Estate's four seabed leases to utility companies , all of which lie 8 miles or less from Gills, provided improvements can be achieved.

Caithness Renewables has already produced an updated 'business plan' for GHL and is strongly advising it to link with its partial lessee Pentland Ferries Ltd's managing director Mr Andrew Banks, OBE, to provide 'a single offering' to the nascent marine renewable energy sector.

GHL held its Annual General Meeting earlier this month and its three existing office-bearers were re-elected for a further term; they are vice-chairman Clifford Shepherd, of Quoys of Canisbay Farm, secretary/treasurer John Green as well as Mr Mowat, both of the latter former Councillors from John O'Groats.

Annual membership fees of £10:00 have been retained; Mr Green, of 4 Heatherbell Cottages, John O' Groats has 2014.15 membership cards available for renewals or for issue to new members.

Anyone who shares it aims can become a member of the company, but a majority of directors, none of whom are remunerated, must always be from the North coast shoreline between West Mey and John O'Groats inclusive.

Its 'Company Articles' are based on those applicable for trading, land-owning non-profit-making firms in the North of Scotland and were drafted for this purpose by the Lands Unit of Highlands & Islands Enterprise; the so-called 'HIE Model'.

The Aims of Gills Harbour Ltd are summarised as follows: 'The objects of the company shall be to own, manage, operate, maintain, improve and develop Gills Harbour in Canisbay Parish, Caithness, on behalf of .... (local) residents and the wider communities of Northern Scotland for the encouragement of sustainable employment through trade, commerce, industry, transport, energy and marine activities (including leisure) at, or in the vicinity of, the harbour'.

Said Mr Mowat: 'We are keen to attract new members, particularly those with skills that could prove relevant.

'Gills Harbour is in a uniquely favourable location to service marine energy developments on its doorstep; access to all four Crown Estate sites from Gills does not involve transits of the 'notorious' tide-races, such as the Merry Men of Mey or Bore(s) of Duncansby , where white-water breaks on every day of the year on the appropriate part of the twice-daily 12/5 hour tidal cycle.

'This means a more comfortable working environment for crews and technicians installing, maintaining or servicing tidal turbines and thus improved human productivity, while shorter supply lines mean considerably lower fuel costs for the owners of vessels involved'.

'Tidal-stream electricity', an industry which is still in its pre-commercial stage, relies on recently-developed 'horizontal hydro' technology to generate power, so far only from prototype devices.

MeyGen Ltd, now wholly owned by Atlantis Resource Corporation, intends to install a 'demonstration tidal array' to with a generating capacity of 6 MW in the Firth's Inner Sound (between Gills Bay and Stroma Island), with onshore works beginning later this year with seabed turbine installations commencing next year (2015).

This is intended to be 'phase one' of a much larger scheme, for which it has formal Scottish Government development consent, which it hopes to install by 2020.


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