An expert renewable energy adviser fears Scotland’s rural economy and climate ambitions risk suffering because renewable energy projects cannot get off the ground quickly enough.

Susan Law, a partner in the rural department at legal firm, Lindsays, said the process for planning and building renewable energy projects in Scotland needs to become simpler, quicker and less costly. And frustration about the pace of change is growing among the energy developers, landowners and farmers that she and her colleagues work with.

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The lawyer highlighted concerns as a new planning framework and a landmark Agriculture Bill – expected to place increased emphasis on how landowners and farmers can contribute towards the nation achieving net zero – work their way through the Scottish Parliament.

Independent analysis by the Climate Change Committee recently said Scotland had lost its lead over the rest of the UK in tackling climate change. Ms Law said: “Many clients are expressing to us how they do not feel politicians truly understand how complex the situation on the ground is.

“Rural enterprises – and wider rural economies – risk suffering because those behind them cannot feel confident about making decisions about their future. They want to see vision turned into workable policies, whether in renewables or agriculture.

“Harnessing the power of renewable energy has become so important for many landowners. Yet, in the wake of another COP summit, it feels as though we are still light on detail about how that can be done to progress a net zero future.”

While politicians want more renewable energy to quickly replace other power sources as part of achieving net zero by 2045, Lindsays lawyers have found that the practical realities of achieving that are different.

On average, it takes at least 10 years for renewables projects to start making money. To bring time down – to the benefit of the environment and economy – Ms Law told The Scottish Farmer that the right national policies need to be in place and they need to be reflected in local council planning rules, covering not just renewable projects but the supporting infrastructure.

Ms Law said: “The simple fact of the matter is that the process of planning and paying to build renewable energy schemes in Scotland needs to be simpler, less costly and a quicker process. Our net zero targets and rural economies would benefit if they were.

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“There would be clear benefits to developers, but also to landowners. With the farming subsidies up in the air and succession and tax planning a key factor for farmers, the option to diversify is important. They may have a chance to work with renewable developers on all manner of schemes, whether wind or hydro, or for battery storage. These – along with natural capital – are projects which support the future of their own businesses.

“Yet the consents for projects, whether through planning or grid connections, can be extensive and demanding. There is no doubt that puts some people off and opportunities, which would go towards ensuring farms continue to produce food, benefit their wider community and ensure the renewables target is achievable, are missed.

“We see time and again that issues surrounding the support network needed for projects – whether widened rural roads or purpose-built routes needed to get equipment to sites and the power to and from these projects – are among the biggest problems in getting schemes off the ground,” she argued.

The Scottish Government’s revised draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) sets out the policies against which planning applications will be assessed for the next decade. It includes enabling more renewable energy generation to support the transition from reliance on fossil fuels.