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Former minister to lead Holyrood’s first-ever debate on solar power

The Scottish Government is being challenged on its ambitions for the solar power sector by former rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing (Gareth Fuller/PA)
The Scottish Government is being challenged on its ambitions for the solar power sector by former rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Former rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing is urging the Scottish Government to show the “same kind of ambition” for solar power as for other forms of green electricity.

Mr Ewing insisted there are a “broad range of benefits” that can be gained by expanding the solar power sector – including lower fuel bills and thousands of new jobs.

He will raise the issue in Holyrood on Wednesday, which will be the first time MSPs have had a debate focused on solar power.

Former rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing will lead the debate in Holyrood (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

It comes after industry body Solar Energy Scotland said 8,500 new jobs could be created if the  target of creating six gigawatts (GW) of new solar power capacity can be achieved by 2030.

Meanwhile, the European Union has recently published a new solar energy strategy, with the aim of  more than doubling solar capacity over the period 2020 to 2025, taking it to 320GW,  with the target of having 600GW capacity by 2030.

Mr Ewing, who also served as energy minister in the Scottish Government, said “substantial growth for Scotland’s solar industry by 2030 would bring a broad range of benefits”.

These, he added, could include “reducing fuel bills, boosting rural economies and bringing thousands of new high quality jobs across the country”.

Mr Ewing said: “Scottish ministers are currently working on their forthcoming energy strategy and I believe that’s the time to set the same kind of ambition for solar as has already been done for other renewables.

“Reaching six GW of solar by 2030 will require proper co-ordination across ministerial remits, ideally through a focused working group that can draw on industry expertise.”

Josh King, vice-chair of Solar Energy Scotland, said the EU’s new targets for solar power “shows what can be done when policy-makers act with real urgency and determination”.

He added: “The EU has recognised that legacy planning barriers, processes which are often slow and costly, are an unnecessary obstacle to solar development, and that very much applies here in Scotland too.”

Emily Rice, policy analyst at Solar Energy Scotland, said: “It is refreshing to see the European Union recognise that solar power must be at the heart of our response to many of the problems faced internationally, including spiralling domestic bills, fuel poverty, energy independence and escalating climate change.

“These same issues are just as urgent in Scotland and this debate is an opportunity to build consensus across Parliament for the measures required if Scotland’s solar industry is to achieve its potential.

“As one of the cheapest sources of power available, we are not pressing for subsidies, merely the removal of some outdated barriers to decarbonisation.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are fully committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2045 and transforming Scotland into a fairer, greener and more prosperous country.

“That is why we have committed £2 billion in low-carbon funding to invest in new measures to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change and create green jobs.

“The Scottish Government recognises the importance of energy generated from solar power in contributing to the decarbonisation of our energy supply. Solar energy as a source of renewable electricity and renewable heat is encouraged and promoted across various policy initiatives and projects, which includes funding for solar projects through the Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (Cares).

“To date this scheme has provided support to over 600 community and locally owned renewable projects throughout Scotland. We remain committed to continuing to work with the solar sector to provide a supportive policy framework to aid continuing growth and deployment.

“Planning will play a crucial role in supporting the delivery of a net-zero, sustainable Scotland by 2045. Following detailed scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament and public consultation, we are currently considering views on the draft National Planning Framework 4. We will publish and lay in the Parliament a revised NPF4 in due course.

“We have committed to delivering our first Just Transition Plan as part of the forthcoming refreshed Scottish Energy Strategy, and will work in partnership with businesses, workers and communities to ensure this provides the certainty needed for investment in our net-zero journey.”