Plans for a major boost to farm-based renewable energy projects across Scotland have been published by the Scottish Government.

The Agri-Renewables Strategy, announced by rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead last week, promised to ensure that “land managers can benefit from the renewables revolution and unlock the green energy potential of their land”.

It identified a number of challenges for land managers, principally planning, access to independent advice, pre-construction costs, and connection to the National Grid.

“Scotland is currently experiencing a renewables revolution and I want to see farmers, crofters and land managers working with local communities to ensure they grasp the benefits for their businesses and the nation,” Mr Lochhead said.

“However, we are all on a steep learning curve, and need to quickly learn to take advantage of the industry’s increasing enthusiasm. We need to get our heads around the various challenges as well as the opportunities.”

Mr Lochhead said the strategy would be developed in cooperation with industry representatives and would build on the Scottish Government’s existing renewables activity in the agricultural sector. He expected it to be in place by next summer.

The strategy forms part of the Scottish Government’s Routemap for Renewable Energy in Scotland 2011, which sets a target for renewables to meet all of the country’s electricity demand by 2020, 11% of heat demand and at least 30% of overall energy demand. A new target of 500MW of community and locally-owned renewable energy by 2020 has also been included.

The routemap highlights a number of challenges that must be overcome to meet the ambitious targets.

Costs and access to finance is the main challenge and it says “appropriate regulatory support” will be vital. The Scottish Government is working to ensure the UK Electricity Market Reform (Farmers Weekly, 22 July) matches Scottish ambitions. It acknowledges there is a challenge to develop the sector at least cost to the consumer and minimise impact on energy bills.

It suggests market incentives for onshore electricity technologies should be maintained as appropriate, as well as a need to review support for large-scale electricity-only biomass.

Other key challenges include:

• Planning and consents need to be simplified and made more transparent without sacrificing consideration of environmental impacts

• Grid infrastructure needs improving

• Sustainability of fuel sources – energy objectives need to be balanced against environmental considerations

• Skills and training – the report predicts up to 40,000 jobs will be created in the renewables sector by 2020

• Innovation and R&D – Enterprise Agencies working to bring inward investment

• Public engagement and support is needed throughout – scope to develop community-owned schemes

NFU Scotland‘s president, Nigel Miller, welcomed the government’s commitment to develop the green energy sector and in particular, its aim to simplify the planning process, which was still preventing many projects from getting started.

“The ambitious target to be able to produce 100% of our electricity demand equivalent from renewable sources by 2020 could be attainable, but we need a clear steer from the Scottish Government in setting out nationwide planning guidance and priorities for those applying for and approving renewable projects.

“NFU Scotland has built up a long list of examples from among its membership of where the system is and is not working and will offer to work closely with the Scottish Government and other industry representatives in order to help our farmers and crofters contribute to Scotland’s renewable energy aims.”