Freeport status could 'revolutionise' local economy in the Highlands

Opportunity Cromarty Firth has launched a bid in latest competition that will see two new green freeports in Scotland.

Freeport status for Inverness and Cromarty Firth could ‘revolutionise’ local economy in the Highlands iStock
An offshore oil platform in the Cromarty Firth.

Renewable energy could present a bigger opportunity than oil and gas for the Highlands, according to the consortium behind the bid to award Inverness and Cromarty Firth green freeport status.

Opportunity Cromarty Firth believe the move could unlock billions of pounds of investment in the region.

The UK Government is set to announce the site of two zones later this year, investing £52m in the sites and working in conjunction with the Scottish Government.

A green freeport is a special zone with tax breaks and rebates for green investment, with the intention of helping the country progress towards its net zero carbon emissions target.

Opportunity Cromarty Firth includes steering partners such as Highland Council and Port of Cromarty Firth.  

Joanne Allday, strategic business development manager at Port of Cromarty Firth, said: “We’re about to see a step change in the deployment of offshore wind and a move into floating technology as well, as we go into deeper waters.”

“That brings with it some hydrogen opportunities so this is a significant time to be in the Highlands and we are really at the heart of all these developments.”

There are nine possible Scottish sites in contention for the coveted zones, with bids to be placed by the end of June. 

As well as Opportunity Cromarty Firth, areas that submitted notes of interest to the Scottish Government last year include Forth Ports, Aberdeen and Peterhead Ports, and port authorities in Orkney and Shetland.

Global Energy Group (GEG) operates a fabrication yard on the shores of the Cromarty Firth and is part of the area’s consortium.

Roy MacGregor, chair of GEG, said: “We have just been through an industrial revolution with Brexit, with Covid, with energy transition, with energy security and I think this opens up a real big challenge to Scotland, to the Highlands and to this industry.

“I was here at the start of the oil industry and it feels very much like that. I think it’s a bigger opportunity than the oil and gas that came here.”

Critics have branded the projects an exercise in “greenwashing” – giving money to big companies without meeting environmental targets.

But the Cromarty Firth consortium believes the work will make a genuine difference.

Allday said: “We need more power, we need more electricity, as we move towards electric vehicles and we decarbonise our homes, our businesses.”

“The most common thinking is that should be domestically produced in the UK and it should be done as green as possible and as renewable as possible.”

“We’ve got deep sheltered waters that they can manufacture some of the larger components, they can wet store them so they can manufacture all year round, and they can install the turbines in the summer installation window.”

The Green Freeport sites will be announced in the early autumn, ushering in a new era for the energy industry in Scotland.

Independent economic experts say freeport status would spark an employment boom in the area.

In a report, Biggar Economics said the bid put forward by Opportunity Cromarty Firth could add a further 20,000 jobs to those already expected in the construction of a windfarm in the area.

The port facilities at Invergordon and Nigg on the Cromarty Firth have already supported more offshore wind projects than any other Scottish ports.