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Scots Politicians and Financiers Must Get Behind Renewables Risk Takers

September 16, 2010

Some correspondence on the upcoming Scottish Low Carbon Investment Conference (Sept 28/29 in Edinburgh) has hit a nerve. Here I am; an entrepreneur/engineer who, while not of Scottish ancestry, has been living, and working in the small-wind field in Scotland for more than six years. I am not looking for start-up funding, having built the engineering company Mecal in the Netherlands from nothing to Euro 10m plus turnover, and selling my majority holdings – I brought my own.

This conference is a chance for Scottish lawmakers and financiers to get behind not just the “Big Wind Gang”, but the other risk takers who are on the cusp of creating a world class renewables manufacturing and export base for and in Scotland. Our actions already benefit hundreds, potentially thousands of employees and, perhaps indirectly, millions of people in Scotland for decades to come.

Here are some of the challenges I faced starting up and developing a “small wind” business in Scotland. It’s by no means all wrong but:

  • Current targets are ambivalent and unclear. Targets on their own are totally useless: they need to be backed by clear policies to help, as in our case: create new markets. Feed In Tariffs are a great example of this;
  • Loans from Scottish banks are as rare as hen’s teeth. One bank we spoke to required an annual report showing ‘one year of profitability’. Business is good and set to get better. However, to show a “profit” would mean ‘stop investing” in improving our technology and building new international market presence. This jangles every nerve in my entrepreneurial body. Faced with an unprecedented market opportunity; I have invested very substantial sums of my own cash; and a bank is asking me to reduce our growth rate, i.e. to sit on my hands, so they can tick their boxes….give me strength!
  • “Set it and forget it”. My biggest fear is that a new cabinet in Scotland next year – or a new minister at UK or Scotland Level (the current Scottish incumbent will retire at the next election) will want to start tinkering with say, the Feed in Tariffs. At Gaia-Wind the big technological advances we are developing today will not show up in our products for a few years. A politician changing the rules of play while we are doing our work could be disastrous.

The Scottish Low Carbon Development Conference is an ideal opportunity to remind ourselves to prod our politicians to do what they do well, which is helping create conditions for success, and to stay away from the areas we excel and not become entrepreneurs. And that they can and should direct a few kicks at the (often publicly owned) banks to line them up behind the kind of self starting, entrepreneurial, risk takers who are able to build a manufacturing future for Scotland.

Jonnie Andringa - Managing Director, Gaia-Wind Ltd.

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