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Loch Ness hydro scheme renamed as new owner StatKraft targets 2030 operational date

By Scott Maclennan

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Donald Weir (Project Director). Picture: Callum Mackay..
Donald Weir (Project Director). Picture: Callum Mackay..

One of the biggest renewable energy projects in the north has been given a new lease of life and a new name after it was bought over by Statkraft – the hydropower company, fully owned by the Norwegian state.

The Red John pumped storage hydro scheme on Loch Ness will now be known as Loch na Cathrach with a new operational date of as early as 2030 and significant construction work beginning in 2025.

The project was originally called Red John but it was recently renamed Loch na Cathrach – which means the Loch of the Seat – because that better reflects the history of the area.

It was named for Cathair Fhionn which means Fingal’s Seat or Chair. This was reputed to be where Fionn rested either during or after his battle with Ashie, the son of Norse king.

And with the change of name comes the evolution of the project with ambitious new aims that were outlined by Statkraft’s project director Donald Weir at an event at Inverness Town House this week.

He said that there has been “nothing like” in the last 35 years and it is a “renaissance of a form of energy generation that has been dormant for decades” and this offers huge opportunities for Highland businesses.

Speaking to local business and political leaders, Mr Weir advised that if the supply chain swings into action and local companies are able to make the most of the project then 65-70 per cent of the investment would stay in the north.

Members of the audience gathered for the presentation. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Members of the audience gathered for the presentation. Picture: Callum Mackay.

Areas that could benefit include – training, employment (expected to be 450 construction workers at peak operations), suppliers, construction, accommodation, transport and also a partnership with UHI.

Statkraft and UHI joined forces for skills so Europe’s largest generator of renewable energy will provide early insight into the education and skills requirements for training up a local workforce to help build the scheme.

The 450MW scheme, first conceived in 2015, was granted consent by Scottish Government ministers in June 2021. Now funding from Statkraft will enable UHI to develop an accurate picture of the numbers and types of roles required to construct the project.

It is intended that this report will inform senior pupils and UHI students, as they look to decide their career pathways. It will also provide those already in employment with a picture of where the upskilling and reskilling opportunities exist.

It is hoped that the report will allow existing local businesses to gain visibility of the construction pipeline and help those who might see an opportunity to expand, or start new businesses, to meet the increased demand a significant project like this will bring.

Iain Robertson. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Iain Robertson. Picture: Callum Mackay..

The study will also inform education delivery across the region. By evaluating the current scale and composition of the local student population, UHI can begin to map education provision across the board, relevant to the project’s timings and the required skills and qualifications needed to fill core roles.

Work on the study will begin in the spring, with a final report published by UHI in the summer.

Iain Robertson, Head of Statkraft Scotland, said: “This report will provide an essential picture of the skills required to build Statkraft’s most significant project in Scotland.

“I’m delighted we’re able to build on our existing relationship with UHI to help them deliver this important piece of work, which will benefit students, businesses, and communities alike.”

Alison Wilson, Director of Economic Development and Advancement, from UHI, said: “Statkraft are one of our key industry partners and as such we’re really pleased to be working with them once again on a report like this.

“This funding will help us plan for future education provision, to ensure it continues to be closely aligned with the needs of key sectors and our industry partners across the region.”

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