THE companies behind the purchase of the aluminium smelter in Fort William have unveiled far-reaching plans to expand green-energy generation in the Highlands in a bid to expand industrial development and job creation in the years ahead.

GFG Alliance companies SIMEC and Liberty wants to invest tens of millions of pounds in boosting the output of existing hydro-electric plants and introducing new hydro generators, as well as extending the use of bio diesel and exploring other renewable energy sources such as wind, biomass and waste-to-energy, which would enable Liberty to develop further manufacturing activity beyond the multi-million pound alloy wheels and auto components plant which is already in the pipeline at Fort William.

The proposals were presented to Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy Paul Wheelhouse MSP during a fact-finding visit to the Liberty British Aluminium smelter and SIMEC’s adjacent hydro-power plant at Fort William.

Since acquiring these assets along with the neighbouring Kinlochleven hydro plant in December, SIMEC has already invested £10m to install 18MW of bio-diesel generation capacity to reduce the reliance of the smelter on imported power from the national grid.

During the minister’s visit SIMEC explained a plan to make the site even more self-sufficient by carrying out major engineering works to improve water flow through the 24 kilometer-long Treig Tunnel which will in turn substantially boost the capacity of the Lochaber hydro station.

Wheelhouse was told of follow-up plans to include the creation of a network of smaller-scale hydro plants to maximise the economic benefit to the local economy of the area’s natural water resource, with the prospect of including opportunities for community ownership of local generating capacity.

GFG Alliance executive chair Sanjeev Gupta, who hosted the minister’s visit, said: “We see the Highlands as the flagship of our Greensmetal strategy. There is huge potential here to optimise the use of natural resources and other locally available materials to produce the renewable power that will underpin many hundreds of new industrial jobs in the area and the wider region. We look forward to working with Scottish Government and other agencies to make this vision a reality.”

Wheelhouse said it was great to see “ first-hand how SIMEC are utilising their existing hydro-electric schemes” and to learn how its sister company Liberty House plans to harness green energy to boost manufacturing in the Highlands.

He added: “As well as their exciting plans to develop both their existing and new hydro schemes, biomass, waste-to-energy and other forms of renewable energy all feature in the company’s vision for the further development of the site. This is a great example of how green renewable power can support innovation in industry as well as helping us to meet our renewables targets and climate change obligations.”

A community consultation is about to start on the first phase of a £120m plan that will see the millions of wheels that keep British-made cars on the road rolling out of Fort William in the years ahead. The plan will create 300 direct and 300 supply-chain jobs as part of the first phase of investment.

Liberty British Aluminium is aiming to make the town a key manufacturing hub for vehicle components by expanding the smelter.