SCOTLAND’S offshore wind farm sector could be at risk due to a slump in investment, an industry body has warned after figures showed major developers had more than halved their spending north of the Border.
The SNP government has heavily promoted renewable energy and has set ambitious targets to generate the bulk of Scotland’s electricity from wind and wave power.
However, statistics showed that investment by developers in Scotland’s offshore wind industry had plummeted to £28.9 million last year – down from £63.6m in 2012.
Scottish Renewables, which represents more than 330 firms working in the sector, blamed the slump on the failure of planning authorities to approve wind farms.
Planning guidance for local councils in parts of Scotland such as the north and west Highlands states that wind-farm applications should not be approved except in special cases.
A senior Scottish Renewables official claimed that developers were being “left in limbo” due to strict planning rules and were opting not to invest in Scotland because of “uncertainty” surrounding the industry.
The body also blamed the “worrying” dip on a lack of detail on market incentives for investment in offshore wind developers.
Lindsay Leask, senior policy manager for Scottish Renewables, suggested that the industry could be starved of more future investment unless the government and authorities did more to encourage wind farm developments.
“Uncertainty throughout the industry is growing as none of the major projects planned for Scottish waters has had their planning applications determined yet, and the details around accessing market incentives are still unclear,” she said.
“With around 5 gigawatts of potential offshore wind development in planning – enough to meet the annual demand of 3 million homes – we can’t afford to see these projects, and the investment decisions related to them, left in limbo. Scotland has all the ingredients to develop a world leading offshore wind industry.
“We’ll be working hard over the coming weeks with governments north and south of the Border to ensure the developers gain the certainty they need to unlock further investment.”
The SNP government’s energy policy has been criticised by opposition parties, who have claimed it is too reliant on renewable energy such as offshore wind farms, which have attracted a total investment to date of £193.4m.
But Scotland’s energy minister Fergus Ewing insisted the SNP government was pursuing projects such as plans for the world’s biggest offshore wind farm at Methil, which ministers hope could create enough power for 4,800 homes.
He also claimed that UK energy secretary, Ed Davey, had failed to promote offshore wind farms in the Westminster government’s plans for renewable energy.
However, Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser argued the sharp decline in offshore wind developments was due to it being almost 50 per cent more expensive than other forms of energy.
Mr Fraser said: “The UK government has been working to provide greater certainty for investors in energy projects.
“But at a time when there is so much public concern about rising energy bills, it’s not surprising that very high-cost energy sources such as offshore wind are coming under greater question.”