A CONTROVERSIAL plan to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm off the Scottish coast, with 339 turbines sited in the Moray Firth, has been unveiled.
The proposal, which has attracted vocal opposition from campaigners including American tycoon Donald Trump, is significantly larger than a previous scheme, which would have seen as few as 200 turbines erected.
Developers say the £4.5 billion project, 13 miles off Caithness, could create hundreds of jobs and provide electricity for a million homes. It would also be a major boost to the Scottish Government’s target of generating 100 per cent of the country’s electricity demand from renewables by the end of the decade.
But critics say the turbines – some reaching 670ft above sea level – would be a blot on the landscape.
The international companies behind Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd (Morl) yesterday submitted their plans to the Scottish Government agency Marine Scotland. They said the proposals represented the culmination of three years of development work, data gathering, extensive environmental studies and broad consultation.
Work, if approved, would start in 2015, with completion by 2020.
The wind farm would cover about 114sq miles and could produce up to 1,500MW of power – about the same as a conventional power station.
The power would be collected by up to eight offshore electrical platforms, before being sent ashore by a cable under the seabed to Fraserburgh. From there, developers hope to transmit the power to Peterhead power station through an underground cable, though that would require permission from the local council.
But concerns have been raised about the environmental impact of such a large project, particularly the effect on local marine life and tourism.
In 2010, the Crown Estate gave Morl, a joint venture between Spanish/Portuguese firm EDP Renewables (EDPR) and Spanish oil and gas company Repsol Nuevas Energias, exclusive rights to develop turbines east of Lybster, in a specified zone of the outer Moray Firth near the Beatrice Field.
The application is for developments in the Stevenson, Telford and MacColl areas of the firth.
Dan Finch, project director and managing director of EDPR UK, said of the plan: “This represents the culmination of a huge amount of development work.
“By working in deeper water, more than 12 miles from shore, we can take advantage of the excellent wind resource in the outer Moray Firth, and make a significant contribution to cutting greenhouse gas production and reducing the need to burn fossil fuels.
“We estimate that the project will be capable of supplying the electricity needs of 800,000 to one million households.
“Supplying more energy from renewables means reducing the need to burn fossil fuels and so reducing the production of greenhouse gases. Each year, this development could save between 3.5 and 4.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide compared with coal-fired generation, and between 1.5 and two million tonnes of carbon dioxide compared with gas-fired generation.”
Mr Finch added: “We are developing an opportunity and investing significant sums of money because we see Scotland as the place to develop offshore wind. Our partners Repsol, a multinational Spanish oil company, have joined us in Edinburgh because they think this is the place to be as well.”
“We made this decision consciously. We could have gone somewhere else.”
He said the project offered prospects of major fabrication and supply work for firms such as Global Energy, which announced last year it had taken over the former oil yard at Nigg in Easter Ross to develop as an oil and renewables base.
But Stuart Young, a consultant for Communities Against Turbines Scotland and chairman of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, said: “They are going to be in people’s eyes and in their windows. It will be inescapable. They will be a blot on the landscape which will be left for future generations to deal with.”
A spokesman for Mr Trump, who is opposed to a similar offshore wind farm overlooking his Aberdeenshire golf course, said: “This project, like all wind turbine proposals, is totally dependent on subsidies that will cost the taxpayer dearly.
“Watch your wallet – Scotland’s energy bills will continue to skyrocket and the coastlines will be decimated by these steel-and-concrete monstrosities.”
Anti-wind-farm campaigner Lynsey Ward, 52, from Beauly, said: “My major concern is that not enough is known about the devastation caused to fishing grounds and marine life.
“There is also lots of tourism connected with whales and dolphins in the Moray Firth.
“We are not just talking about whether you can see them, or if they are near people’s homes. It seems to be like we are industrialising everything.
“The only reason these are being built is so the developer can rake in the subsidies. I’m horrified.”
Bed and breakfast owner Sheen Millington, from Lybster, said: “We are having to really rely on tourism right now, and developers are trying to come here and take all we have left away from us.
“Why should we be stuck with all of these? Just because we don’t have big enough voices to make a stink, we are stuck with it. We are the ones it will impact on.”
However, Caithness councillor Donnie Mackay said: “It will hopefully bring jobs to Caithness, especially for the young people. We don’t have any opportunities here for the youngsters leaving school.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland has astounding green energy potential and vast natural resources, and we have a responsibility to make sure our nation seizes this opportunity to create tens of thousands of new jobs and secure billions of pounds of investment in our economy.
“The Scottish Government has the ambitious but achievable target of generating the equivalent of 100 per cent of our electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020.”