Giant offshore wind farm escapes power firm axe
Published 28 Mar 2014John O'Groat Journal
A massive wind farm off the Caithness coast will go ahead despite cuts being made by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE).
The company, which is the main shareholder in Beatrice Offshore Wind Ltd (BOWL), is cutting back on a number of renewable energy schemes, including some in Orkney.
But SSE has decided to continue with its interest in the Beatrice development, although it intends to reduce its stake in the project from 75 per cent to 50 per cent.
Its partner in BOWL is Repsol Nuevas Energias, which has a 25 per cent stake.
SSE made the decision as it cuts back on its costs after agreeing to freeze its household electricity and gas prices until January, 2016.
The decision comes just a week after the Scottish Government gave the go-ahead for the Beatrice project and a similar one operated by Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd.
The respective developments are estimated to cost £2.5 billion and could lead to hundreds of jobs being created in Caithness. The project would be the world's third biggest offshore wind farm and it is claimed the 326 turbines could generate electricity for more than a million homes.
The decision to continue with the Beatrice scheme has pleased Caithness Chamber of Commerce.
While chief executive Trudy Morris is disappointed SSE is cutting back on its renewable developments she is "delighted" the Beatrice scheme has been spared.
She said the project provides Caithness with "a great opportunity" to give a boost to the local economy and provide jobs as the county has a skilled workforce.
Ms Morris said Wick Harbour could become a maintenance and service base for the Beatrice scheme, while the airport could also benefit. "SSE is well aware of what we have here," she added.
The energy giant, which owns Scottish Hydro and has its headquarters in Perth, decided to "narrow significantly" its offshore wind development portfolio.
But the company stressed it would focus its efforts and resources on progressing the Beatrice project. It hopes to secure funding for the development from the UK Government.
It will continue "to deliver the engineering and procurement activities required to ensure the project's progress."
Jim Smith, SSE's managing director for generation development, said: "Having looked across our offshore portfolio and across our capital and investment programme as a whole, we believe we should focus our near-term development activity on Beatrice.
"Taking it forward to subsequent stages of development and construction will be challenging but achievable, and that is what we are working towards."
Far north politicians and business representatives view the Scottish Government's go-ahead for the two projects as a vital step forward. Wick Harbour Authority believes up to 300 jobs could be created at the port if both proceed.
Calum Davidson, Highlands and Islands Enterprise's director of energy and low carbon, said the level of investment could see jobs surpass the oil and gas fabrication and installation boom of the 1970s and '80s.