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Jobs boost could be on the cards as Beatrice takes a ‘big step forward’

John O'Groat Journal

A major offshore wind farm off the Caithness coast which could create over 100 local jobs has taken "a big step forward".

That was the view expressed yesterday by local business leaders and politicians after the UK government gave its backing to the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd (BOWL) development.

The decision means the company will get a guaranteed price for the energy produced for a fixed period and is expected to boost the project's chances of going ahead.

Willie Watt, chairman of Wick Harbour Authority, is delighted with the news. The port is hoping to establish itself as a service base for renewable energy.

"This announcement is a big step forward towards the realisation of the project. There is some way to go still as it is in its early stages, but so long as all parties work together, it should come to fruition and deliver jobs," he said.

Mr Watt estimated that 100 jobs could be created at the port if it can be established as an operations and maintenance base. That figure could go up to 300 if the Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd scheme - also off the Caithness coast - goes ahead.

Mr Watt said "a significant spend" would be needed at the harbour to service the projects but not "a huge capital expenditure." He pointed out the port already receives vessels which are carrying out survey work.

Mr Watt said the jobs could be created by 2017 / 18 and would support the offshore wind farm developments during their construction, operation and maintenance phases.

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP John Thurso was also very pleased by the announcement.

He pressed for the project to be included on the government's list, as it was not initially included.

The Liberal Democrat MP was delighted when energy secretary Ed Davey told him the news.

"It means the probability of Beatrice going ahead has increased greatly because of the certainty of the price. And the future of Wick Harbour could be greatly enhanced b the development of this project with the prospect of over 100 long-term jobs and possibly more. This is a very important development," he said.

Caithness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Trudy Morris said the backing by the UK Government for the BOWL project is "fantastic news".

"This development could provide real benefits for Caithness and for Wick Harbour which is well placed to serve the offshore wind farms. The potential is there to create jobs," she said.

"Eann Sinclair, programme manager for the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership, described the announcement as "a big step forward".

"This is great news, particularly for Wick and its bid to establish an operations and maintenance base at the harbour for the renewable sector but this could also benefit the wider Caithness economy," said Mr Sinclair.

He hopes the government funding commitment will influence BOWL to invest in the project.

Caithness and Sutherland area committee convener Deirdre Mackay said: "I am delighted to hear the announcement, which gives Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd the confidence they need to proceed with this exciting renewable electricity project.

"This carries enormous potential for the north. We are talking about serious money and serious opportunities. It is imperative that we do all we can to ensure the area reaps maximum benefit from the rich and natural resource off our coastline.

"We have the potential of real opportunities in terms of the supply chain and real opportunities for jobs and training over at least 25-30 years. We need the key agencies to be working quickly and closely together to ensure we maximise the benefits of this exciting opportunity and minimise the risks."

Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) - one of the companies in BOWL - also welcomed the announcement. It means SSE and its partner Repsol can continue to invest in the engineering and procurement work.

Finlay McCutcheon, SSE's director of offshore renewables, said: "There is still significant additional work to be done before a final investment decision can be made, and we will be working closely with Repsol, and our supply chain partners, to further reduce costs and refine the development and construction programme, with the aim of delivering a commercially viable project in early 2016."