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Energy / Offshore wind farm east of isles an option as government sets out vision

An image taken from the draft plan showing the suggested site off the east of Shetland.

WIND turbines located in the sea off the east of Shetland is one possibility being considered by the Scottish Government as it looks to identify the most “sustainable options for the future development of commercial-scale offshore wind energy” in Scotland.

The area, which covers 776 square kilometres and could realistically offer up to 2GW of generating capacity, is one of 17 suggested sites off Scotland’s coastline that could – potentially – be earmarked for offshore wind farms.

The Scottish Government’s draft sectoral marine plan for offshore wind, which could form a blueprint for potential development through to 2050, was published in mid-December and it is open to consultation until 25 March.

The government has also drafted an offshore wind policy statement which “aims to set out the Scottish Government’s ambitions for the future of offshore wind policy” in light of a commitment for the country to go net-zero by 2045.

The draft plan states that the closest point of the suggested area to the east of Shetland is 18km from land.

The plan says that the development of an offshore wind farm in the area is considered “unlikely to significantly affect landscape, seascape or visual amenity, however larger turbines have the potential to be visible from land”.

The government says that should the proposed interconnector between Shetland and Caithness – which has been mooted for years and would open the door for large onshore wind farms in the isles – proceed, “there may be potential for the link to support grid connections from offshore wind development in the Shetland region”.

However, “this will depend on the level of onshore wind development as current proposals for greater than 600MW of generation would potentially exceed the proposed transmission circuit”.

The subsea HVDC interconnector is dependent on the 457MW onshore Viking Energy wind farm going ahead, while other proposed wind developments in Shetland could also use the cable to export energy.

The report, meanwhile, notes that the suggested site off the east of Shetland has “potential for significant effects on seabed habitat, spawning fish, marine mammals and sediment transport and coastal processes”.

It adds, however, that these impacts could be managed and mitigated.

There could also be an effect on commercial shipping and fishing, although that is not a problem exclusive to the Shetland site.

The potential cost impact across all sectors in the suggested Shetland area – on commercial shipping, fishing, water sports and power interconnectors – is estimated at £2.273 million.

One proposed site north of Fraserburgh, meanwhile, has the potential to “significantly affect navigational safety, as it overlaps with multiple key routes around Scotland, including lifeline ferry routes linking the mainland to the Shetland Islands”.

The plan says there is limited potential to mitigate this, and “therefore development would likely necessitate a diversion of some or all of these routes, or a concentration of traffic into a smaller area.”

Another suggested site east of Orkney could also have implications for the proposed Shetland interconnector.

Offshore turbines at Liverpool Bay. Photo © David Dixon (cc-by-sa/2.0).

The plan suggests that if the site was developed then the proposed subsea cable between Shetland and the Scottish mainland could have to be diverted – at a potential cost of £5.4 million.

As of October 2019 there was a total of 7,760MW of consented capacity in Scottish waters for operational and in-planning offshore wind projects.

The Scottish Government’s desire to tap into offshore wind more aligns with moves in Europe to target the North Sea for renewable energy generation.

A recent report from EuropeWind, which advocates wind energy policies for Europe on behalf of more than 400 member companies, said the organisation expects 85 per cent of offshore wind capacity by 2050 to be developed in the ‘north seas’ – the Atlantic off France, Ireland and the UK, the North Sea, Irish Sea and Baltic Sea.

The Scottish Government’s draft plan comes after Crown Estate Scotland signalled in November 2017 its intention to run a further leasing round for commercial scale offshore wind energy projects in Scottish waters.

Respondents to the consultation are asked to how strongly they support or oppose the 17 sites identified.

Scottish Government agency Marine Scotland will be hosting a series of public events around Scotland during the consultation period.

The government said that the draft plan “seeks to contribute to the achievement of Scottish and UK climate change policy objectives and targets, through the provision of a spatial strategy which seeks to maximises the benefits for Scotland, our communities and our people, whilst minimising the potential adverse effects on other marine users, economic sectors and the environment resulting from further commercial offshore wind development.”

The Scottish Government’s first sectoral marine plan for offshore wind energy was published in 2011, and an initial plan in 2013 pinpointed sites to the north, east and west of Shetland as ‘medium term areas of search’.

The new consultation can be responded to online.