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Energy / SIC believes offshore wind development east of isles could bring ‘significant’ boost to economy

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

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) says the potential development of an offshore wind farm to the east of the isles would have a “significant positive impact” on the local economy.

The council, however, stressed that more studies and evidence is needed to fully understand the risks in relation to the impact on the environment and sectors like fishing.

The SIC’s views featured in its response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on its draft marine plan for offshore wind energy earlier this year.

Turbines located in a designated area off the east of Shetland is one possibility 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.

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

Responding to a consultation on the draft plan, Shetland Islands Council said it “somewhat supported” the development of offshore turbines in the area.

It pointed to estimates from Marine Scotland that between 150 and 600 jobs could be involved in an offshore development east of Shetland.

“Given Shetland’s existing skilled marine engineering sector, the availability of deep water harbour anchorages near Lerwick and our fifty years’ successful experience of oil and gas industry supply and logistical work, local businesses should be in a strong position to compete for offshore wind development and maintenance work,” the council added.

It said its support was caveated on the Scottish Government and Crown Estate Scotland making sure any activity in the area is “planned in a manner that complements important economic and environmental factors”.

“From an economic and social perspective, fishing and all its ancillary activities are an essential part of the Shetland economy so every effort must be made to minimise the impact on fishing in DPO NE1 [the proposed offshore wind location east of Shetland],” the SIC said.

“Similarly, the impact on navigation in the commercial marine transport and the leisure tourism sectors needs to be investigated fully, with a top emphasis on safety at sea. For example, yachts bound from Norway to Lerwick, and in return, sail across the area.

“From an environmental perspective, all potential ecological impacts need to be studied in full detail, which is particularly important given the expected large scale of future developments in DPO NE1 and the contribution that offshore wind is seeking to make towards mitigating climate change.

“The mitigating climate change impacts would be weakened considerably if other environmental damage occurred during the course of the offshore wind developments.

“We recognise that further work will be undertaken to give full consideration to potential impacts and mitigation measures.

“Shetland Islands Council does however recognise the potential economic, social and environmental opportunities that the development of Site DPO NE1 could bring.”

The SIC also highlighted that in the “rapidly transforming energy sector, the needs of remote small communities also need to be considered”.

It suggested that smaller scale offshore developments could more useful for remote coastal locations.

“Fuel poverty is an unfortunate aspect of remote rural and island life,” the consultation response added.

“The Scottish Government should recognise that smaller scale commercial offshore wind farms could help alleviate fuel poverty in remote coastal locations as part of the national energy strategy. The definition of commercial scale needs to be as flexible as possible, which means lower than 100 MW.”

The SIC added that in order to gain a “fuller understanding for stakeholders” – including the general public, industry, recreation and environmental interests – the potential economic, social and community benefits of an offshore development east of the isles “must be made clearer at a Shetland level”.

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

The council also said that it is “highly likely” offshore wind could be developed to supply power to oil and gas production in remote marine locations where access to onshore green energy is available.

It pointed to the Equinox Tampen project in the Norwegian North Sea, which is a 88MW floating wind power project intended to provide electricity to offshore oil and gas platforms in the area.

“Additionally, access to large scale offshore wind sources of power may be required as the base energy source for future green synthetic fuel development, such as hydrogen, ammonia, methanol, ethanol, and for carbon capture projects,” the SIC added.

“These projects may use existing oil and gas infrastructure, both onshore and offshore, which would require a more flexible approach to offshore wind licensing, beyond the options contained in the plan.”

The council is a lead partner in proposals for a Shetland Energy Hub, which aims to use “local wind and tidal energy sources, coupled with gas and hydrogen, to generate energy on a local, regional and national scale, and reduce carbon emissions”.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise, meanwhile, welcomed the “ambition” for offshore wind generation in the plan.

However, it also warned against the impact development could have on key industries.

“The draft plan options could potentially negatively impact commercial fisheries, commercial shipping, aquaculture, tourism and the recreation sectors which are also priority sectors for HIE and we therefore welcome the project level mitigation measures identified in the plan to reduce or remove impact on these vitally important industries to the communities and economy of the Highlands and Islands,” the agency said.

In their response to the consultation the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association suggested altering the coordinates of most of the proposed areas, including to the east of Shetland, to allow fishing and offshore wind farms to “co-exist”.