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Energy / Community benefit fund turns attention to offshore wind

An illustration of a floating turbine. Image: Cerulean Winds

THE GROUP which disburses community benefit money from Viking Energy is exploring whether future offshore wind projects around the isles could deliver similar payments.

Shetland Community Benefit Fund (SCBF) has already met with representatives of the ORION clean energy project, and another is planned with Cerulean Winds – the developer behind plans for hundreds of floating turbines west of the isles and in the Central North Sea – in mid-August.

Fund chairman Chris Bunyan said the early aim was to put the idea of community benefit payments on the agenda.

There are no offshore wind sites around Shetland at present, but that is likely to change in the coming years as the industry progresses.

An area to the east of Shetland, 751 square kilometres in size, is one of 15 potential sites to attract interest from developers as part of a Crown Estate auction as Scotland looks to increase its offshore production.

Cerulean Winds, meanwhile, is targeting an area west of Shetland – which is not part of that auction – as part of a project to decarbonise oil platforms and use surplus energy to power hydrogen plants, including at Sullom Voe.

SCBF is the administrative body behind payments from Viking Energy which go towards community projects in the isles. When the wind farm is up and running £2.2 million a year will come into the community.

An advance scheme set up for the construction period has already benefited community projects across the isles. Those which have benefited so far include Cullivoe Up Helly Aa’s galley shed renovations, community hall upgrades and a new 40-berth marina at Catfirth.

It also has a much smaller agreement with the operators of the Burradale wind farm, and is keen to work with other wind farm developers.

But with offshore wind seen as a key way of reaching Scotland’s goal to reach net zero by 2045, the fund is looking out to sea as the sector develops.

The fund is now part of the north of Scotland DeepWind Cluster – a partnership of industry, academia and public sector organisations led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise which aims to develop offshore wind.

Community benefits are encouraged by the Scottish Government from projects which exploit a national resource, including renewables.

While the government recommends an annual payment of £5,000 per installed megawatt for onshore wind farms, there is no firm system in place for offshore wind yet.

The ORION project – which brings together the council and academic and industry partners – aims to help Shetland become an international clean energy hub by 2030 as the sector moves away from fossil fuels towards sources such as offshore wind and hydrogen.

Shetland Islands Council’s manager for future energy Douglas Irvine, who has been involved with ORION since its inception, said those involved viewed the concept of community benefits positively.

“There is no system set up at the moment, and we’re keen to work with the community benefit people to try and work out best solutions for Shetland,” he said.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, and there’s quite a lot of process before you can persuade government to put in place a community benefit system, I would imagine. I think we’re all keen to try our best.”

Irvine stressed that offshore wind offered more positives than just a community benefit fund, such as creating jobs.

The impact of onshore wind and offshore projects is naturally different, but Irvine said the effect on industries like fishing need to be taken into consideration.

Cerulean Winds, meanwhile, said initial discussions with SCBF are planned for mid August.

A spokesperson said the fund was viewed is an “important stakeholder”.

“As before, Cerulean needs the certainty of seabed leases, but a huge amount of work has gone into the development and Cerulean is keen to ensure strong engagement with local stakeholders,” they added.

The developer’s project is worth £10bn and it would include 200 wind turbines west of Shetland and in the central North Sea, but it needs licences from Marine Scotland before it can get the go-ahead.