The power giants behind plans for a huge offshore windfarm in the Moray Firth have struck a deal to use Wick Harbour.
SSE and Repsol have announced that the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm will be operated and maintained from the north port, should the project go ahead.
The 277-turbine scheme, planned for alongside the Beatrice oil field eight miles off the Caithness coast, is expected to create 5,000 jobs.
The Scottish Government has approved the project – but SSE has since announced plans to scale back its involvement amid concerns over a lack of confidence in the UK offshore wind industry.
However, the firms have now signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Wick Harbour Authority, giving a strong indication that the project will proceed.
Richard Escott, head of offshore development for SSE Renewables, said: “We are pleased to announce that an MoU has been signed with Wick Harbour Authority that could see Beatrice base its operations and maintaincne facilities at Wick Harbour should a positive final investment decision be made on the project in 2016.
“It has been a lengthy process and the options for the project have been investigated thoroughly using a strict set of criteria for local ports and harbours based on our business needs and our safety policy.
“Out of all the locations investigated, Wick presented the best fit for our project and we are hugely impressed by the existing facilities on offer.”
Ronnie Bonnar, managing director of Repsol, said: “Our agreement with Wick Harbour Authority marks another key step for the project as we move towards a final investment decision in 2016.
“We are pleased that we have an agreement to use an existing harbour near our site to operate and maintain the wind farm and hope to make a positive contribution to the communities in which we live and work through the socioeconomic benefits.”
The announcement was welcomed by Wick Harbour Authority, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and The Highland Council:
Willie Watt, Chairman of Wick Harbour Authority said: “We look forward to working closely with project in order to deliver what we hope will be a hub for offshore renewables in the Highlands.”
Roy Kirk, HIE’s Area Manager for Caithness and Sutherland said: “Caithness is well positioned to capitalise on the offshore industry and we are working hard to ensure that any opportunities are maximised for the local area.”
Council leader Drew Hendry added: “The benefits from this development are expected to make a positive difference locally and we hope this announcement will lead to further investment from offshore partners in the Highland and Moray Firth region.
“The announcement reinforces the attractiveness of the Highlands as a region for business.”