An expected £8 billion offshore wind boom promises the Highlands a “once-in-a-generation opportunity that could transform the region,” it was predicted yesterday.
The announcement Scotland’s seabed is being opened up to new wind farm developments for the first time in a decade was also hailed in Aberdeen, with the prospect of a number of large schemes being built off the north-east coast.
Yesterday’s launch of a round of leasing for 17 sites by Crown Estate Scotland was described as a “pivotal moment” for the expansion of Scotland’s offshore wind sector by Scottish energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse.
Locations earmarked for the ScotWind Leasing initiative are dotted from Islay and the Outer Hebrides in the west, round the north and north-east to south of Aberdeen, with construction of the first approved projects expected to start in around five years’ time.
They were set out in the Scottish Government’s Sectoral Plan for Offshore Wind Energy.
The Cromarty Firth is in line to be the major beneficiary, with seven proposed sites in the outer Moray Firth and 15 of the total within “workable distance” of the Highland North Sea inlet.
Joanne Allday, business development manager at the Invergordon-based Port of Cromarty Firth (PCF), said yesterday’s announcement heralded the potential for a “50-year pipeline” of work and business and training opportunities in the area.
“We are in the right place at the right time, like we were at the start of the oil industry in the 1970s and this is probably a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Ms Allday said.
She continued: “There are so many of the sites on our doorstep. We believe those that are closest to us are prime for development and could be developed relatively quickly.”
Ms Allday said that with most sites expected to need floating turbines the area had the opportunity to become a “global epicentre” in the development of the technology. It is hoped equipment will be manufactured at facilities on the firth.
She added: “In the past, ports have often had one big project followed by a fallow period, but if we manage this well between all the different stakeholders we could have a really solid pipeline of work for 50 years, which could totally transform our region.
”There is a real opportunity to train school pupils that are coming through and give them incredible opportunities for the future and to use existing skills from oil and gas as people transition their jobs as the North Sea declines .”
Around 40 companies, including renewable energy developers and major names from the North Sea oil and gas sector are said to have already expressed interest in the leases.
Jean Morrison, chairwoman of the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG), called yesterday’s announcement a “welcome boost” for the north-east energy sector.
She said: “Aberdeen and the north-east is already home to some of the best energy and engineering companies with decades of expertise in the offshore sector.
“Therefore, I would expect to see a lot of interest from a range of developers, some of which may be investing in offshore wind project for the first time.”
Oil and giants Shell and Equinor have both signalled plans to compete in the leasing round – as has French oil giant Total, which last week bought up a controlling stake in the Seagreen Offshore Wind Farm planned off the coast of Montrose.
Shell’s energy transition manager, Joanna Coleman, described the capabilities of the company, which has its oil and gas exploration base in Aberdeen, as having “lot of alignment” with the wind sector.
John MacAskill, business development and operations director for wind engineering advisers Offshore Wind Consultants, said the ScotWind round was “potentially hugely important” for Aberdeen.
He added: “But Aberdeen is more than just facilities and infrastructure – it’s got service companies, tech companies and the knowhow to create innovation.
“The prize here could benefit the city and north-east economy, but we also need to see new a more diverse pool of players coming in.”
Crown Estate Scotland, which manages the seabed around the coast, said ScotWind projects could deliver more than enough electricity to power every Scottish household and that more than six million tonnes of CO2 could be saved each year. It predicted investment in leasing projects could surpass £8bn.
John Robertson, the organisation’s head of energy and infrastructure, added: “Today is a huge step forward in kick-starting Scotland’s green recovery, meeting net zero targets and bringing multi-billion pound investments to benefit communities across the nation.
“Offshore wind is currently one of the cheapest forms of new electricity generation and Scotland is perfectly poised to host major new projects, with a well-established energy skills sector as well as some of the best natural marine resources in Europe.”
Mr Wheelhouse said: “The launch of ScotWind, the first offshore wind leasing round to be administered in Scotland, is a very important milestone for Crown Estate Scotland and Scottish ministers, but also marks another pivotal moment for the development of our offshore wind sector and also presents an opportunity to help develop our strategic economic response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
‘Excellent news for Scotland’
The ScotWind leasing round was last night welcomed as “excellent news for Scotland and the Cromarty Firth” by the Inverness-based Global Energy Group (GEG).
Ian Cobban, chief operating officer of the company, which owns Nigg Energy Park and the Port of Nigg, said it would do “everything it can” to secure work on future offshore wind developments.
“We believe 15 of the total of 17 offshore windfarm leases are within a workable distance of the Cromarty Firth, so this is an exciting and welcome business opportunity for many of our group of companies and the wider supply chain,” Mr Cobban said.
He added one of the challenges of the initiative would be increasing involvement of local companies. Developers will be required to submit supply chain plans and provide evidence of how they will fulfil them.
Mr Cobban continued: “The Scottish supply chain might be in a better position to respond to the demands of floating wind projects, compared to fixed turbines positioned offshore, because of the legacy of technologies developed for oil and gas.
“The oil and gas and offshore wind industries are now working closely together to ensure that the technology needed for the energy transition is developed in a co-ordinated way.
“The Port of Nigg and wider Cromarty Firth has the infrastructure to attract many companies to the area to help build these new wind farms, but in Scotland and the wider UK, more investment is required to ensure that we are competitive.”