Scale of community windfall questioned

Windfarm bosses have insisted that a multi-millin pound windfarm off the coast of Caithness will be a boon in terms of jobs and money.

They have failed, however, to convince a local economist who instantly accused them of exaggerating their claims.

Scottish Southern Energy (SSE) and its partners insist the “social return” from the 84-turbine Beatrice project will mean significant job creation and a substantial injection of hard cash for local projects.

Based on fresh analysis and economic modelling by NEF Consulting, they conclude that the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd (Bowl) scheme will guarantee that “for every £1 invested in community projects, £3.21 will be created in value for the community.”

It promises £34million in community benefit over the 25-year lifespan of the project, of which £4million is earmarked for Highland and £2million for Moray over five years.

Additionally, it says, the impact of the overall £2.6billion of investment should add £1.13billion to the UK economy and £530million for Scotland durihng the construction phase.

But Inverness-based economist Tony Mackay disputed the figures.

“SSE’s estimates seem unbelievably high – particularly the number of jobs. The local economic impact will be disappointingly small,” he said.

He reckoned Wick would be the main beneficiary with about 80 permanent jobs but suggested that other local benefits would be “very small.”

He added: “They expect to make an annual profit of about £400million from Beatrice. The profits could therefore total about £10billion. So, £34million for local community projects is therefore tiny in comparison.”

Paul Cooley of SSE said: “We strongly believe our investment in much needed energy infrastructure can benefit the wider society. The findings of the report show that our spending on the project will not just benefit the wider UK supply chain but also the Scottish supply chain and local communities.”

Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson last month described the expected level of community benefit “paltry.”

Beatrice promises to generate enough energy to power up to 450,000 homes. The turbines will be eight miles off the Caithness coast. The target date for completion is 2019.