A FAR north councillor has sought assurances that Caithness will enjoy a slice of a predicted jobs boom after plans to build a giant wind farm – one of the world’s largest – off its east coast were backed.
Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd’s (MORL) £4.5 billion project in the Outer Moray Firth won the support of Highland Councillors in Inverness yesterday.
Members of the north planning applications committee went along with the plans for three wind farms that could result in 339 huge turbines springing up about 12 miles from Caithness.
The decision significantly increases the chances of the scheme getting the final go-ahead from Scottish ministers.
The committee raised no objections, subject to conditions, including one ensuring that fishing interests are represented on a planned liaison group.
Caithness councillors Donnie Mackay and Bill Fernie both hailed the mammoth project and said it could be a huge boost to the county’s economy.
But Mr Mackay called on MORL to say how many Caithness people it expected to employ during construction.
“How much will come to Wick Harbour and Scrabster?,” said the Thurso member. “I would like to know about how much are they going to employ locally before I decide.”
Mr Fernie, one of Wick’s councillors, predicted Caithness and the Highlands could reap substantial economic rewards.
“It has significant potential for development and the whole of the Highlands, particularly the east coast, could benefit,” he said.
“If works are to actually flow to Wick there will be opportunities where they are looking to places like Wick Harbour and all the sub-contractors which are likely to flow from that.”
Craig Milroy, MORL communication manager, said an estimated 2000 jobs would be created during the construction phase in the Highlands, Moray, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and about 267 permanent staff to run the development afterwards.
Mr Milroy stopped short of predicting how many jobs would be created in Caithness but predicted it would be significant.
“In the Wick area it is too early to make commitments but we would anticipate there will be significant opportunities once we fully understand how we are going to construct it,” he said.
The consortium is hopeful of commencing construction at the start of 2015 if it gets the thumbs-up by government regulator Marine Scotland by the end of the summer.
Asked if he was surprised at the relatively few objections lodged against the scheme, Mr Milroy replied: “No. We have engaged closely with the Highlands and have had about 150 hours of public consultation events in the Highlands and the reaction we have received to the project has been one of considerable interest, particularly with the economic opportunities it would bring.”
Planning official David Mudie showed councillors images of the projected impact of the turbines from Wick, Lybster and Keiss.
He said Wick would be affected most and there would be “significant visual impact” from some locations, particularly the harbour.
Mr Fernie questioned why the proposed Beatrice offshore wind farm was not included in the visuals.
Mr Mudie said it formed part of a separate development but confirmed that scheme’s 277 turbines would be closer to Wick.
The local authority only received one objection to the plan, from RSPB Scotland, which was worried about the potential impact to seabirds.
Marine Scotland received eight objections, five of which come from the Highlands.
Most community councils, including Helmsdale, Brora, Golspie and Dornoch, did not respond.
Tannach and District Community Council expressed concern about the visibility of the turbines, when combined with the Beatrice scheme, but did not formally object.
The number of turbines could vary from 189 at a height of 204m to 339 at a height of 162m.
“The final number of turbines within the scheme as a whole will be dependent upon a range of factors including issues such as ground conditions and turbine size,” according to a report tabled at yesterday’s meeting.
“The larger the turbine, the fewer the number. Only one type and size of turbine will be used within each site, but different types of turbines may be used in different sites.”
The turbines would be supported by substructures and foundations which hold them in place on the seabed while a network of electricity cables would connect each of the turbines to one of up to eight offshore substation platforms.
The transmission infrastructure is expected to take six years with work on the scheme provisionally timetabled to start in 2015.
Two offshore wind demonstrator turbines are already sited within the Beatrice oil field.
As the development would effectively restrict access to fishing grounds, both during construction and operation, MORL is carrying out a study of the effect of the proposal on commercial fishing interests.
The report to councillors stated: “The applicant has established that in reality activity within the area is relatively modest compared to elsewhere in the Moray Firth and very low on a national scale.”