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Caithness could have key role in major offshore wind farm project east of Orkney


By Gordon Calder

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A major offshore wind farm east of Orkney could provide "huge opportunities" for Caithness, it has been claimed.

The project, which is being developed by Thistle Wind Partners (TWP), is expected to get under way in 2029 with electricity being produced in the early 2030s.

The Ayre Offshore Wind Farm is at an early stage of development but under the plans cables will be brought ashore at Sinclair's Bay near Keiss and connected to the grid network at a substation at Spittal.

TWP, which is holding a number of public information events in Caithness this week, says there are "huge opportunities" for the the county and pointed out that it plans to spend around £2.4 billion on the Ayre project and an offshore wind farm at Bowdun in Aberdeenshire.

The TWP team at the information meeting in Thurso.
The TWP team at the information meeting in Thurso.

Gavin Mackay, the company's supply chain manager, said there is "a real possibility" ports such as Wick and Scrabster could be "considered for supporting the operations and maintenance" of the project. He also stressed that Caithness has experience in the oil and gas sectors as well as the engineering and nuclear industry and has a skilled workforce.

Mr Mackay, who comes from Inverness, said the offshore floating wind farm would have a lifetime of 30 years and could provide export potential for countries such as the USA, Japan and Korea and those in the Mediterranean Basin.

The Ayre development is likely to involve between 40 and 60 turbines sitting on floating foundations, tethered in place using mooring lines and anchors. The site would produce one gigawatt of energy, which is enough to power more than 1.2 million homes.

Calum Duff, the grid manager for TWP, was one of the company's team at the public information meeting at the Park Hotel in Thurso on Wednesday.

He said it would take between 12 and 18 months to construct the underground cables between Sinclair's Bay and a new substation being developed by SSEN Transmission.

Mr Duff explained that the cable will be around 20 kilometres long and said it is planned to keep any disruption to a minimum.

Maryanne Paterson, the onshore consents manager, said TWP has undertaken a number of studies to ensure there is little impact on the Caithness environment. The company has looked at protected areas, historic monuments, transport routes, landscape and visual impact.

Ms Paterson pointed out that there will be employment opportunities during the construction phase as well as for the supply chain.

Communications manager Amy Needham said just over 80 people attended the information meetings at Keiss and Thurso with one at Halkirk yesterday (Thursday) and others at Spittal today (Friday) and Wick tomorrow (Saturday).

She explained the events were organised to gauge local reaction and comments from the public regards the installation of the underground cables and the substation at Spittal.

The feedback was generally positive, although some concerns were raised as were questions about the community benefit of the scheme, added Mrs Needham.

Some of the TWP team at the exhibition bus which is touring the county until Saturday. Pictured are Maryanne Paterson (onshore consents manager), Amy Needham (communications manager), Eleanor Maxim (assistant communications manager) and Nosakhare Oronsaye (lead cables engineer).
Some of the TWP team at the exhibition bus which is touring the county until Saturday. Pictured are Maryanne Paterson (onshore consents manager), Amy Needham (communications manager), Eleanor Maxim (assistant communications manager) and Nosakhare Oronsaye (lead cables engineer).

Thomas McNonan from Janetstown was at the Thurso meeting. He said he hopes Caithness will see a positive outcome from the Ayre wind farm project in terms of jobs and community benefit.

A supply event meeting is scheduled to be held in Mackay's Hotel in Wick with Caithness Chamber of Commerce on December 5, with formal public consultations taking place next year. Depending on consents, construction of the onshore infrastructure is likely to begin in 2029 with first power to the grid expected from 2032.

In January last year, Crown Estate Scotland awarded TWP two ScotWind leasing sites – Ayre and Bowdun – for offshore wind development.

According to the company, the projects will "play an important role in accelerating Scotland's, the wider UK's and Europe's transition away from fossil fuels, producing energy equivalent to that used by more than two million households in one year".

Thistle Wind Partners was founded in 2020 by a consortium of three companies – DEME, Qair and Aspiravi – which have been involved in a variety of renewable energy, environmental remediation and marine infrastructure projects around the world.


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