Scotland has granted consent to two offshore wind development zones totaling nearly 2GW of capacity – Moray Firth and Beatrice.
The approvals are the first for major offshore wind projects in Scottish waters, and the Moray First project is the second largest ever consented in the UK.
The two zones are adjacent to each other in the Moray Firth, off Scotland’s Caithness coast, and both are minority owned by Spain’s Repsol.
The Moray Firth zone – split into the Telford, Stevenson and MacColl projects, and allocated under Round 3 – is majority owned by EDP Renewables. Beatrice, allocated under the Scottish Territorial Waters round, is majority owned by SSE Renewables.
Together the two zones are approved for up to 326 turbines, and capable of generating 1.87GW of capacity, according to the Scottish government.
The approvals come at a time of deep uncertainty for Britain's offshore wind sector, with the UK growing increasingly brazen in its use of renewables subsidies as a weapon in its quest to keep Scotland from seceding.
Late last year Beatrice was one of three Scottish offshore wind projects dropped from the running for an early Contract for Difference (alongside Neart na Gaoithe and Inch Cape), in a decision that many in the industry saw as having political undercurrents.
“Offshore wind has been delayed by the process of the UK Government’s Electricity Market Reform," says Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing. "But these two consents today offer tangible progress towards real investment opportunity in Scotland."
Lindsay Leask, senior policy manager for the trade body Scottish Renewables, says the focus "now moves on to whether or not these projects can access a Contract for Difference", which the developers will need in hand before they can finalise their investment decisions.
SSE has publicly said that it will be difficult to sign off on any major projects until the conclusion of the next general election, in 2015.
Jeremy Sainsbury OBE, director of consultancy Natural Power and former Chairman of Scottish Renewables, says: “This demonstrates that the UK is attracting large European energy companies with the balance sheets capable of delivering large scale offshore wind farms."
"The Scottish Government and the stakeholders involved in this process have demonstrated Scotland can deliver timely planning consents," says Sainsbury.
"I hope that Westminster can now provide these companies with the contracts they need to realise these projects with all of the associated jobs and supply chain growth. If such strong companies cannot succeed Electricity Market Reform will have failed Scotland’s offshore wind sector.”
The Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Limited application took 23 months to gets its approval from the Scottish government, while the Moray Offshore Renewables Limited application took 19 months.