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Nicola Sturgeon reaps £700m from auction to triple UK’s offshore wind power

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 17/01/2022 Rachel Millard
Nicola Sturgeon reaps £700m from auction to triple UK wind power © Provided by The Telegraph Nicola Sturgeon reaps £700m from auction to triple UK wind power

Energy companies are ready to install enough new turbines around Scotland to more than treble the UK's offshore wind capacity, but face opposition from fishermen and conservationists.

The move presents a test for UK planning laws, with a potential clash between the race towards net zero carbon emissions and the need to protect wildlife.

Energy giants including Shell, BP and Scottish Power have agreed to pay £700m collectively for the rights to build 25 gigawatts of offshore wind around Scotland – both floating and fixed turbines – according to auction results announced on Monday.

The Scottish Crown Estate’s first leasing round in more than a decade far outpaced expectations, with the 25 gigawatts planned amounting to more than twice the capacity expected and more than twice the UK’s current installed offshore capacity.

Projects are expected to bring in about £25bn investment in Scottish supply chains and put the UK at the forefront of nascent floating offshore wind technology.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said it was “hard to overstate” the importance of the auction results for Scotland, which will bring “massive economic benefits” for the country.

The 17 selected projects were chosen from more than 70 proposals, in a stark sign of developers' enthusiasm for offshore wind.

Projects now face the often lengthy processes of securing planning permission and grid connections, however. Experts have previously warned that such “non-financial” barriers are among the biggest barriers to rolling-out offshore wind.

Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, which advises the UK Government on climate policy, said: “In theory, the advantage of offshore wind is that consenting should be easier, but this will be an interesting test of that. One of the key consenting issues is the impact on wildlife offshore.


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“The consenting regime is now really front-line now when it comes to net zero. If that starts to be a barrier then we will start to see what looks at the moment to be a very good news story becoming a drag on net zero overall. So all eyes are on that consenting procedure.

“[The authorities] will need to be well resourced – making sure we have people working on this so we can move at the pace necessary.”

In February the High Court quashed planning permission for Vattenfall’s giant Norfolk Vanguard project off the Norfolk coast, after a Norfolk resident applied for a judicial review due to concerns about onshore cables. The application is being redetermined. Scotland has its own consenting procedure.

On Monday the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said it was “anxious and concerned” about offshore renewables projects' impact on the fishing industry. The latest auction covers around 7,000km2.

Thomas Brostrom, senior vice-president for renewables at Shell, said: “I think generally as a developer you would always like to compress timelines as much as you can, but you also want to have something that is robust and that has had proper engagement with all stakeholders, including environmental stakeholders.

“The UK has one of the best and most experienced consenting regimes [globally] so generally I think it works well. I think you have seen a lot of deployment now of offshore wind so there are some cumulative impacts that now need to be taken into consideration.”

More than half of the capacity developers want to install around Scotland is in the form of floating offshore wind turbines, which aim to capture higher wind speeds further out to sea, unlike fixed turbines in shallower waters. The technology is at an early stage, with only small-scale projects deployed worldwide.

Keith Anderson, chief executive of ScottishPower, which has secured rights for three projects including two floating offshore wind projects alongside Shell, said: “There has been a lot of work going into prototypes for floating offshore wind - now is the time to industrialise and commercialise it.

“If we move as quickly as we are and keep moving at that speed then we can lead the development of floating offshore wind [globally].”

He added the size and scale of the auction round was “enough to attract any company anywhere in the world, and that’s what we need to do to drive down cost”.

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