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Wind farms could be moored off Scotland

Remote wind generation in deep water out of sight of the shore will avert local opposition to land-based turbines

Britain’s first mobile wind farm could be built off the Scottish coast under an ambitious plan to stop turbines blighting the countryside by mooring them miles out to sea.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is in talks with Blue H, a Dutch company, to build a floating turbine platform that would be anchored to the seabed between Skye and the Uists.

If the pilot scheme is successful, dozens more could be sited off the Scottish coast, thanks to new technology that allows turbines to be moored in waters up to 1,000ft deep. The new generation of turbines – which resemble small oil rigs – can be towed so far out to sea that they cannot be seen from the shore.

Once in position, 80ft-wide weights are dropped to “anchor” the turbines to the ocean floor and prevent them keeling over in stormy weather. The weights are then filled with gravel via a chute.

Floating turbines would boost offshore development off the coast of west Scotland where the continental shelf falls away steeply.

Last December the world’s first floating turbine was launched by Blue H. The prototype is being installed in the Mediterranean about 12 miles off the Italian coast.

The company also plans to erect a 120-turbine floating windfarm 23 miles off Martha’s Vineyard, an island on the east coast of America. The turbines will initially be positioned in water up to 980ft deep.

It is hoped that greater opportunity for offshore electricity generation in Scotland will reduce the need to build on land and avoid local opposition.

This year, plans to build one of Europe’s biggest wind farms on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides were rejected by ministers after more than 5,000 objections.

“We see the UK as a very important market and Scotland is the most interesting because of the conducive political leadership,” said Neal Bastick, chief executive of Blue H. “These sites are far enough out to sea that they do not have a visual impact from the coastline but are close enough to be connected to the grid.

“There is no damage to the seabed, there’s nothing invasive but the counterweights could be left there once the turbine has been decommissioned as they will create artificial reefs to enhance the flora and fauna.”

The project has been welcomed by renewable energy organisations. “It’s all very interesting,” said Jason Ormiston, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, a leading green energy trade association.

“We want to get this technology working because Scotland’s continental shelf drops off very quickly and we have very limited potential for shallow offshore wind. It’s about how we get these machines into deep water and do it economically.”

Mark Macaskill

The Sunday Times

6 April 2008