In February 2009 Scottish Power Renewables (SPR) announced its proposed Tiree Array off the coast of Argyll.
If consented it would be the biggest offshore wind farm in the UK, one of the biggest in Europe, comprising up to 300 turbines the size of the London Gherkin, the closest only three miles off Tiree, in an area more than 3.5 times the size of the island, generating 1800 MW by 2020.
In March 2012, SPR announced delaying its consenting submission until late 2014. Possibly, and coincidently, till after the independence referendum. The cumulative effect is the array cannot be fully operational until 2022, and beyond the Scottish Government’s unilateral 2020 renewables target. The reasons for delay were specific ‘environmental considerations’, notwithstanding SPR highlighted them at the outset in 2010.
There is a raft of technical, financial, and possibly political reasons for SPR’s delay .
The specific environmental considerations causing delay are the Great Northern Diver and Basking Sharks. Environmental issues such as visual impact and night time visualisations have as yet to be meaningfully addressed. The latter is of particular significance: (a) Marine Scotland stated, inter alia, in its Scoping Opinion – “We highlight that ‘dark skies’ at night are a major attribute to Tiree, we therefore advise the applicant to assess the impact of their windfarm lighting requirements in this context” and (b) Tiree, as with neighbouring Coll, has initiated Dark Skies accreditation .
Had the Scottish Executive, in 2006, progressed Scotland’s first Marine National Park it may have proven unlikely that Tiree would have been considered for such a proposed array. Why Scotland’s Marine National Park proposal was not developed is unclear, but Tiree was within the area “identified as possible strongest all round candidate”, and as such it would be inconceivable that any array could be proposed within a national park. This was confirmed at Tiree community’s first public consultation with the Scottish Government in September 2010, when it, and the Crown Estate’s, methodology was outlined with regard to site selection. It had been a simple over-layering of a series of maps. Tiree had appeared comparatively ‘clear of objections’ e.g. environmental obstacles.
Great Northern Diver and Basking Shark environmental considerations have linkage to Special Protection Areas (SPAs), and Maritime Protection Area (MPA) status. The inshore waters of Tiree hold over forty-two per cent of the wintering population of the Great Northern Diver.
In 1992, governments throughout the European Union adopted legislation, called the Habitats Directive, to protect Europe’s natural resources. This protects the most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe. It complements the Birds Directive adopted in 1979. At the heart of both of these directives is the creation of a network of sites called Natura 2000. The Birds Directive requires the establishment of Special Protected Areas. SPA’s are vitally important for rare and vulnerable birds because they rely on them for breeding, feeding, wintering and migration.
The Habitats Directive requires Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) be designated for other species, and habitats. SAC’s are classified under the Habitats Directive, and provide rare and vulnerable animals, plants and habitats with increased protection and management. Together, SPA’s and SAC’s make up the Natura 2000 network. All EU member states are required to manage and implement the Natura 2000 Networking Programme’s partnership approach. A strategic approach ensures for example, that a species breeding in one location can arrive at its wintering grounds in another, and complete it’s natural cycle.
In March 2000 the land mass of Tiree was classified an SPA, this decision was based on Tiree’s breeding Corncrake population. The population forms 9.2% of the UK’s breeding population. Put in perspective with Tiree (a) holding over 42% of the wintering population of the Great Northern Diver and (b) the JNCC Report No. 416 (2009) stating, “On the basis of the UK SPA Selection Guidelines (Stroud et al. 2001) the waters around Coll and Tiree qualify as an SPA in the area for the great Northern Diver at stage 1.1,” then it would be reasonable to assume that the Scottish Government will grant Tiree SPA status.
Similarly, environmental issues regarding Basking Sharks would support Tiree becoming an MPA. The current Scottish Natural Heritage Basking Shark tagging project has confirmed Tiree as the European hot spot. Scottish Power Renewable’s own survey sighted 918 sharks within the proposed array Area. Previous studies “thought” the sharks migrated past Tiree, however this current study suggests they migrate to Tiree.
The RSPB has recently made the following statement re the proposed Tiree array,
“For great Northern Divers, the area could be of international importance, and the site is likely to become protected as a marine Special Protection Area for this species.
Current data also suggests that the area around Tiree is of national, and possibly international, importance for Basking Shark. A host of other sea life occurs in the area including seals, whales and dolphins.”
The Scottish Government has proposals, currently in consultation, to create Maritime Protection Areas. The RSPB and other environmental groups have heavily criticised the government’s criteria to this consultation. MPA designation to Tiree, if granted, may have a significant impact on any Array consenting decision.
The increasingly doctrinaire implementation of the Scottish Government’s renewable policy, with developers brazenly stating to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee inquiry into the Scottish Government’s renewables targets, that statutory bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland, and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency – that the electorate would assume to be apolitical, and thereby offer an independent input to the process – as being ‘aligned with the Scottish Government’s approach’ is cause for concern.
The Scottish Government’s renewables policy will industrialise rural Scotland. It poses a major threat to the west coast of Scotland’s world class environment, which in turn offers a visual and recreational amenity that few areas in the world can match.
For more details and to support the campaign against the Tiree Array go to: www.no-tiree-array.org.uk