The troubled firm at the centre of controversial plans for a huge offshore windfarm near Aberdeen has put its shares in the project up for sale.
Swedish company Vattenfall, which has a majority 75% stake in the 11-turbine test centre, announced it was scaling back its investment just a day after initial drilling work began.
Backers of the £230million European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) insisted last night the news was a positive step and it had always been intended to attract new partners.
But US businessman Donald Trump, who is building a £750million golf resort at nearby Menie Estate, argued potential investors would be pouring money into a “bottomless pit”.
He confirmed he would still be filing a writ to block the project at the Court of Session next week. “Until we get confirmation that this project is dead we will hold it up in the courts,” he said. Last night, First Minister Alex Salmond was facing calls from political opponents to intervene, to ensure the project goes ahead.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing, who announced approval for the EOWDC in March, described the news as a “commercial decision” for Vattenf all and said the Scottish Government remained committed to the development of offshore wind.
The news has capped a difficult few weeks for Vattenfall, which admitted yesterday it had had to prioritise its investments.
Profits at the Swedish firm, which is cutting 2,500 jobs across Europe, fell by 55% from £1.6billion in the first quarter last year to £831million this year.
The figures were published just days after the board revealed chief executive Oystein Loseth was being investigated over claims that he took a bribe during a 2009 business deal.
Vattenfall, which has invested around £5million in the EOWDC, said it remained confident of a high level of interest in the project from potential partners.
UK manager Peter Wesslau said: “The EOWDC is a scheme that will benefit the whole offshore wind industry as it will help to drive downthe cost of generation and secure i ndustrial benefits for the UK.
“However, like all energy companies across Europe, there are constraints on our capital budgets and so Vattenfall has had to prioritise its investments, which means calling on new investors to help realise the more than £230million investment in the EOWDC.”
Vattenfall plans to “dilute” its shareholding, but it is understood the company would sell its entire stake in the project if the right offer was on the table.
Morag McCorkindale, chief operating officer at Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (Areg) – one of t hree partners along with Vattenfall and Technip – said the project remained on course.
“We believe that attracting investment from the wider industry will make for an even more compelling proposition for Scotland,” she said.
“It offers an opportunity for collaboration, and to increase the number of representatives i n the consortium would hugely benefit the project as well as both the public and industrial sectors in terms of jobs creation and inward investment.”
Speaking from New York, Mr Trump told the Press and Journal that Vattenfall “should have given up years ago” – and suggested the company was simply trying to save face on the project.
He said: “It will lose many millions of pounds every year, and within five years it will be destroyed by the North Sea so they will have to build it again.
“I hope this sends a message to Alex Salmond that wind technology is not financially viable.
“When I get confirmation that the project is dead, I will look forward to going ahead with my hotel, which will be fantastic for Aberdeen and for Scotland.
“It’s going to be amazing – one of the best in the world.”
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