Energy firm ScottishPower Renewables (SPR) has dropped plans to develop an offshore wind farm which would have generated enough power to run about one million homes.
The company said the Argyll Array project – which would have delivered 300 turbines and a capacity of up to 1,800MW –was at present not financially viable.
SPR had originally planned for the turbines to begin producing power from 2020, but now believes that it could be between ten and 15 years before the technology needed to make the project viable was ready.
It said that hard rock at the site, off the coast of the island of Tiree, made it difficult to develop, and that “challenging” wave conditions also impacted on the project.
The significant presence of basking sharks in the area was also blamed.
Many residents of the island welcomed the decision, saying it would have been “an environmental disaster” for Tiree and the west coast of Scotland.
The decision was taken between SPR and the Crown Estate, which granted a lease for the 360sq km site 5km off Tiree.
Jonathan Cole, the head of offshore wind at SPR, said: “We believe it is possible to develop the Argyll Array site, it has some of the best wind conditions of any offshore zone in the UK.
“However, it is our view that the Argyll Array project is not financially viable in the short term.
“As cost reductions continue to filter through the offshore wind industry, and as construction techniques and turbine technology continues to improve, we believe that the Argyll Array could become a viable project in the long term.”
Mr Cole said that the rate of progress in the technology used to build foundations on the seabed, and install turbines, had been slower than expected.
Nature campaigners at RSPB Scotland welcomed the decision. Aedan Smith, head of planning and development, said: “Whilst Scotland has an impressive offshore wind potential the challenges in finding suitable sites with the least impacts on birds and other marine species and habitats are considerable.
“Offshore wind needs to be developed very carefully if we are to avoid significant harm to our fantastic natural environment.”
He added: “The Argyll Array was always going to be a very difficult offshore wind farm to develop. The site, immediately next to the island of Tiree, is internationally important for a range of marine wildlife.”
Robert Trythall, 68, a retired shipbroker from Tiree, was involved in the campaign against the development and welcomed the decision.
He told The Scotsman: “From the outset, the environment was one of the key issues we had with this project.
“Firstly, there was the impact on the birds – we are on a major migration route here. Another was the presence of basking sharks which is in fact the subject of a major research project by Scottish Natural Heritage.
“This was besides the visual impact it would have had. The suggestion that offshore is out of sight and out of mind might be the case from Holyrood, but it’s not from our little island, so we’re clearly delighted.”
But local crofter, Donnie Campbell, 58, said many on the island were in favour of the project. He said: “Tiree has lost people hand over fist and a number of skilled people have gone. This would have been the ideal project to get skilled workers back.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Although this announcement by ScottishPower Renewables is disappointing, it does not detract from our ambition to fully capitalise on Scotland’s offshore wind energy potential, which we will continue to develop in a sustainable manner.”
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