A planned £1.5 billion (€2.1 billion) offshore wind development by Dublin-based Mainstream Renewable Power will be challenged in a Scottish court this week over its environmental impact.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is fighting the Scottish government’s decision to license the 450-megawatt Neart na Gaoithe project along with three other major wind farms backed by SSE, Repsol and others.
The four projects, with a combined capacity of 2 gigawatts, are located near seabird habitats on the east coast of Scotland that are protected under EU law.
Construction of Neart na Gaoithe was supposed to begin this year, but the court could take months to make a decision in the judicial review, during which time development would not be able to proceed. The court’s decision could then be open to appeal.
Puffins and gannets
The four wind farms are projected to kill about 1,200 puffins and 1,100 gannets a year during the breeding season through collisions or displacement, according to an assessment by the Scottish authorities. Neart na Gaoithe itself will kill about 350 puffins and 230 gannets. Kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills will also be affected.
Mainstream chief executive Eddie O’Connor, a former chief executive of Bord na Móna and founder of Airtricity, has said that Neart na Gaoithe will generate enough electricity to supply more than all of Edinburgh’s homes. The project’s 75 turbines will cover 80 square kilometres. The project has been in Mainstream’s pipeline for a number of years, with the site in the Outer Forth Estuary secured in 2009.
The upcoming court battle is likely to be an important test of how nature protection and large-scale renewables development can be reconciled.
EU law offers strong protections for birds at their breeding sites. The disputed projects are the largest planned to date in Europe in close proximity to major seabird colonies.
When it submitted its legal challenge in January, the RSPB warned that if the government decisions were allowed to stand, they could have “serious implications for how birds and important wildlife sites are protected across Scotland, the UK and beyond”. It emphasised that it strongly supported renewable energy, including offshore wind, if projects were “carefully sited”.
But industry lobby Scottish Renewables in January criticised the delay, branding the RSPB’s action a threat to future progress in clean energy production. The lobby noted that climate change is a major threat to Scotland’s habitats and species.
The case will be heard in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, beginning today. Mainstream did not respond to a request for comment.
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