Plans for a world-leading floating wind farm off the north coast of Caithness “will have implications for decades to come”, a local Highland councillor has said.
Councillor Matthew Reiss warned that the turbines in the proposed Pentland Floating Offshore Wind Farm will “dwarf the coastline” while acknowledging that the project offers considerable potential for local employment.
He was speaking as a virtual public consultation began this week on a development that will consist of up to 10 floating turbines, with a maximum blade-tip height of 300 metres, located around six kilometres north-west of Dounreay.
If built as planned in the mid-2020s, its installed capacity of up to 100 megawatts is likely to make it the largest floating offshore wind farm in the world.
The project is being developed in two phases by Highland Wind Limited, which is majority owned by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. A single demonstrator turbine would be followed by a larger array.
The developers have promised they will be “as upfront as possible” on the issue of visual impact. The consultation event includes viewpoints of the wind farm from Strathy Point, Drum Hollistan, Reay’s Sandside beach and Dunnet Head.
Councillor Reiss, who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council, said: “These turbines will be about 1000 feet tall, dwarfing the cliffs of Hoy and the entire coastline. For residents in the Reay and Melvich areas these structures, complete with night lighting, will be dominant so I welcome the assurance that the visualisations will be honest.
“The potential employment from this new technology may also be considerable and therefore the decisions needing to be made are not easy ones.
“I am acutely conscious of how, over many years, the residents of Reay have been bullied by a seemingly never-ending series of applications for more and taller onshore turbines around their beautiful area on the North Coast 500. This process is still ongoing.
“The applicant correctly points out that offshore turbines, up to now, have been less visible and therefore the justification for allowing onshore turbines close to villages and homes is questionable.
“I have previously pointed out that if there is going to be a massive wind farm not far offshore surely this should be a consideration when deciding the current onshore applications. So far as I can understand the complicated and undemocratic planning system, this is not – yet – factored in.
“If these turbines were further out to sea I am told there would be less effect on seabirds and obviously less visual intrusion.
“It is noteworthy that the Beatrice offshore development [off the east coast] attracted very few objections. However, those turbines were both smaller and a lot further offshore than this application.
“Community benefit has not yet been mentioned by the applicants in any detail and this, too, is an unknown factor.
“Councillors must await the details of the application before deciding their stance but, make no mistake, this is an incredibly significant matter that will have implications for decades to come.”
The consultation event can be seen at pentlandfloatingwind.com with members of the public invited to view the proposals and comment on them by the end of October.
The project team will be available for two question-and-answer sessions on October 5 via a live chat function.
The developers say the technology trialled in the Pentland project will play a key role in the development of large-scale floating offshore wind in Scotland.
Project director Richard Copeland said last week that the wind farm “has the potential to bring a lot of benefits to the local area, to the Highland Council area in general and to Scotland and the UK”.
Mr Copeland pointed out that the project team was already working with local suppliers and had been in contact with Scrabster Harbour Trust.
Originally the turbines in the array were to have a maximum blade-tip height of 270m but this has been increased by 30m.
Environmental impact assessments for the array will be submitted to Marine Scotland and Highland Council in 2022.