Planning permission for four large offshore wind farms off eastern Scotland has today been struck down after an appeal by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh upheld the RSPB Scotland judicial review of planning permission for the sites in the outer Tay and Forth river estuaries because of the threat to seabirds.
As a result, Mainstream Renewable Power’s Neart, SDIC Power’s 784-MW Inch Cape and SSE and Fluor’s 1050-MW Seagreen wind farms no longer have valid planning permission.
In his long-awaited verdict, Lord Stewart upheld the RSPB claim that the consents granted in October 2014 by the Scottish Government were defective.
RSPB said that the projects would have had “serious implications” for how bird and wildlife sites are protected across Scotland.
Lloyd Austin, Head of Conservation Policy, RSPB Scotland, said: “The decision leaves all three wind farms without planning permission, and will mean further uncertainty for the Contract for Difference for Mainstream’s Neart project.
“It was with great reluctance that we took the last-resort decision to challenge Scottish Ministers’ consents for four large offshore windfarms in the outer firths of the Forth and Tay.
“We had been working with the project developers and Scottish Ministers for several years to try and reduce the harm to seabirds. Unfortunately, consents were granted when thousands of gannets, puffins, kittiwakes and other seabirds from iconic internationally protected wildlife sites like the Bass Rock and the Isle of May were predicted to be killed every year.
“The Government’s statutory nature conservation advisors, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, had also raised significant concerns about the windfarms. In these circumstances, we could not just stand by and let such devastating impacts on Scotland’s wildlife happen without making a stand. Regrettably, legal action was our only option.
“However, we also remain resolutely supportive of the development of renewable energy sources in Scotland.
“Carefully-sited offshore renewables are likely to play a major part in our future energy mix and we will continue to work with developers and all levels of Government to ensure this happens in a way that does not threaten Scotland’s wildlife.”
A spokesman for Dublin-based Mainstream said it “remains committed” to developing the wind farm, adding:
“This £2 billion project is capable of supplying homes in a city the size of Edinburgh with clean energy and we look forward to bringing it to market.
“Neart na Gaoithe has the potential to make a significant contribution to both the Scottish and Westminster governments’ commitment to climate change and to an improved environment.”
A spokesman for SSE-Seagreen Wind Energy Ltd said: “We are disappointed with the judgement. We will review the findings in detail and, in consultation with our legal team, consider our next steps.”
Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse later said the government was pondering the judgement, and added: “Clearly, protecting Scotland’s marine environment is of paramount importance: it is at the heart of the Scottish government’s approach to offshore renewable energy applications.
“We are keen to work constructively with both the RSPB and renewable energy developers to ensure the sector has a bright future in Scotland.”