An ill wind blows no one any good

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

22 July 2016


With the collapse in oil prices and the subsequent depression that has descended on offshore oil and gas sector, the one bright spot has been the potential offered by offshore wind. Although most windfarms need subsidies in some form or another to be viable costs do appear to be falling as cheaper steel and cabling help reduce capital costs and the lack of work for construction vessels in oil and gas means they can be chartered in cheaper than has previously been the case. As a consequence several big developments are planned for the North Sea where up to 400 turbines are due to be for Dogger Bank project and next year, a 150-turbine wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands and other schemes along the Dutch coast are in the works. There are several other projects around Europe and more planned for other locations around the globe. However, not everything is looking good for what some say is the best of the renewable energy sectors. In Scotland a judge has just ruled that some offshore wind developments cannot go ahead. Four projects in the Firth of Forth and Firth of Tay regions were challenged by the wildlife charity the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. RSPB Scotland said the turbines could have "serious implications" for wildlife, and argued that the government had breached legal requirements when making the original decision to approve them in 2014 by not giving proper consideration to this. Judge Lord Stewart ruled in favour of the charity, calling the consents "defective", meaning ministers will have to reconsider the planning decisions and address the points put forward by the RSPB's lawyers. There is some irony in the situation since the RSPB has championed action aimed at slowing climate change which is what renewable energy is also all about. But while two ‘green’ organisations fight each other through the courts, the shipping side of the offshore wind industry is a helpless bystander and could lose out on some much needed employment.