RESPONDING TO CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change is one of the most significant pressures on the marine environment. It affects the way in which marine systems function by altering sea surface temperatures, acidification and deoxygenation. These effects, alongside increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events also affect Scotland’s internationally important seabirds, many of which are in steep decline.
To prevent climate change effects worsening, the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have committed to taking actions which will see global warming limited to 2oC of preindustrial levels and ideally to limit it to 1.5oC. Part of the solution to this requires a move from using fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) to renewable sources of energy (wind, wave and tidal).
OFFSHORE RENEWABLE POTENTIAL
Scotland’s seas are a great source of renewable energy and renewable developments will be an important part of the transformative change required if Scotland is to reach its legally binding target of being ‘net zero’ by 2045. The Scottish Government has set out in its Offshore Wind Policy Statement an ambition to achieve a total of 11 gigawatts of offshore renewable energy by 2030 and has signalled a further increase in capacity will be required in subsequent years.
Areas with potential for offshore wind are identified through progressive phases of an Offshore Windfarm Leasing Rounds led by the Crown Estate (England and Ireland) and more recently the Crown Estate Scotland (known as the ScotWind programme). The leasing process grants property rights for seabed commercial wind developments in a way that is intended to be fair and transparent. Applications for new offshore wind projects should also be sited within the strategic locations identified in the (currently draft) Sectoral marine plan for offshore wind energy.
We value the contribution that offshore renewable developments (wave, tidal and offshore wind) can make to the decarbonisation of the energy sector. There are also new opportunities emerging to create green hydrogen through electrolysis using the energy created from renewable sources. Offshore technologies are, however, still relatively new. The technology is still being developed and tested, along with the need to understand its impact on the environments it is deployed in.
It is important that offshore renewables are deployed in ways that do not significantly damage the marine environment and its wildlife. We need the right type of technology, at the right scale and in the right place. Technology and markets also need to develop to ensure that renewable energy can be stored and distributed in a consistent way. Developments need to take account of the fact that we also face a nature crisis with nearly half (49%) of Scotland’s nature reported to be in decline. The Scottish Breeding Seabird Indicator shows a decline of 38% since 1986 with numbers levelling at a new low since 2011. A BTO report on climate change impacts on UK breeding birds also highlights some worrying declines, including an 89% decline in Atlantic puffins by 2050.
Getting the balance between realising the offshore renewable potential in Scotland and protecting nature is challenging. It requires:
- a strong environmental baseline of evidence;
- an established approach to marine spatial planning;
- due regard for the need to protect the habitats and species in protected sites;
- consideration of both the individual development impacts and cumulative impacts of multiple developments;
- a commitment to open sharing of data which enables impact models to be tested and refined as developments progress; and
- real commitments to invest in communities and marine restoration projects.
CURRENT STATUS OF OFFSHORE WIND DEVELOPMENTS
To date Scotland has seen 14 offshore wind farms (including two floating wind farms) being given consent to be developed and 6 of these are now operational. Combined they are estimated to generate up to 5 gigawatts of green energy. The largest is the Beatrice offshore windfarm (84 turbines, generating 588 megawatts) located about 13km off the north coast of Scotland, near Wick. Scotland also has the world’s first floating offshore windfarm, called Hywind Scotland Hywind Scotland (five floating turbines, generating 30 megawatts), which is located off the North-east coast from Peterhead.
Other projects of interest include the Inchcape development which is located 15km off the Angus coast in the East of Scotland (potential 72 turbines, generating up to 1GW of energy). Its energy will be transported via subsea cables to an existing national grid electricity site at the former Cockenzie power station in East Lothian. The Neart na Gaoithe (NnG) project, which is about 15.5km off the Fife coast and started constructing its offshore development in 2020 (54 turbines, generating up to 45MW of energy), will have its energy transported via subsea cables to land at Thornton loch in East Lothian.
More recently SSE Renewables have set out their scoping plans for their Berwick Bank windfarm located 35km offshore from Dunbar, in the outer Firth of Forth. Its grid connection has been secured at Branxton, near Torness in East Lothian. This development is at its scoping (feasibility) stage, with its current design plans proposing 307 turbines that could be capable of generating 4.1 gigawatts of green energy. The scale of Berwick Bank Wind Farm makes it one of the largest proposed offshore wind farms in the world and consequently its impacts will need to carefully assessed.
FLOATING OFFSHORE WIND
Floating Offshore wind is becoming a fast-growing sector, with the technology being deployed in deeper waters where the wind resource is higher and more consistent. The constraints of fixing foundations to the seabed are removed although mooring cables to the seabed still need to be laid. The environmental effects of this type of technology will be similar existing technologies, such as collision risks, potential for entanglement on fixing lines or scouring of the seabed, but other effects during the construction phase, such as the noise from pile driving, will be reduced. The technology should also be more readily deployable in areas assessed to be less sensitive for marine habitats and wildlife.
HOW WE RESPOND TO INDIVIDUAL APPLICATIONS
We respond to specific renewable development applications when these are going through the formal consultation stages. We cannot respond to all applications and will generally focus our resources on those that have a have a specific geographical focus around the Firth of Forth and/or significant implications for Scotland’s seabirds. In formulating our response, we will draw on the assessments and advice made by Scotland’s statutory nature adviser Nature Scot as well as charities, such as RSPB Scotland and BTO Scotland, who have specific technical expertise in these areas.
Our approach is to:
- Review the Environmental Impact Assessments and frame our response in terms of the benefits of the development versus the direct impacts on nature;
- Review the adequacy of the mitigation and/or compensation proposals made by the developer; and
- Make recommendations on further steps that could be taken to improve the environment for the benefit of nature and local communities.
Our responses to individual consultations are reviewed and approved by the Chair of our Charity Board, in consultation with the Trustees.