RSPB refuses to accept wind farm defeat

4C Offshore | Tom Russell
By: 16/08/2017 RSPB
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has revived its legal battle with offshore wind farm developers by appealing directly to the UK Supreme Court against the recent decision by the Inner House of the Court of Session on the Firth of Forth offshore wind farms.

The wind farms concerned are the Neart na Gaoithe, Inch Cape and Seagreen Alpha and Bravo. They have a combined capacity of 2,284MW.

Last month, the Inner House of the Court of Session refused the RSPB’s application to appeal to the Supreme Court regarding the development consent for four Scottish wind farms in the Forth and Firth of Tay.

Neart na Gaoithe developer's Mainstream Renewable Power welcomed the decision which was thought to have been an end to a long-running judicial battle with the RSPB blocking the development of the project.

On making the recent application, Anne McCall, Director, RSPB Scotland said: “RSPB Scotland has not taken this decision lightly, however our concerns with the manner in which Scottish Ministers’ took their decisions in 2014 remain undiminished. Additionally, the issues of the case and the recent Inner House judgement extend beyond simply the impacts of these developments on important seabird populations. Therefore due to the implications of this latest decision for many aspects of our work we felt we had no choice but to apply to the Supreme Court. We are hopeful that our application is successful and that we are granted leave to appeal so these important issues of public interest can be considered in detail by the Supreme Court.”  

The RSPB initially submitted an appeal against the wind farms in January 2015 claiming that the wind farms would have a detrimental impact on resident and migratory birds and that the planning consents granted by Scottish Ministers were defective.

A ruling in RSPB's favour was made in July 2016 and saw planning consents for the projects revoked. Scottish Ministers appealed the decision and last month Scotland's Inner House of the Court of Session overturned the ruling allowing for the continuation of the development of the four projects. The RSPB then sought to appeal the decision and applied to the Inner House for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court which has since been blocked.

The 450MW Neart na Gaoithe project consists of 64 Siemens turbines, each with a 7MW rated capacity, situated on three-legged jackets. If constructed, the array will cover an area of 105km2 area and is expected to meet the energy demands of 325,000 Scottish homes annually. Work is expected to start on the project in 2018.

The wind farm is said to represent an investment of £2bn, and is forecasted to create 500 direct jobs during construction and a further 100 direct, permanent jobs once built. Technological developments in wind turbine design in the three years since the project was originally consented mean that the project now requires 60% fewer turbines than what was originally planned – to generate the same amount of renewable power.

A coalition of organisations that are supportive of the Neart na Gaoithe project have joined forces to appeal to the RSPB to abandon further court action aimed at delaying the project.

A total of 29 companies, who will be behind the creation of many of the 600 jobs the offshore wind farm will create during construction and operation, have formed the NnG Offshore Wind Farm Coalition to campaign in support of the project, which is the only major infrastructure project that is ready to build in Scotland next year.

In its first collective action, members of the coalition have written an open letter to RSPB Scotland which states that the Scottish renewables supply chain can ill afford further delays in the project and appeals to the membership organisation to accept the recent decision of the Scottish courts

Alan Duncan of Scotia Supply Chain, and a spokesperson for the NnG Offshore Wind Farm Coalition, said:
“We have come together to call on RSPB Scotland to recognise the serious social, economic and environmental consequences of ignoring the advice of the Inner House of Scotland’s Court of Session and continuing to appeal this decision. Hundreds of families in communities across the east of Scotland will be directly affected should this project not go ahead. Highly skilled jobs, vital apprenticeships and the socio-economic benefits of this project are all at risk for the hard-pressed communities within the region.

“While we are sympathetic to the concerns of the RSPB about the planning process, this is about real people, real jobs and real environmental benefit. Scotland cannot afford to put nationally significant infrastructure projects like NnG at risk. We all work in the environmental power sector, developing projects like NnG which will help to combat climate change, protect our environment and create jobs. The project has sought to work with RSPB from day one and we are keen to continue to work together with them to increase industry understanding of how offshore wind assets and wildlife can successfully thrive together. We strongly believe that the output of the legal due process should be respected and we call on the RSPB to abandon their appeal to the Supreme Court and agree to work with us to deliver this exciting project of huge importance to Scotland.”