Hope Burns bright for Scots offshore wind sector

26/01/16 | Blog

Scottish Renewables Chairman Patricia Hawthorn, a Partner in Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP, has been close to recent developments in Scotland's offshore wind industry. Here, on the day of our Offshore Wind Conference in Glasgow, she gives her view of the state of the sector.

On the day of Scottish Renewables’ Offshore Wind Conference in Glasgow, and in the week so many of us will celebrate the life and works of the wonderful Robert Burns, I find myself reflecting on the well-kent words

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, for promis’d joy!”

Walking into the Court of Session in May for the commencement of the Judicial Review hearing for the four Offshore Wind Farm projects in the Firths of Forth and Tay, ranks as one of the all-time low moments in my legal career.

There we were, two groups – the first deeply committed to tackling climate change and delivering offshore wind farms in Scotland in an environmentally acceptable way and the second deeply committed to tackling climate change and protecting sea birds in Scotland – relinquishing the fate of an important and fledgling industry to an eminent Judge and some excellent Queen’s Counsel – who may or may not be committed to tackling climate change or delivering offshore wind farms or indeed protecting Scottish sea birds.

There was much media interest ahead of the hearing, but we were not there to argue about the merits of the projects or the industry or the long term well-being of the birds. We spent eight very long days listening to argument about whether due process had been complied with in making the decisions to grant consent for the projects in October 2014.

We do not have a decision yet from the Judge. I hope it comes soon and it gives us a clear and positive way forward for delivering these projects, which we must do in harmony with all concerned stakeholders and our natural environment.

To focus just on this legal barrier for the Forth and Tay projects would be to ignore the other challenge to the successful delivery of offshore wind in Scotland, securing the all-important Contract for Difference.

Broadly speaking, this is the mechanism used to provide low-carbon generators with greater certainty and stability of revenues and to attract investment for the projects. One of the projects in the Forth and Tay secured its Contract for Difference last March in the first auction, so it is positioned to reach financial close and commence construction, subject to the satisfactory resolution of the judicial review.

The remaining Forth and Tay projects, along with another excellent project in the Moray Firth consented in March 2014, await an opportunity to bid for their Contract for Difference. Thankfully, there are increasingly strong signs that the UK Government will end many months of what has been termed ‘profound uncertainty’ and run another auction in the final quarter of this year.

Robert Burns is also credited with the following robust words

“Firmness in enduring and exertion is a character I always wish to possess. I have always despised the whining yelp of complaint and cowardly resolve”.

Having had a low moment in May, by the turn of the year I had recovered my unrelenting optimism about Scotland’s ability to shine in this global market. There is one more project in the Moray Firth with consent and an early Contract for Difference, now racing for financial close. The focus and effort behind this is apparent to all, as it is on the many projects under construction and approaching construction in UK waters.

These are enormously valuable investments in our economy.

I have seen over the last year the work that continues behind the scenes on the other projects in Scottish Waters. I see the efforts through the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult based here in Glasgow to support the development of new technologies and share knowledge and experience in the industry. And we will be well placed to take full advantage of this work when these projects do finally clear the legal and political obstacles currently in their path.

But perhaps it has been witnessing first-hand the keen interest of investors and funders from all over the world in our projects that has really restored my faith. They have done their due diligence – they agree the wind resource here is terrific and the projects are technically feasible – not easy, but feasible.

Let 2016 be the year we snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in an honourable and sustainable way.