Sectoral Marine Plan moves Scottish offshore wind development forward

Out-Law News | 29 Oct 2020 | 9:36 am | 2 min. read

The Scottish government has published its long-awaited strategic plan identifying sustainable options for the future development of commercial-scale offshore wind energy in Scotland.

The Sectoral Marine Plan (SMP) for Offshore Wind (79 page / 2.7MB PDF) informs the seabed leasing process for commercial offshore wind energy in Scottish waters. The strategy aims to minimise the potential adverse effects on other marine and economic sectors and the environment, as well as maximising opportunities for economic development, investment and employment in Scotland.

The publication of the SMP follows Crown Estate Scotland’s recent launch of applications for its ScotWind leasing programme, which will enable developers to build offshore wind farms in sites identified as suitable by the SMP.

Crown Estate Scotland is due to publish an addendum outlining changes to the ScotWind programme that will be made as a result of the SMP.

The Crown Estate has also updated timings for the final tender stage of its Offshore Wind Leasing round four, which covers the rest of the UK. Successful projects were originally expected to be awarded for lease in 2021, but the Crown Estate has now said this will take place in spring 2022 subject to the outcome of the possible impact of projects on relevant nature conservation sites.

Renewable energy expert Gary McGovern of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: “The publication of the long-awaited SMP means ScotWind bidding can now progress apace. While the decision to front-load this spatial marine planning exercise and related environmental assessments has delayed ScotWind, with publication of the SMP there is now certainty as to the location and extent of seabed areas potentially available for development." 

“Equally important, given the need to work towards defined contracts for difference auction rounds, bidders should soon have clarity on timescales, as we expect Crown Estate Scotland to shortly publish an update to confirm the timetable for ScotWind applications. This will all be welcome news for offshore wind developers especially following the recently announced delay to the round four offshore leasing process.” McGovern said.

Renewable energy expert Alan Cook of Pinsent Masons said the SMP would “unlock” the next steps for developers bidding for ScotWind sites, although he said developers would also be frustrated by delays.

“2021 should see good progress in the route map towards the next generation of the UK’s offshore wind farm projects which are so critical to the UK achieving its net zero carbon commitments.” Cook said.

The final SMP has undergone changes from a previously published draft version, which included 17 proposed option areas for development. In the finalised SMP, two option areas have been dropped –SW1, in the Solway Firth, and NE5, in the Moray Firth. Amendments have also been made to the boundaries of seven of the remaining 15 option areas.

Although the number of areas has been reduced, the target generating capacity remains 10 gigawatts. The Scottish government said capacity could be more concentrated in the remaining regions due to the removal of two options, adding that this had been accounted for in the SMP’s sustainability appraisal through the use of different capacity scenarios.