Scottish judges paved the way for as much as 10 billion pounds ($13 billion) to be invested in offshore wind power by overturning a ruling that said projects may kill too many birds.
Planning permission should move forward at four wind farms being developed by SSE Plc, Mainstream Renewable Power Ltd., Fluor Corp. and SDIC Power Holdings Co., according to the ruling by three judges at the Inner House at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Tuesday.
They said a judge in the Outer Court was wrong to revoke consent in July for the wind farms, that may create as much as 2.3 gigawatts of new capacity off Scotland’s east coast. The earlier ruling asserted that Scottish ministers didn’t properly assess how the projects would threaten migratory seabirds such as the puffin.
The earlier decision “strayed well beyond the limits of testing the legality of the process,” according to the ruling. “Matters of scientific fact and methodology which, whatever the judge’s own particular skills may be, are not within the proper province of a court of review.”
Scotland’s government welcomed the decision by saying it “remains strongly committed to the development of offshore wind energy,” according to an email from Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy Paul Wheelhouse. Offshore wind “has a key role to play in our fight against the threat posed by climate change to both our society and our natural environment,” he said.
Mainstream said it would now seek to develop the 2 billion pound Neart Na Goithe offshore wind farm as quickly as possible, according to a separate statement. The project has a contract with the U.K. government for a subsidy of 114 pounds a megawatt hour.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which brought the original case against the wind farms, said the projects could be among the most deadly windfarms for birds anywhere in the world.
“RSPB Scotland is, of course, hugely disappointed by today’s Inner House judgment,” said Stuart Housden, director RSPB Scotland, in an email. “Combined, these four huge projects threaten to kill thousands of Scotland’s internationally protected seabirds every year, including thousands of puffins, gannets and kittiwakes.”
The decision will boost investor confidence in the U.K.’s emerging offshore wind industry, as the country hosts its latest subsidy auction, said Tom Harries, Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst. “Developing an offshore wind site in the U.K. is risky and costly enough already, without the added threat of retroactively losing an environmental permit.”
Edward Black, a spokesman for SSE, said the company was “delighted” with the outcome of the appeal and will now consider the best options for the two Seagreen wind farms affected.