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Offshore farms must not be left hanging in wind

There will always be some, including a certain American billionaire, who hate the idea of offshore wind farms; there will always be others who think they are rather beautiful.

Regardless of the individual's point of view, offshore wind power has an important part to play in finding the right mix of energy for Scotland. What's more, offshore wind farms appear to have the enthusiastic support of the Scottish Government.

The support of the UK Government, on the other hand, looks less certain after news that SSE, one of the biggest players in offshore wind in Scotland, is reviewing its strategy and plans for a number of projects which include one near Islay, one at Hunterston and another in the Firth of Forth.

SSE says the reason for its review is the decision of the UK Government not to earmark two other SSE schemes for possible subsidy, one off Suffolk and the other in Caithness. The projects were left off a list of wind farms seen as provisionally affordable, which may indicate they are unlikely to attract Government money in the long term.

SSE says it is disappointed and has indicated that it will make a final decision on whether to proceed in the next few months, although no final decision has been made by the Government and the subsidies may still go ahead in the longer term.

Whatever happens, SSE and other developers are right to be uneasy about the direction in which the UK Government appears to be heading on this issue - and about the potential for jobs and investment to be lost. Estimates of the economic importance of offshore wind farms to Scotland vary but a report commissioned by Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Renewables in 2010 said the industry could create anything up to 48,000 jobs by 2020. It also suggested a boost to the economy of £7.1 billion.

Scottish Renewables restates that economic importance of offshore wind power today, and has said Scotland cannot afford to see the SSE projects, and the investment they would attract, left in limbo. As Scottish Renewables says, Scotland has the right ingredients to build a world-class offshore wind sector. Not only that, the potential of tidal energy is also great, as The Herald reported on Monday. The Pentland Firth, for example, could generate 1.9 gigawatts of tidal energy.

However, all of this potential needs to be unlocked and that requires support from government and investment to back it up. One possible incentive is that (American billionaires who own golf courses aside) offshore wind farms do not attract the same opposition as onshore projects, although the fishing industry does have some concerns.

Offshore farms do face some of the problems onshore ones do (notably, the issue of how to store electricity) but they can make an important contribution to the Scottish Government's promise that Scotland will meet all of its electricity needs from renewables by 2020. However, they will never make that contribution unless they receive the support they need from government, in Edinburgh and in London.

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Local government

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