Hard rock, basking sharks sink Scottish offshore wind farm

ScottishPower has scrapped plans for a £5.4-billion wind farm off the west coast of Scotland as being impracticable. It said not only was the seabed too hard and the waves too big, but it had also had discovered of hundreds of basking sharks, a protected species, in the area.

The 'Argyll Array' had been in planning since 2009 and would have involved the construction of as many as 300 turbines, each up to 662 feet tall, to the west of the island of Tiree, and provided 'green' energy to as many as a million Scottish homes.

But it would have been dependent on high government subsidies, and faced fierce opposition from local campaigners who warned it would be an "environmental disaster".

This is another blow to the government's hopes to develop a vast offshore wind industry to ease its power supply problems and meet carbon reduction targets.

Spanish-owned ScottishPower said it believed it would be too expensive to build a wind farm at the site for at least a decade because development of the necessary technology for the hard ground had been "slower than anticipated".

It warned that "the current outlook for offshore wind deployment in the UK suggests this will not significantly improve in the short term".

ScottishPower's decision comes just weeks after Germany's RWE announced it was scrapping the £4-billion Atlantic Array project off the North Devon coast (See: RWE Innogy shelves 240-turbine Atlantic Array project).

Centrica, owner of British Gas, has also announced it was selling its stake in another huge offshore wind farm, Race Bank, off East Anglia.

But the Scottish Power move is a particular setback because the company admits that the conditions at Argyll Array, off the coast of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides, are some of the best in the UK. It is a favourite spot for windsurfers.

RWE and ScottishPower have both insisted their decisions relate to specific problems with their sites - but both companies had also recently warned that investing in the UK was becoming less attractive because of policy uncertainty and political rows about energy company profits.

Announcing the scrapping of Argyll Array, ScottishPower said, "The main issues affecting the progression of the project are the ground conditions in the site, particularly the presence of hard rock, coupled with challenging wave conditions which could impact construction.

"Beyond this, there is a significant presence of basking sharks, which environmental groups continue to study to get a greater understanding of their movements in the area."

Basking sharks, which are a protected species, were known to be present in the region but the company is understood to have encountered hundreds of the sharks - far more than expected.

Jonathan Cole, head of offshore wind at Scottish Power, said, "We believe it is possible to develop the Argyll Array site; it has some of the best wind conditions of any offshore zone in the UK. However, it is our view that the Argyll Array project is not financially viable in the short term.

"The rate of progress in development of foundation and installation technology has been slower than anticipated."

ScottishPower had originally hoped to build the Argyll Array project by 2018 but it had already been delayed to at least 2020 while it carried out more assessments of the area.