Associate Feature: Could the humble sandeel unlock Offshore Wind in Scotland?
Off the east coast of Scotland in the outer Firth of Forth lies the site of SSE Renewables’ proposed Berwick Bank Wind Farm. When fully delivered, Berwick Bank will generate enough clean, green energy to power more than five million homes annually – equivalent to supplying all of Scotland’s homes twice over or eliminating the country’s annual car emissions.
The massive 4.1GW development – which is at planning and design stage – is one of the largest offshore wind opportunities in the world and is essential to meeting Scottish Government targets of 11GW new offshore wind by 2030 and our wider net zero ambitions.
It represents a huge leap forward in decarbonising the electricity system and would deliver a multi-billion-pound power boost to the Scottish economy through the creation of jobs and supply chain opportunities. A study by independent renewable energy consultants, BVG Associates (BVGA), found that at peak construction the project could create around 4,650 jobs in Scotland, and 9,300 roles across the UK, adding an estimated £8.3 billion to the UK economy over the lifetime of the project, of which up to £4 billion could be spent in Scotland.
Perhaps lesser known though, is the role it could play in how we unlock one of the biggest challenges facing net zero targets; managing the environmental impact of offshore wind, particularly on seabirds.
Minimising any potential environmental impacts of a wind farm will always be our priority and in designing Berwick Bank we have already taken important steps to do that.
However, we have always recognized that Berwick Bank will need to identify additional ecosystem management measures that compensate for its potential environmental impact – something which has become a common practice in England and is likely to be required for most new large offshore wind projects in Scotland.
As a business we have undertaken extensive research to identify the most effective and deliverable compensation measures.
The clear conclusion is that the further restriction of sandeel fishing in the North Sea is the single most effective environmental measure available, with the potential to deliver a huge boost to seabird populations in Scotland and therefore provide compensation for any potential impacts of not just Berwick Bank, but many future ScotWind projects.
Sandeels are the main prey for key seabird species such as kittiwake and puffins. Industrial scale fishing for them – primarily by Danish trawlers – along with the impacts of climate change have put pressure on the availability of this crucial part of the marine food chain.
There is significant scientific evidence to show that improving sandeel stocks will significantly improve the health of key seabird colonies. The evidence shows the positive effect of this measure would more than offset the potential impact of Berwick Bank on key species.
However, this isn’t a measure which is in the gift of an offshore wind developer to deliver. Only government can make it happen.
These ecological benefits are recognized by Scottish Government, which is why they are now consulting on the closure of sandeel fishing in Scottish waters. Something we very much welcome.
The consultation represents a critical opportunity to secure an important environmental measure. But the Scottish Government must also grasp the potential win-win of ensuring the measure is available to provide the compensation necessary to meet offshore wind and net zero targets.
It is crucial some or all the environmental benefit derived from these closures can be identified as compensation for offshore wind.
If this connection between sandeel closures and offshore wind is ruled out by policymakers, the scale and pace of delivery of offshore wind needed to meet targets just won’t be possible – risking vital supply chain investment and jeopardizing green jobs.
So, could the humble sandeel be the unlikely hero in the battle to tackle both the climate and nature crisis in Scotland?
We believe so and urge the Scottish Government to grasp the opportunity of a win-win presented by sandeel closures, so we can improve the resilience of our seabird colonies whilst unleashing the full potential of Scotland’s offshore wind industry, for 2030 and beyond.
This article is sponsored by SSE Renewables