Concern about potential impacts on a protected species, the basking shark, has been a key factor in ScottishPower Renewables' decision to delay submission of a consent application for its Argyll Array offshore wind farm. The developer has pushed back plans to submit a consent application from 2013 to the second half of 2014.
The project risks being cancelled or significantly revised, if research finds that part or all of the area designated for the project should be classed as a marine protected area (MPA). The basking shark is, in fact, not a shark at all, but the world’s second largest fish species.
Marine Scotland is expected to recommend the creation of new MPAs to the Scottish Government in December. The future shape of Scotland’s nascent offshore wind and marine energy industries will be affected by the recommendations.
An MPA may be proposed, close to, or overlapping with, the area off the Inner Hebridean island of Tiree that has been earmarked for the 500-1,800MW Argyll Array project.
ScottishPower Renewables has chosen not to proceed until next year with a range of standard environmental surveys required to complete an environmental statement (ES). This revised timetable appears to allow it to avoid incurring a range of environmental survey costs, pending Marine Scotland’s decision on the location of new MPAs.
Any decision about the biodiversity risks posed by Argyll Array will be based, in part, on an ongoing study into the lifecycle of basking sharks. Twenty have been tagged this summer and are being monitored by satellite as part of a study by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the University of Exeter.
Another species has been identified as being potentially affected by the Argyll Array project: the great northern diver, a sea bird that winters in the area.
SNH has been in discussions with ScottishPower Renewables about Argyll Array for some time, a spokesperson told Windpower Offshore. Contrary to some Scottish press reports, SNH does not support a Tiree residents group’s opposition to the project, added the spokesperson.
The biodiversity regulators’ discussions with ScottishPower Renewables have focused on the scope of biodiversity issues to be addressed in any future ES. SNH is free to submit its views on the offshore wind farm during public consultation, currently scheduled for mid 2014.