Trump puts offshore wind stakeholder engagement in spotlight

Donald Trump’s protest over Scotland’s offshore wind programme has highlighted the tension between national strategy and other interests. But the planning system is up to the task, analysts say.

By Sam Phipps in Edinburgh

When Donald Trump complained to the Scottish parliament in April about a proposed offshore wind farm that he says will ruin the view from his latest golf course, the media reaction was variously described as a farce, a circus and a distraction.

High on the list of ironies was that the New York tycoon supposedly had the cheek to cite the visual impact of the 11-turbine development when campaigners had unsuccessfully fought his Trump International Golf Links on environmental and aesthetic grounds.

The course itself, on a 1,400-acre site that includes a former site of special scientific interest (SSSI), the Menie dunes near Aberdeen, is now complete. But Trump has halted construction of a giant complex of hotel and holiday homes there and threatened to scrap the whole project if the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC), goes ahead.

Having lauded the Scottish government for overturning the local council’s objection to his golf resort four years ago, he now condemns that same government for its renewable energy plans.

The first minister, Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party (SNP), has gone from “an amazing man” to someone who “will single-handedly have done more damage to Scotland than virtually any event in Scottish history” with his vision for onshore and offshore wind farms.

Robust system

But beyond all the rhetoric, does Trump have a point that Scotland’s ambitious goals for offshore turbine construction will result in projects being rushed through at the expense of other interests such as tourism?

David Bone, head of energy at Harper Macleod legal firm in Glasgow, said each planning application was considered on its individual merits but the government could clearly take into account national strategy and targets for renewable energy during the decision process.

“Our planning system is set up in such a way that the government has a role in setting strategy, it can have a role in dealing with planning appeals and it has a role as planning authority of first instance in section 36 applications for renewable developments over 50MW,” Bone said.

“There is case law to demonstrate that there is no conflict in having these different roles; obviously in fulfilling each role the relevant part of the government has to meet the requirements of that role. The only real difference between onshore and offshore planning is that there are unlikely to be offshore wind farms which are small in nature, so all the offshore planning consents are liable to be dealt with by the government.”

Clearly there are planning issues to take into account that might relate to visual impact, a site of strategic interest – a whole variety of things, Bone said.

“The government has to work its way round that when it’s dealing with applications for consent onshore or offshore – it deals with them on their merits. It has to, otherwise it would be granting consent to absolutely everything until it reached its targets.”

Effective consultation

David Rodger of Vattenfall Wind Power UK, one of the partners in the EOWDC off Aberdeen to which Trump is so opposed, said the fact that the project had already changed so much in conception showed how healthy the consultation and planning process was.

“The scheme was originally a 53 turbine proposal, then 23. Now it’s down to 11, and that resulted from input by marine and aviation stakeholders and also the public view. Things like busy helicopter and marine traffic and nature considerations all came into play.”

It has also changed from a straightforward offshore wind farm to a deployment centre that will test the next generation of technology, potentially benefiting the whole renewables sector, he said.

“DECC has identified the strategic importance of these kind of sites and what they could bring to the UK economy in terms of adding to GDP by way of foundations and cabling, among other things.

“But the project hasn’t evolved in any way in response to the Donald Trump question – it’s much more of a general consensus. We’ve got very strong faith in the Scottish planning process and it is that which will decide the outcome.” A decision is expected on EOWDC, which will cost £230m and has secured a €40m grant, later this year.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “Most Scots are definitely more favourable to offshore than onshore, which is by its nature more intrusive perhaps. The Trump issue takes it into quite different territory from standard applications but overall offshore has been less controversial.”

“However, Scottish ministers will only approve offshore wind applications where the impacts are found to be acceptable – unsuitable applications are rejected. The process involves considering all potential impacts, including the environment, fisheries and shipping. The process complies fully with EU, UK and Scottish legislation.”

A recent UK government report shows that offshore wind could account for as much as 50% of total electricity in the country by 2050.

Salmond, in a rebuff to Trump after the tycoon’s parliamentary appearance, said: “We welcome investment in Scotland, in industry, technology and in golf courses. But investing in Scotland does not imply ownership of Scotland, and in particular the energy policy of this country will be determined by the people and the parliament of Scotland and not by any other party.”

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