Why floating wind farms offer the best solution for bird protection and energy generation in Scotland


(c) Arthur Morris/Birds as Art

The Supreme Court decision to uphold permission for the massive Neart Na Gaoithe (NNG), Inch Cape and Seagreen wind farms in the Outer Firths of Tay and Forth to go ahead will have disappointed the RSPB. I’m sympathetic to their concerns and I wonder if a move to greater use of floating wind farms will be the answer.

RSPB Scotland are concerned that the wind turbine blades could harm seabird colonies including gannets and puffins. The RSPB says:

 ‘Our peer reviewed scientific research suggests that there may be limited additional capacity for fixed offshore wind turbines in Scotland, which tend to be located in the shallow waters relatively near to shore and our protected seabird colonies. However, it has identified that there may be huge potential in Scotland for deeper water technologies such as floating wind. In this nascent sector, Scotland now has an opportunity to be a world leader and transition skills and jobs from North Sea oil and gas if we pursue these technologies in a sustainable way.’

There are further, compelling, economic and efficiency-related benefits, summarised by Stanford University back in 2012, to floating wind farms located further out to sea and making this case even stronger:

  1. The first and most immediately compelling advantage of floating offshore wind is access to incredible wind resource over deep waters. Currently we can only access a small fraction of the offshore wind resource worldwide due to depth constraints.
  2. Offshore wind is recognized for its proximity to load centers but often still encounters significant NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) resistance. Population centers tend to cluster near the coastlines, so offshore wind minimizes the distance from generation to load centers, without competing for valuable land. Opponents argue, however, that turbines negatively impact the skyline (visual pollution) or result in disruptive noise. Floating turbines address these concerns by allowing wind farms to be pushed farther offshore and out of sight.
  3. Finally, there are also several manufacturing advantages to floating platforms, such as using less material in construction and reducing the need for specialty marine engineering expertise. One major cost driver for conventional offshore wind are the heavy lift vessels required to erect the turbine. Very expensive special purpose ships are required to transport the parts on site and perform the assembly. Floating turbine platforms, however, are designed to be assembled in port and towed into position using simple barges or tugboats. This can result in major cost savings and greatly increased flexibility in construction.


Remember, when thinking about point 1 above that Scotland has 25% of all of Europe’s coastal wind energy.


4 thoughts on “Why floating wind farms offer the best solution for bird protection and energy generation in Scotland

  1. macgilleleabhar November 8, 2017 / 10:24 pm

    That sounds good to me especially in the North Sea as there is existing infrastructure that could possibly be adapted to use for renewable energy in some way as suggested by Siemens.
    These existing infrastructures brings me to another positive aspect of floating turbine platforms which is for decommissioning they could be towed back to land .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alasdair Macdonald November 9, 2017 / 3:55 pm

    As someone who is interested in birds I am concerned about factors which might adversely affect numbers and survival and for the general ecological balance. So, I think that RSPB is right to state its concerns strongly. I am, however, curious about why a charity should incur the significant expense of taking a case to the Supreme Court and, possibly, to Europe. I am not imputing malign intent on behalf of the executive of the charity, I am, as I said ‘curious’.

    The statement from RSPB, with which you introduce the piece, demonstrates that RSPB has a nuanced understanding of the complexity of the issues. The statement is a constructive suggestion and one which you, rightly have explored further. it does, indeed, seem to be a plausible idea. Usually, the responses of charitable bodies, particularly when they are objecting to some development is well balanced and, often, opening gambits for negotiation. In many cases, developers respond constructively and the eventual implementation is better than the initial proposal and addresses most of the concerns of the various parties, especially if the development – such as the provision of non-polluting renewable energy – provides a wide benefit. Of course, being a compromise, some aspects which were desired by the various parties are unfulfilled. It is when one or other party declares something to be a ‘red line’, i.e. if we do not get X, then the gemme’s a-bogie and this is when there is the protracted litigation or some kind of campaign of disobedience. I have supported both of these in the past for other factors.

    When the power relationship between the competing parties is markedly unequal, especially when one side can ‘legally’ overwhelm the other, not by force of argument but by force of budget, political power and, indeed, military might (cf the British East India Company, or the various wars fought on behalf of US oil companies) then a democratic state has a duty to try to equalise this in some way. Many of the rights we have exist as a result of groups forcing a reluctant government to change.

    I am not clear that the RSPB met such intransigence. It is a long-established body, it has many very influential supporters, by-and-large its cause is a worthy one. It has a lot going for it. The developers and the Scottish Government appear to have been amenable to consultation and adjustments. So, what has been the RSPB motivation? Are its actions proxy actions on behalf of a few powerful figures within the organisation, who have ‘other irons in the fire’?

    Goal displacement is the bane of any organisation, public, private or third sector: rather than serving the organisation’s aims its actions become perverted to serving the interests of those who comprise the organisation. Has this been the case here?

    Other vested interests often back campaigns on the basis of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. Such backing is, usually ad hoc and, if it is successful they will quickly ignore the group they supported. The fossil fuel lobby is very strong – it occupies the Presidency of the United States – so, is it piggy-backing on the RSPB to stop a renewables project?

    A parallel could be drawn with the actions of the RNIB in opposing shared spaces in our public streets. The Disability Discrimination Act has produced much better designs of our public realm to enable people with disabilities to participate more easily and more independently and these designs have also benefitted wider society. RNIB and other similar organisations have been strong in the advocacy but also constructive in their proposals. And, as far as I am aware, RNIB has adopted a constructive approach to shared spaces. Yet, the media presentation is of implacable opposition by RNIB to shared spaces. The tragic death of a toddler in a shared space in Jersey is being presented by the media as THE consequence of shared spaces. The child was struck by a car, driven by someone who had recently been using her mobile phone. Current street geometry is pretty hostile to people with disabilities, so, things like altering the balance of power between motorists and the rest of us, by introducing shared spaces empowers pedestrians and cyclists with respect to motorists.

    I am not seeking to introduce an argument about changes to urban design, but rather using it as another example of how laudable aims can be distorted for ulterior motives.

    When I hear or read about some lobby groups supporting causes with which they have little sincere interest, I smell a rat. I wonder if RSPB is being used in this way.


  3. johnrobertson834 November 9, 2017 / 7:10 pm

    Very interesting thoughts. A really worthwhile contribution to this thread. Thanks again for adding to my understanding.


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