Mainstream’s £2bn wind farm green-lit as bird threat averted

The 450MW project has been cleared by a Scottish judge, who slammed a previous ruling on the wind farm which ‘strayed well beyond the limits’ last year.

An offshore wind farm worth £2 billion ($2.6 billion; €2.3 billion) of investment due to be developed by Mainstream Renewable Power has been approved after a Scottish judge overturned a successful legal challenge to the site last year.

The 450MW Neart na Gaoithe project can now proceed after the Inner House of the Court of Session overruled a decision by a judge last July to block Mainstream’s wind farm, as well as two other offshore wind farms in Scotland owned by China’s State Development & Investment Corporation and SSE. The courts initially ruled that the three projects would pose too much of a risk to birds in the area.

The cancellation of the three sites with a combined capacity of 2.3GW would have posed a significant threat to the UK’s energy plans and Mainstream hailed the reversal of the decision.

“As a nationally significant infrastructure project, Neart na Gaoithe will help Scotland and the UK meet their climate and energy goals, and develop a world-leading offshore wind sector,” said the company’s Scottish offshore manager David Sweenie. “Rapid advances in offshore wind technology have enabled us to reduce the number of turbines to be installed from 125 in the original consent application in 2012, to a maximum of 64 turbines today.”

The repeal of last year’s decision was handed down by Lord Carloway, the head of the Scottish judiciary, who heavily criticised the original ruling.

“Despite paying lip service to the correct legal test for judicial review, the Lord Ordinary has strayed well beyond the limits of testing the legality of the process and has turned himself into the decision-maker following what appears to have been treated as an appeal against the respondents’ decisions on the facts,” he noted.

“He has acted, almost as if he were the reporter at such an inquiry, as a finder of fact on matters of scientific fact and methodology which, whatever the judge’s own particular skills may be, are not within the proper province of a court of review. For this reason alone, his decision on this ground cannot be sustained.”

The successful challenge is the second hurdle recently cleared by Mainstream to proceed with Neart na Gaoithe. In part due to the legal challenge itself, Mainstream had missed deadlines required by its contract for difference awarded by the UK government and had the subsidy mechanism stripped away from the project last year. This decision was overturned in March.