A SUTHERLAND councillor has slammed as “derisory” the amount of community benefit the far north is set to receive from the Beatrice offshore wind development.
Councillor Deirdre Mackay, East Sutherland and Edderton, has worked out that the area will get just £160,000 per annum from the £2.6 billion project.
She said it was the “smallest return in the history of industrial development in the Highlands”.
Councillor Mackay is now demanding that developers go back to the drawing board before construction work starts in 2017 and come up with a significantly more generous settlement.
Her frustration is exacerbated by the fact Sutherland is unlikely to gain any jobs from the scheme despite a promise that Helmsdale and Lybster harbours would be used to service Beatrice.
She said: “Beatrice windfarm will have a massive visual impact on our eastern seaboard – it will be right in our face and the only way to offset this is to get a fair level of community benefit.”
The windfarm will be located in the outer Moray Firth, around 8.5 miles from the east Caithness coast and just north of Helmsdale. It is the largest private investment ever made in Scottish infrastructure.
A partnership has been formed to bankroll the project. Energy giant Scottish and Southern Energy has the largest stake at 40 per cent; followed by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners at 35 per cent; and SDIC power at 25 per cent.
Eighty-four turbines are set to be installed with an overall capacity of 588MW, enough to power 450,000 homes.
Turbine fabrication is to take place in Fife; assembly at Nigg; and operations and maintenance at Wick where 90 long-term jobs will be created.
It is understood developers met with Highland Council leaders to discuss the level of community benefit but ultimately set the figures themselves. North councillors have been told the amount is “non-negotiable”.
Community benefit is a form of compensation given to towns and villages located within the shadow of windfarm developments.
Highland Council has agreed a formula to calculate the amount of benefit that should be received from onshore windfarms but it is understood not to have any similar blueprint for offshore developments.
The north and north east is set to receive a total of £6 million over the 25-year lifespan of Beatrice, representing £240,000 a year.
But councillor Mackay reveals that the total sum is being split between Moray and Highland with the latter receiving an overall £4 million – £160,000 a year – and the former £2 million or £80,000 per annum.
So, in effect that means that Sutherland and Caithness is to receive just £160,000 a year.
Councillor Mackay told the Northern Times that Highland’s overall £4 million share (or £160,000 a year) is to be divided into two, with half going to affected seaboard communities in Sutherland and Caithness and half to a “wider fund” which will still be spent in the far north but is likely to benefit all communities and not just those affected by Beatrice.
She pointed out that had the council’s formula for onshore windfarm community benefit been followed, then Beatrice developers would have had to stump up £3 million a year.
Councillor Mackay said that in her former role as chairman of Caithness and Sutherland area committee she and others had secured an agreement that Helmsdale and Lybster harbours would be used to service Beatrice but this now appeared to have been forgotten.
She said: “If we look at the size of the investment and more importantly the income which will go to the developer, the return to our communities is the smallest in the history of industrial development in the Highlands.
“Hydro-Electric created 12,000 jobs; the oil and gas sector 16,000 and more than 3000 in the nuclear industry. These were highly skilled jobs, well paid jobs sustained over many decades.”
She added: “We must have an equitable share of the benefits being derived from what is an exploitation of our natural resource.”
An SSE spokesman said: “The £6 million community fund associated with the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Limited (BOWL) development, of which SSE owns a 40 per cent stake, has been agreed by the BOWL board following consultation with a number of stakeholders including Highland and Moray councils.
“It was developed using the Scottish Government’s ‘Good Practice Principles’ and is wholly consistent with both Scottish and UK government guidance. Specific impacts and benefits that Beatrice will bring were considered – including up to £224 million in local socio-economic benefits.
“In addition to this community fund, BOWL is estimated to pay around £28 million over the lifetime of the wind farm to the Crown Estate’s Coastal Communities Fund which will be open to Highland communities.”
* HIGHLAND Council is asking the Scottish Government to help set a recommended level of community benefit for offshore wind developments.
North councillors supported a motion put forward by council leader Margaret Davidson and Councillor Helen Carmichael, Aird and Loch Ness, at a meeting in Inverness last Thursday.
The council is also urging the government to speed up the pending devolution of the management of Crown Estate assets in Scotland and their revenues
All the Crown Estate’s annual revenue profit is presently paid to the UK Government
Rent from the Beatrice windfarm is expected to swell Crown Estate coffers by around £56 million over 25 years.
Highland Council want to see some of that money trickle down to local authority level.
Deirdre Mackay said: “Significant monies will be heading to the Crown Estate (from Beatrice) and we should exercise great caution about what and how much goes to Edinburgh.
“That is because bitter experience tells us what goes to Edinburgh stays in Edinburgh.
“Proximity to communities is at the heart of successful community development and funding decisions should sit at local authority level where they can be managed by those who know and understand the community – Embo not Edinburgh!”