A plan for a giant windfarm eight miles off the coast of Caithness was hanging in the balance last night.
The 277-turbine development has not been included on a list of 10 “affordable” projects likely to receive UK Government support and is on the brink of missing out on a share of £4.5billion of subsidies.
Energy giant SSE, which is behind the Beatrice scheme, said it was “disappointed” by the announcement, which meant it was now “unlikely” to receive an investment contract from the government.
It added that it would now “carefully assess” the windfarm scheme, which has been hailed as having the potential to turn the far north into the “Saudi Arabia of renewables”.
The development would cover 50 square miles and produce enough electricity to power 750,000 homes.
The construction phase is estimated to be worth £25million to the Highlands and £313million to the Scottish economy.
The windfarm was to have been linked to a redeveloped electricity substation at Blackhillock, near Keith.
Wick harbour has also been given up to £450,000 to help it expand for the green energy industry.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing criticised the UK Government for not including planned offshore windfarms in Scotland on its list of 10 “affordable” projects.
He said it had “serious implications for Scotland’s ability to release the power of offshore wind” and it increased the “uncertainty for both developers and investors”.
The Inverness and Nairn MSP added: “There is still the opportunity for Scottish projects to be included in the final list of projects by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), and we will be arguing that, instead of putting barriers in the way of Scottish offshore wind deployment, the UK Government should be providing support.”
DECC also insisted last night that it was not the end of the road for the Beatrice scheme, with final funding decisions due in the spring. It is possible that not all 10 of the preferred schemes will proceed, leaving the door open for Beatrice.
The contracts with the government aim to provide investors with certainty as the subsidy regime is reformed, with £4.5billion allocated to smooth the transition.
A spokesman for SSE said: “We are disappointed with the announcement that Beatrice has not been included in the list of projects deemed provisionally affordable under the FID (final investment decision) enabling process for renewables.
“We will continue to participate in the FID process but, unless a project drops out or additional funds are made available, this means Beatrice is now unlikely to receive an investment contract.”