Hundreds of jobs could be created in the north and north-east if a major offshore windfarm is built in the Moray Firth.
Up to 1,400 people could be involved in the construction of more than 200 turbines – which would stand around 14 miles off the coast of Caithness.
The company behind the project, Moray Offshore Renewables (MORL), said almost 300 jobs could also be sustained in the region during the operation of the windfarm.
The announcement came on the same day business outsourcing firm Capita announced it will create 100 jobs at its call centre at Forres, and Clydesdale Bank confirmed its backing of a £20million project to redevelop Scrabster harbour, which could create 300 jobs.
Last night the boost was welcomed by business leaders keen to see the north economy cash in on the opportunities available in the renewable energy industry.
A Highlands and Islands Enterprise spokeswoman said: “The renewables industry has the potential to support thousands of jobs in the Highlands and islands over the coming decades. Recent announcements, such as the purchase of Nigg by Global Energy Group and the infrastructure works at Scrabster harbour, show that our region is working to stay at the forefront of the opportunities the growth of the sector will bring.
“The Moray Firth is of international interest as an offshore wind site and it is excellent news that Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd is sharing its ambitious vision with communities across our area.”
The first phase of the windfarm would be developed in an area known as the Smith Bank sandbank and is expected to be able to generate up to 1,500MW of power from turbines up to 670ft tall. In a project update report published yesterday, MORL said the power will be carried ashore by a cable buried beneath the seabed and it will reach land in Aberdeenshire – either at Fraserburgh beach or Rattray Head.
The offshore transmission will join the existing grid at Peterhead Power Station when the scheme begins operating in 2020.
And this will see potential job openings in the north-east during the construction phase, which will run from 2015, a spokesman for MORL confirmed yesterday.
Caithness Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Trudy Morris said the far north is also particularly well-placed to serve the offshore scheme.
She said: “A survey vessel for the project has already been operating from Wick and local company Energy Hunt has been maintaining a met mast.”
She added: “We believe that the area’s highly-skilled workforce and company expertise coupled with assets, such as the harbours and airport all close at hand, will prove to be of significant benefit to the developers and we look forward to continuing our discussions with MORL when they visit Wick this week.”
The report also revealed the scheme is likely to be visible from parts of the coastline around the Moray Firth on clear days.
MORL officials are now consulting with a number of groups, including environmental organisations, Historic Scotland and represent-atives of the fishing industry, on the project.
Sarah Dolman, head of policy for Scotland for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said the organisation is supportive of the renewable energy industry and it appears to be carrying out a thorough consultation.
However, she expressed concern about pile-driving, a particularly noisy technique used to hammer the turbines into the seabed.
She said: “It’s one of the noisiest activities in the marine environment.
“We believe that needs to be part of MORL’s environmental assessment and we have been told it will be.”
The report will now be available to view at public exhibitions around the Moray Firth coast.
Dan Finch, managing director of EDP Renewables, which is part of MORL, said: “Over the past year, we have worked hard to move offshore wind in deeper water from a proposal to a viable project. This report shows some of the work we have undertaken across a huge range of different environmental studies.
“In particular, the report examines some of the likely economic impacts of the project and demonstrates the size of the new market we will bring to the Moray Firth area, and to Scotland.
“We are keen to work with the government and business agencies which will be able to develop the supply chain and turn this new market into jobs and economic growth.”