PLANS have been tabled for a £3billion offshore windfarm that could see 277 giant turbines installed nine miles off the Caithness coast.
Politicians have hailed the scheme, saying it could bring a jobs boost to the region.
Anti-windfarm groups last night branded the proposals “ludicrous”.
The developer lodged the application with the Scottish Government for permission for what would be one of the world’s biggest offshore windfarms.
The scheme is also the first of its kind to be submitted to Marine Scotland, the government directorate.
Developer Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd (Bowl) – which is a consortium made up of SSE Renewables, SSE’s renewable energy development division and Repsol Nuevas Energias UK – said that the windfarm would have between 142 and 277 turbines, depending on their size, fixed to the seabed.
The green energy development would be nine miles off the coast of Caithness, at the nearest point, and about six miles north-east of the world’s first deepwater windfarm – the 10-megawatt two-turbine Beatrice Demonstrator Project, which has been operational since 2007.
It is hoped the new turbines will generate up to 1,000MW of renewable energy – enough to power almost 800,000 homes.
The development is expected to be visible from as far away as John O’Groats, Helmsdale in Sutherland and Halkirk, with blade tips visible from the southernmost islands of Orkney and in Moray.
Anti-windfarm campaigner Stuart Young, chairman of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, said the number of turbines was “absolutely ludicrous”.
He added: “It beggars belief that they have even proposed it.
“I am concerned about its position in regards to Caithness. You won’t be able to look in any direction, on land or out to sea, without seeing a turbine.
“We are well off with the number of wind turbines in the north and we don’t need any more.”
B&B proprietor Sheena Millington, of Lybster Mains, Lybster, said: “Everybody is really shocked here. No one seems to have asked anyone in Caithness about this. We think it is disgusting that it has been kept so quiet.”
She added that it was difficult enough maintaining a business in the recession without visitors who came for the wild beauty and views being deterred by turbines.
However, Jim Smith, managing director of SSE Renewables, said: “Offshore wind represents an outstanding resource which, when harnessed, will make a very significant contribution to meeting the EU renewable energy goals for 2020. This is an important milestone for the project and we look forward to working with the relevant stakeholders to ensure a positive outcome for the application.
“If the planning application is successful, any final decision to invest in the project is unlikely to be taken before 2014 at the earliest.”
Ronnie Bonnar, managing director of Repsol Nuevas Energias UK, said: “Offshore wind energy will be critical to delivering the UK’s energy needs in the coming decades and Repsol is committed to being at the heart of this emerging industry.”