Nicola Sturgeon has acknowledged the latest delay to Scotland’s offshore wind leasing round was “deeply unwelcome” among renewables investors and developers.
But the First Minister said she thought industry “understood” the decision and insisted the offshore wind sector’s growth was a priority for the Scottish Government.
Crown Estate Scotland (CES) announced last month that the deadline for applications for ScotWind would be later than the original cut-off of March 31.
It made the decision to review the “option structure” for the round following the Crown Estate’s auction for sites in waters around England and Wales, which attracted huge bids from oil majors like BP.
CES chairwoman Amanda Bryan said the outcome was “unprecedented” and had changed the market dynamics around offshore wind leasing “overnight”.
The organisation said it made the decision with the support of Scottish Government ministers and committed to completing its review by tomorrow, at which point it would confirm the new closing date for bids.
ScotWind, the first leasing round of its kind in a decade, has been delayed before.
It was originally expected to conclude January 2020, but was held up until after the publication of Marine Scotland’s draft Sectoral Marine Plan.
CES finally confirmed in June 2020 that ScotWind would be launched and in January 2021 opened the leasing round to applicants.
In the wake of last month’s announcement, Scottish Renewables said members feared the “goalposts” would be moved and warned further delays would risk the loss of billions of pounds of investment.
In her address at the industry body’s annual conference, Ms Sturgeon said: “I know many of you will currently be thinking about ScotWind.
“I think all of you understand why the ScotWind process is being reconsidered.
“However, I know the delay this has caused is deeply unwelcome.
“We know how keen you are to put in your bids and then start developing and delivering projects.
“We want that to happen too and I know Crown Estate Scotland is committed to concluding the review tomorrow.”
San Johal, chief people officer at EDF Renewables, said the company was “hugely disappointed to see ScotWind being “paused”.
Ms Johal said: “We believe any delay to the timetable will be detrimental and any changes to the process should be extremely well focused within the framework and parameters that have already been set.
“Developers such as ourselves have spent several years preparing for the ScotWind allocation and we firmly believe any significant changes at this late stage will impact investor and developer confidence in the offshore wind market in Scotland.
“It’s important to get this right. It’s really critical that we are able to leverage the abundant resource Scotland has. This all matters even more this year with the spotlight of COP26.”
EDF is a partner in the NnG offshore wind farm project in the Firth of Forth.
Ms Sturgeon also conceded it was a “source of frustration” that Scotland did “not yet have the (renewables) supply chain it should have”, given the country’s huge green energy reserves.
She hopes the requirement for ScotWind bidders to provide supply chain development statements would help turn the tide.
“ScotWind applicants will have to set out the impact each project will have on supply chains,” she said.
“That means the supply chain can be taken into account as part of the final lease agreement.
“Also, the Scottish Offshore Wind Energy Council is bringing industry and government together and helping us identify the further steps we need to promote a strong supply chain.”