ENERGY giant SSE’s announcement yesterday that it has given the green light to a £2.6 billion wind farm development in the Outer Moray Firth has been hailed as akin to “a new Dounreay for Caithness”.

SSE said the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd (BOWL) will be one of the biggest private investments ever made in Scottish infrastructure.

Offshore construction will start in 2017 with the wind farm expected to become fully operational two years later, generating enough electricity for 450,000 properties and supporting about 890 jobs.

Around £10 million will be invested at Wick Harbour, and chairman of Wick Harbour Authority Willie Watt told The National: “We’re over the moon, highly delighted that we’ve managed to secure a new future for Wick Harbour following the long, bare years of no fishing from the harbour.

“The opportunity of getting a new industry embedded in our facility is great news, absolutely fantastic news for Wick, Caithness and the Highlands.

“Our vision as Wick Harbour is to create 300 jobs by the end of 2018 and this announcement will put us well on the way to achieving that, and hopefully we will attract more operators to use Wick as an operations and maintenance base in the future.

“It’s almost like a new Dounreay for Caithness. It’s a new industry, it’s exciting, high profile and it’s got long-term viability. We’re very happy.”

SSE has a 40 per cent stake in the 84-turbine project, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) 35 per cent, and China’s State Development & Investment Corporation (SDIC) Power 25 per cent.

Work at the operations and maintenance facility in Wick and the transmission works in Moray will start this year and is expected to bring a range of socio-economic benefits to the local, Scottish and UK economies.

Paul Cooley, SSE’s director of renewables, said: “Contracts have already been placed with many UK-based suppliers, and Siemens intend to undertake turbine-blade construction from Siemens’ new manufacturing facility in Hull.

“Around £10m of investment is planned at Wick Harbour to house the wind farm’s operations and maintenance facilities and improving the existing RNLI facilities. We expect a peak of around 65 jobs during construction of the operations and maintenance base with around 90 long-term jobs anticipated during the operational phase.

“Today’s decision reaffirms SSE’s commitment to offshore wind and we are proud to progress such a flagship project for the Scottish offshore wind industry and the UK’s skilled supply chain.”

The facility is expected to deliver around £680m into the Scottish and UK economies during the construction phase and up to £525m during its 25-year operational life.

Christina Sorensen, senior partner at CIP, said: “The project will deliver clean, green and affordable renewable energy based on a stable investment contract price and a 15-year inflation-linked revenue stream. It’s a great project with very capable partners and SSE as the experienced operator, and we look forward to continuing the cooperation in the many years to come.”

Yang Lin, board secretary of SDIC Power, added: “Beatrice is SDIC Power’s first exposure to the European offshore wind market, and we fully believe it has a promising future. We will continue to work closely with our partners and we expect Beatrice to contribute more to the region’s economy.”

Paul Wheelhouse, Holyrood’s Business, Innovation and Energy Minister, said: “The Beatrice Offshore Windfarm has the opportunity to deliver so much to Caithness and Scotland as a whole, in terms of employment and community benefit. Scotland’s renewables sector is stronger than ever and our early adoption of clean, green energy technology and infrastructure was the right thing to do.”

Conservation group WWF Scotland said the scheme would help to tackle climate change. Director Lang Banks said: “This single project will almost quadruple our offshore wind capacity, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as creating jobs and supporting local economic renewal.”