A PROTOTYPE floating wind farm off the northern coast is set to give extra impetus to the renewables and engineering sectors in the Highlands, if it is approved by ministers.

The Dounreay Tri project has awarded the construction contract to Global Energy Group, which plans to carry out the work at its Nigg Energy Park. Dounreay Tri has also reached agreement with the port of Scrabster, near Thurso, which will service the facility.

If approved, it will create seven full-time jobs and support a number of others locally, from the harbour authority to fuel suppliers, plant and machinery and various supply chain activities.

The project is subject to Marine Scotland and Scottish ministers processing the planning application by the end of March, the deadline for the required Renewable Obligation Certificate, which requires UK electricity suppliers to source an increasing proportion of power from renewable sources.

The prototype would put Scotland at the forefront of developing an innovative technology that can be deployed in deep water.

It could also present a major opportunity for Scottish manufacturers as the award to Nigg Energy Park highlights the capability and capacity of its world-class deep-water facilities.

The twin-turbine wind farm will be entirely assembled in the construction yard and then towed into position, unlike more conventional offshore wind structures.

They will be capable of generating 10MW of electricity, enough to power about 8,000 homes.

By opening up the deeper waters off the north and west coast, it is hoped the floating wind farms can make a significant contribution to helping Scotland meet its renewable energy targets.

Marcus Thor, project director for Dounreay Tri, said: “We are delighted to award the construction contract for such an innovative project being installed in Scotland to a Scottish company. It certainly has great potential to deliver both renewable energy and jobs for Scotland.

“Whilst we await the outcome of our planning applications, as and when they are approved this will place Scotland at the forefront of floating offshore wind production worldwide.”

Ian Cobban, a Global Energy Group executive vice-president, said it was hoped work would start later this year. “We have the right experience and facilities to fully support the contract requirements, and once planning is confirmed we envisage fabrication works will commence in summer, with assembly works within Nigg Energy Park’s dry dock facility through to the first half of 2018,” he said.

“The main floating structure will be around 190m by 100m including columns of 30m height, making it the largest structure to be loaded out of our facility in recent years.

“This contract win highlights our ability to diversify our work into many different areas. At a time when we have been going through a difficult period with job losses, this will certainly provide much-needed additional jobs for us and the local supply chain.”

Scrabster port manager Sandy Mackie added: “Scrabster is ideally suited to support their operations and maintenance needs. We look forward to working with the company to deliver a successful project that will benefit the port and local economy.”

The project was also welcomed by the environmental lobby.

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: “It should be the ambition of every renewable energy project built in Scotland to ensure the maximum number of jobs are also created here. It’s therefore good to know two Highland ports stand to benefit should this project be given the go-ahead.

“With the right political support for offshore wind and other technologies, Scotland is well placed to become the EU’s first fully renewable electricity nation. This is an aspiration we hope the Scottish Government will aim for [in] its forthcoming energy strategy.”

Dounreay Tri operations manager Simon Tuchewicz said: “Scrabster Harbour is an excellent facility, with great local infrastructure and support services that we believe can fully meet the operation and maintenance requirements over the 25-year project life.”