Europe's largest marine tidal energy project is moving forward following a four-year assessment of its environmental and social impacts. Scottish government regulator Marine Scotland on September 16 granted final approval of MeyGen Ltd.'s proposal to build a carbon emissions-free 86-megawatt (MW) tidal energy system in Pentland Firth's Inner Sound between the north coast of Caithness and the Orkneys island of Stroma.
Given its tidal current profile, the 3.5 square kilometer (km2) Pentland Firth site is considered to be the “crown jewel” of Scotland's substantial marine tidal energy resources. Groundbreaking as it is, MeyGen – a joint venture between independent power producer GDF Suez (45%), investment bank Morgan Stanley(45%), and tidal energy technology provider Atlantis Resources (10%) – intends to proceed in phases in developing the project, which may ultimately expand to 398 MW of clean, renewable power capacity.
Tapping Scotland's tidal flows for clean, sustainable energy
The MeyGen group intends to start the 86-MW first phase of the project in early 2014 by installing an initial set of up to six tidal turbines with a rated capacity of 9 MW. Commissioning is expected 2015, according to a company press release.
The regular nature of tidal flows make them particularly attractive sources of renewable energy. Reaching 86 MW would yield enough clean, renewable power to supply 40% of Scotland's Highlands homes, Scotland's Energy Minister Fergus Ewing was quoted in a report in The Guardian.
"This is a major step forward for Scotland's marine renewable energy industry. When fully operational, the 86 megawatt array could generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 42,000 homes – around 40 percent of homes in the Highlands. This … is just the first phase for a site that could eventually yield up to 398 megawatts."
Tidal energy: Social and environmental impacts
Assessing the environmental impacts of the MeyGen project plays a principal role in the phased approach to development, as does its social impacts on the local and broader community. In addition to protecting local ecosystems, Scotland's government is looking at developing its vast tidal and ocean energy resources potential as a means of boosting local employment, incomes and overall quality of life.
It's estimated that Scotland can produce 12 gigawatts (GW) of energy from sustainable marine renewable and offshore wind resources. Scotland's tidal and wave energy resources' potential represents as much as 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of Europe's estimated total. In addition, studies indicate that Scotland holds some 25% of total European offshore wind resource potential.
Recognizing the ecological value and uniqueness of the area and the pioneering nature of the project, MeyGen has spent the past four years carrying out an environmental impact assessment (EIA), as well as engaging in “extensive consultation with stakeholders and the local community in Caithness."
Such efforts will continue as the initial installation phases of the project proceed. Elaborated MeyGen's environment and consents manager Ed Rollings,
“The Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters region is an internationally important area for wildlife and we are committed to continuing research with interested parties to ensure that the exploitation of this clean, predictable and sustainable energy resource is done so in a manner that does not have a detrimental effect on the species and habitats in the area.”
Xodus Group served as lead consultant for MeyGen Phase 1's EIA, which “considered the possible positive or negative impacts of the project on the local environment as well as potential social and economic aspects.”
Image Credit: MeyGen Ltd.