Scotland was so bullish about becoming Europe’s wind energy hub its politicians fell out with a brash real-estate developer and reality TV star called Donald Trump.
Five years on, Trump’s ambitions have taken him to the White House. But instead of the 950 offshore turbines Scotland envisioned by the end of 2017, it has only 63 because of legal battles, geographical challenges and caps on government aid.
The swooshing blades out at sea were a pivotal part of the nationalist-led Scottish government’s goal to get 100 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020. It was supposed to be a growth area in what would be Europe’s newest state, along with turning Scotland into the Saudi Arabia of marine energy.
Despite four offshore wind projects getting the go-ahead this week, more targets have been missed than met and U.K. subsidies have been cut. With Scottish independence back in the political mix ahead of the June 8 election and the economy in pain, the plans are under scrutiny again.
“People overestimated the likely scale of deployment,” said Niall Stuart, chief executive of the Glasgow-based trade association Scottish Renewables. The whole of the U.K. was over-confident about the prospects for offshore wind, he said. “Clearly it’s nothing like the most optimistic scenario.”
In 2011, when the Scottish National Party won a landslide election victory, the government predicted the offshore industry could create as many as 28,377 jobs and be worth as much as 7.1 billion pounds ($9.1 billion) by 2020. Less than a tenth of those jobs have materialized so far with just about 500 people working in Scottish offshore wind, according to the Office for National Statistics.
So far none of the turbines are disrupting the maritime view from Trump’s golf course on the northeast coast. The government fought three times successfully in court when Trump complained the sight of the machines would spoil his resort. The 11-turbine offshore wind farm, called Aberdeen Bay, is still going ahead, being built by Swedish company Vattenfall AB, just more slowly.
Scottish judges paved the way for as much as 10 billion pounds to be invested in offshore wind power this week by overturning an original ruling that said the turbines would kill too many birds. The first application for planning consent was in 2012.
Marine energy also hasn’t been working out as planned. The goal to harness 25 percent of Europe’s tidal power and 10 percent of its wave power from Scottish waters became more of a research and development activity than industrial strategy. Two of the most promising wave converter companies went bust.
“I don’t think there are clear elements in place between the people who want to build the clean energy projects and…