Scotland could see the development of more than 6 GW of wind power capacity in its territorial waters following the award of ten exclusivity agreements by the UK government.

The Crown Estate – owner of the UK’s territorial seabed – has awarded a number of companies and consortia the exclusive rights to investigate the potential for wind farm development at ten sites off the Scottish coast. The sites include the Argyll Array – with a potential of over 1500 MW – and the 920 MW Beatrice site.

Winners in the tender process include E.On, Iberdrola-owned Scottish Power, RWE’s npower renewables and Airtricity, which is owned by Scottish & Southern. The agreements have been hailed as a major step forward in the development of Scotland’s renewable energy industry, a key area of focus for the country’s government.

The level of interest in the tender process is also a boost for the renewable energy industry as a whole and offshore wind in particular, which is being threatened by rising costs and the global financial crisis.

“Today heralds an exciting phase in the progress of the renewable energy industry in Scotland,” said Jason Ormiston, CEO of trade group Scotish Renewables. “The combined capacity of these projects will make a massive contribution to Scotland’s efforts in tackling climate change, helping to deliver reliable and affordable supplies of electricity to consumers and, very importantly, the Scottish economy.”

The ten exclusivity agreements are designed to allow developers to begin initial survey and consultation processes for their sites while the Scottish government conducts a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for offshore wind within Scottish territorial waters.

RWE Innogy, whose UK subsidiary npower renewables has been granted the right to develop the 905 MW Inch Cape site off the Angus coastline, says that the project represents an opportunity to take advantage of the region’s wind resources as well as its local skills. The company will investigate the site in collaboration with its partner SeaEnergy Renewables.

Airtricity could develop up to 2700 MW of offshore capacity at four sites: Bell Rock, Beatrice, Islay and Kintyre. Two of the sites – Beatrice and Bell Rock (700 MW) – will be developed in conjunction with partners.

Scottish Power Renewables, meanwhile, says that the Argyll Array site has the potential for up to 1800 MW of wind energy capacity. The company is already developing the 500 MW West of Duddon Sands offshore wind project and recently announced a partnership with Vattenfall to make joint bids in the UK’s third round of offshore wind farm development.

Keith Anderson, Director of Scottish Power Renewables said: “Offshore wind power has massive potential, and the UK government has already outlined ambitions to generate up to 33 000 MW of power off the UK coastline.

“Today’s announcement is the first step on a long but important journey, and over the next 12 months we will carry out detailed studies of the site and will consult widely with stakeholders to help shape any future scheme.”

Other sites awarded include the 300 MW Solway Firth development (E.On Climate and Renewables), Wigtown Bay (280 MW – Dong Wind), Neart na Gaoithe (360 MW – Mainstream Renewable Power Ltd.) and the 415 MW Forth Array site (Fred Olsen Renewables Ltd.).

The Scottish government has committed to completing the SEA by January 2010. The Crown Estate will then be able to award leases for the sites, provided the developers have obtained construction consent for the projects.