The world's third largest offshore wind farm has been cleared for construction off the Scottish coast.
Formal consent has been granted for adjacent projects by Moray Offshore Renewables Limited (MORL) and the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Limited (BOWL) for a total of 326 wind turbines in the Moray Firth, off the coast of Caithness
Together, the two projects will be capable of generating up to 1,866MW of electricity – enough to power more than a million homes – and will create more than 5,000 jobs
“These wind farms alone could generate gross value worth up to £2.5bn over their lifetime and generate up to 4,600 jobs during peak construction and up to 580 once in operation," said Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing.
"Offshore wind has been delayed by the process of the UK Government's electricity market reform, but these two consents today offer tangible progress towards real investment opportunity in Scotland.
"The Scottish Government is committed to the successful and sustainable development of an offshore wind sector, which could lead to a potential inward investment of £30bn and support up to 28,000 direct jobs and a further 20,000 indirect jobs, generating up to £7.1bn for the Scottish economy.”
The announcement could provide "a second lease of life" for the Port of Ardersier, a former oil yard which is earmarked for transformation to a wind manufacturing "super-hub".
Captain Steve Gobbi, CEO of Port of Ardersier, said: "The Moray and Beatrice offshore wind projects are a major opportunity and we are working closely with Highlands and Islands Enterprise to secure as much local impact from this project as we can."
MORL is a joint venture by EDP Renewables (EDPR) and Repsol.
Joao Manso Neto, CEO of EDPR, said: "This project will provide the UK with a significant new generation resource at a time when many ageing thermal power stations are coming off-line, generation capacity is shrinking, and gas prices are rising. It will deliver improved security of supply, and greater insulation for consumers from volatile fossil fuel prices."
The development was welcomed by environmental and renewable energy industry groups but greeted with caution by fishermen and bird conservationists.
Aedan Smith, RSPB head of development, said: "It is disappointing Scottish ministers have decided to take such a risk with Scotland's internationally important populations of seabirds.
"We will be looking closely at the details of the consent over the next few days but we believe a smaller development could have provided very significant amounts of renewable energy with much less risk to marine wildlife."
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said: "Obviously, we would much prefer it if there was no interference in the traditional activities of our fishing fleet in harvesting a sustainable and much valued food resource.
"However, accepting that such developments are going to happen over the coming years, it is absolutely essential that the fishing industry continues to be fully consulted during the complicated planning and licensing processes so that the impact of offshore renewables on fishing is mitigated to an acceptable degree."
Dan Finch, MORL project director, said the project can be delivered "without adversely affecting the environment".