A legal challenge from RSPB Scotland to the granting of consent for four major offshore wind farms has been upheld.
The bird protection charity had objected to the Scottish Government’s consent for the developments in the Forth and Tay regions.
A petition for judicial review of the decision has now been granted by Lord Stewart after hearings at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
Scottish ministers granted consent in October 2014 for the Neart na Gaoithe, Inch Cape and Seagreen Alpha and Bravo developments.
The wind farms include hundreds of turbines said to be capable of producing up to 2.284 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, enough to power 1.4 million homes.
RSPB Scotland said the decision to challenge the consents in the courts had been taken “with great reluctance” and as a last resort to protect thousands of gannets, puffins, kittiwakes and other seabirds.
Lloyd Austin, head of the charity’s conservation policy, said: “Today’s judgments are complex and we will therefore need some time to fully consider their implications, however RSPB Scotland is encouraged by the decisions of the court, which have recognised the huge risks from these four offshore wind farms on Scotland’s internationally important areas for seabirds.
“Although RSPB Scotland’s decision to take legal action was the right one, it is very regrettable that such significant time and effort was needed to reverse the decisions which put so much of Scotland’s wildlife at risk.”
He added: “RSPB Scotland will continue to robustly resist any projects which threaten Scotland’s best places for wildlife. However, we also remain resolutely supportive of the development of renewable energy sources in Scotland.”
Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “Scottish ministers note Lord Stewart’s judgement and will now carefully consider it and its implications.
“The Scottish Government remains strongly committed to the development of offshore wind energy as this key low-carbon technology offers a huge economic opportunity for Scotland, but, crucially, through helping to decarbonise our electricity supply it also has a key role to play in our fight against the threat posed by climate change to both our society and our natural environment.
“Clearly, protecting Scotland’s marine environment is of paramount importance: it is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s approach to offshore renewable energy applications, and we are keen to work constructively with both the RSPB and renewable energy developers to ensure the sector has a bright future in Scotland.”
The Alpha and Bravo Seagreen developments would be located east of the Angus coastline and consist of a maximum of 150 wind turbines with a generating capacity of up to 1,050 megawatts (MW).
A spokeswoman for Seagreen Wind Energy, a partnership between SSE and Fluor, said: “Seagreen Wind Energy Ltd is disappointed with the judgment.
“We will review the findings in detail and, in consultation with our legal team, consider our next steps.”
The 450 MW Neart na Gaoithe wind farm off the Fife Ness coastline is being developed by Mainstream Renewable Power.
The Inch Cape wind farm, now owned by the Chinese state-owned State Development and Investment Corporation (SDIC), is located around nine miles off the Angus coast and would have up to 110 wind turbines generating around 784 MW.
Lindsay Roberts, senior policy manager for Scottish Renewables, said: “This is extremely disappointing. These three important projects together would transform the scale of Scotland’s offshore wind industry.
“Given the very significant levels of investment, employment and clean electricity these projects would deliver, I am sure that the Scottish Government and the developers who are involved will now want to look at the judgment in detail and assess the ruling before deciding how best to proceed.”