A RENEWABLE energy developer is inviting county residents to have their say on proposals for a major offshore wind farm that would be visible from the East Lothian coast.

Mainstream Renewable Power will hold two community consultation events in East Lothian on the proposed Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm.

In February 2009, Mainstream was awarded exclusive rights by the Scottish Government to develop the Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm, which would be located about 10 miles east of Fife Ness. Neart na Gaoithe (Gaelic for 'Strength of the Wind') was chosen for its development suitability, combining acceptable water depth and ground conditions, low shipping densities and optimal wind speeds.

Mainstream has stated the project has the potential to generate between 420 and 450 megawatts of renewable energy, which is enough to supply about 325,000 homes.

The firm is submitting two options for approval in terms of the scale and number of proposed turbines. The site allows for up to 125 3.6MW turbines with a maximum height of 163 metres (534 feet) from sea surface to blade tip, or approximately 75 turbines with a capacity of 6MW and a maximum height of 173 metres (568 feet).

While previous offshore wind farms have utilised the 3.6MW turbines, the 6MW models have only recently been developed and are yet to be tested in the field. Subject to securing the necessary consents, it's expected Neart na Gaoithe will commence construction by 2014.

Communities and sea users in East Lothian form a key part of the consultation process. The consultation events will also cover the grid connection. It's planned the cable will come onshore near Torness Power Station and connect to an extension of the existing Crystal Rig substation.

Mainstream's Zoe Crutchfield said: "It's very important for us that the local community has plenty of opportunity to get its opinions heard. "We have already undertaken extensive scoping work and identified key people issues, such as fishing and aviation radar, which we are addressing directly with those who will be most affected. Now it's the community's turn and that's why we are holding these exhibitions." Local wildlife issues are also under consideration, with the potential impact on birds and marine mammal populations considered to be key issues. Extensive, long-term marine mammal and bird surveys are taking place: their outcomes will be analysed and fed into the overall plans.

"We understand wind farm developments can lead to some polarised views, especially where wildlife is concerned, so we want to show we are taking wildlife and environmental issues very seriously," said Ms Crutchfield.

"Coming along to an event will let people see the steps we are taking to ensure environmental impacts are minimised." The consultation exhibitions will take place on May 10 in Innerwick Village Hall, between 4 and 8pm, and on May 11 in Hallhill Healthy Living Centre in Dunbar, 2-8pm.

Potential income from offshore wind farms is one option being explored by Dunbar Harbour Trust as the body seeks funding for a £20 million refurbishment project of the harbour.

A redeveloped harbour could become a base for the boats which service the wind farms, generating significant rental income.