The world’s largest offshore wind farm, which will occupy a site of 90 square miles off the coast of Kent, has been given the go-ahead by the government and should be ready to provide clean power for a quarter of London’s homes by 2010.
But a sharp increase in costs for the scheme from the original estimate of £1.5bn to closer to £2bn could still push it off course. Costs have soared while the London Array project has been delayed 18 months because of local opposition to an electricity sub-station near Faversham.
The consortium developing the wind farm, which is led by Shell and Eon, is reluctant to comment on the ambitious plan for up to 341 turbines until it has tied up a range of commercial contracts and received approval from National Grid to provide new high- powered overhead cables. A spokesman for Eon confirmed that the last regulatory hurdle was overcome yesterday: “We are now in the middle of the tendering process and we will be in a position to give the green light – or not – in the second half of next year.”
The company admits that the biggest hurdles have been overcome after it gained permission for the offshore side of the scheme and also for it to proceed with the construction of a sub-station that was subject to a challenge and a protracted planning inquiry.
The local Swale borough council, backed by local residents, voted against the scheme, but a planning inspector recommended to the government that it should get the go-ahead. Ministers have given it the green light amid mounting concerns that dozens of renewable projects vital to help Britain reduce carbon emissions and meet Kyoto protocol targets are stuck in the planning system.
The London Array also had to overcome earlier opposition from the RSPB by making changes to a scheme which could have threatened the red-throated divers that occasionally winter in that part of Kent.
The developers have been forced to pay for legal advice as well as keeping design teams on staff even though there was little work to do. There is also deep frustration that over the past 18 months there has been a growing shortage of wind farm materials due to a worldwide boom, triggering a huge escalation in costs for these kinds of renewable energy projects.
Eon is in the middle of a £1bn spending programme on wind, tidal and biomass projects around Britain. It already has a wind farm running at Scoby Sands, off the coast of Great Yarmouth, and has plants at Robin Rigg in the Solway Firth and another called the Humberside Gateway in development.
By Terry Macalister
5 October 2007
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