The government has plans for a huge increase in the amount of offshore wind farms.
Ministers hope they can put the measures in place to allow the expansion, which, they say, could lead to every home in Britain being powered by wind-created electricity.
Thousands of giant wind turbines, hundreds of feet high, visible from most points of the British coastline – it is a vision that government ministers say could come to fruition, a massive shift in where we get our energy from in order to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
At the moment, about 2% of the UK’s energy comes from renewable sources of any type – including wind.
But Energy Secretary John Hutton told a meeting in Berlin he wanted to put into place policies that “could allow companies to develop up to 25 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2020. This is in addition to the eight gigawatts already planned”.
But how realistic is this ambition?
The speech does not go into great detail about how this will be achieved – and of course it would be the energy companies, not the government, who would have to put the money into what would inevitably be an expensive project.
Offshore wind, understandably, is much more costly than onshore.
“There’s certainly scope for huge increase in offshore wind power, but instead of dribbling out announcements, what the government needs to come out with is the complete plan, what our energy mix is going to look like in the future,” says Philip Wolfe, executive director of the Renewable Energy Association.
“For example, what are we going to use when the wind stops blowing? And there’s no kind of strategy to extend the transmission network.”
Mr Wolfe is referring to the interconnectors, as they are called – the kit that would bring this power from the sea to the shore and on to the places where it is needed most, which tend to be cities in England.
Limited sea bed
At the moment there is an inquiry going on in Scotland about the interconnector needed to bring wind power from the north-east of England.
Many people say the infrastructure needed will destroy the tranquillity of the countryside it runs through.
It also highlights the problem of what it known as “spatial planning” – what goes where underneath the sea.
Although it seems to stretch forever, the sea bed is a limited resource with increasing demands on it.
The government has promised a marine bill to regulate the competing demands of environment, trade and industry on the sea floor, but has yet to bring forward draft legislation.
One of the groups watching the situation closely is the RSPB, which has been monitoring the effects that the building of offshore turbines has on seabirds.
“We, of course, welcome the government’s announcement, and its commitment to tackle climate change,” says Graham Madge from the RSPB.
“But it underlines the need for a proper planning system for our sea beds.
“Because of the government’s delays in bringing forward a marine bill and in funding proper surveys of what exactly lies under our seas, developers will be playing a game of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’.
“We don’t want to find wind farms are destroying the very environment they are supposed to be protecting by reducing climate change.”
10 December 2007
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