Eleven zones around Britain’s coastline were named yesterday as the best places to build the next generation of offshore wind farms.
The zones identified by the Crown Estate are expected to play a key role in enabling Britain to meet its 2020 renewables targets.
The CBI has calculated that energy companies must invest £60 billion over the next 12 years to build enough offshore wind farms to boost generating capacity by 25 gigawatts. Less than half a gigawatt capacity is already in place and only 8gw is operational or in the planning and construction stage.
Britain has been set a target of providing 15 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 and ministers regard wind as one of the key areas for development. At present only 3 per cent of energy is generated from renewable sources. To meet the target at least 30 per cent of the nation’s electricity, and perhaps more than 40 per cent, will need to be generated from wind farms and other renewable installations.
Environmental groups were delighted by the Government’s commitment to increasing renewable energy radically. Some continue to harbour doubts, however, especially about the impact on wildlife. The Ministry of Defence is likely to have more concerns because of the effect that wind turbines have on radar capabilities. The Crown Estate and leading members of the wind-power industry said that they recognised the defence concerns and promised to do all they could to solve the problem.
Rob Hastings, of the Crown Estate, announced the 11 likely locations for new offshore wind farms at the British Wind Energy Association conference in London yesterday. He said that construction would have to start at least by the end of 2014 if they were to be generating enough electricity by 2020. Consent for the installations will need to be completed by the end of 2013 and he announced that for the first time the Crown Estate would meet up to half of the pre-construction development costs.
Work would begin immediately, he said, to begin the process of deciding which companies should lead the development of the 11 zones. The scale of the operation has been judged to be so big and expensive that each zone is likely to be awarded to a consortium rather than an individual company. Contracts are expected to be awarded by early summer next year.
Mr Hastings told the conference that the challenge of meeting the renewable target and Britain’s demand for electricity was huge. “The challenge is to get an additional 25 gigawatts installed and operating in UK waters by 2020. If we don’t achieve that it’s unlikely we will reach our 2020 target of 15 per cent renewable energy,” he said.
The announcement came six months after the decision by John Hutton, the Business Secretary, to order a strategic environmental assessment to examine how and where 25gw worth of turbines could be positioned in the seas as the third phase of establishing a network of marine wind farms.
Adam Bruce, chairman of the British Wind Energy Association, said that the third round would mean “an environmental revolution in the way we generate our electricity in this country”. He added: “This year the UK will become the world’s largest generator of offshore wind energy. We are the global number one.”
Mr Bruce called on other users of the seas to make compromises to facilitate wind farm developments but said that he hoped to work with the MoD over problems in using radar to detect aircraft near turbines.
A spokeswoman for the MoD said: “The MoD is fully committed to government targets for renewable energy and whenever possible we seek to find a mutually acceptable solution on a case-by-case basis. The effects of wind turbines on radar are complex and the MoD has to ensure that national defence interests are not compromised.”
Wind, from land and sea, is expected to overtake the nuclear industry as a source of electricity within a decade and to have increased capacity by 2013 but Mr Bruce said that the two industries would need to work side by side to maintain steady electricity generation. Britain is forecast to overtake Denmark this summer and become the world’s biggest generator of electricity from offshore wind.
Richard Lambert, of the CBI, said that the industry would need to invest £60 billion in offshore wind farms alone. He said that it would be difficult for companies to find the money and it would place “a heavy burden on the economy” but he was confident that the industry would rise to the challenge.
Industry leaders welcomed the commitment to expanding offshore wind. Captain Peter Hodgetts, director of SeaRoc, said: “I’m certain that today is going to be a real watershed for our industry. I think we have an extraordinary future.”
Robin Oakley, of Greenpeace, said: “Offshore wind is a 21st-century, frontier technology that can deliver clean electricity to every home in Britain and secure our energy supplies for years to come. Our country could be the Saudi Arabia of offshore wind – and John Hutton knows it.”
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