The seas off one of the Westcountry’s most precious conservation sites have been earmarked as a potential development zone for offshore wind farms.
Fishermen yesterday said it would be “terminal” for the industry if a proportion of 7,000 planned new turbines for the UK were built in Lyme Bay.
The Crown Estate, which owns the UK’s sea beds, has put forward the site as one of three locations in Devon and Cornwall which it believes would be suitable for further investigation to host the wind farms.
The bay, which spans from Torbay to Portland, is off the stunning Jurassic Coast, a designated World Heritage Site.
The presence of offshore reefs have prompted a number of wildlife trusts to call for a 60-mile stretch of it to be closed off altogether.
The area is also a “virtual port” for ships taking shelter in bad weather.
The Crown Estate yesterday said it could not give specific references to where each zone lies because the process is at an early stage. But in Cornwall, the area lies off Bude and in North Devon it is south-west of Ilfracombe. It is slightly further west than the Atlantic Array, a proposal which includes some of the world’s largest turbines.
The third stage of the Crown Estate’s programme to open up the seas should help treble the amount of wind power in the UK by 2020, bringing the total to 25 gigawatts.
If the Government meets its target of 33 gigawatts produced by offshore wind over the next 12 years, it will provide all the country’s household requirements. The Crown Estate has made its assessment based mainly on sea depths and wind speeds, but said environmental and economic impacts would be carried out.
Stakeholders have reacted with disbelief that Lyme Bay has been earmarked as a potential site. Jim Portus, head of the South West Fish Producers’ Organisation, said: “It really doesn’t bear thinking about in the long term because it’s the most productive area around the English coastline for fishing. If the area was closed off to make way for wind turbines, the impact on the fishing industry would be terminal. But I can’t believe for one minute that it’s going to go that far.”
Stuart Hughes, chairman of Devon County Council’s environment overview and scrutiny committee, said lessons should be learnt from the grounding of the MSC Napoli off East Devon.
“Imagine the devastation if a ship crashed into a giant turbine. It doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said.
Richard Edmonds, earth science manager for the Jurassic Coast Team, said the detail was crucial. He said: “If we had a line of wind turbines within sight of Golden Cap we would be very concerned, but if they were further out to sea we might not be.”
Paul Gomertz, director of Devon Wildlife Trust, which spearheaded the Save Lyme Bay Reefs campaign, said he was not “jumping up and down and worrying himself to death”. He said the conservation areas only constituted about 10 per cent of the bay. Mr Gomertz said it was essential to maintain the country’s “life support system” but said identifying areas of wind development was also crucial.
“It’s perfectly conceivable that there would be areas of Lyme Bay where we would have no objections to offshore wind farms,” he said. “We are reassured because they have said that the next step is to talk to consultees like us.”
Michael Huntingford, of Channel Energy Ltd, based in South Molton, North Devon, said the company had explored an offshore development in Lyme Bay, but found it impossible to consult with the Navy over its movements in the area. But he said it was an “attractive” option. He said: “Despite the initial constraints that appear to be there from the Navy and very real constraints from shipping, we still feel there’s scope for offshore wind down there.”
Each site will be subject to an environmental assessment carried out by the Government. If they pass, successful bidders will be given exclusive rights to develop farms, and the Crown Estate is planning to co-fund up to 50 per cent of the costs of getting planning consent. The Estate said it was prepared to fund work to speed up wind farm delivery.
Yesterday, Regen South West welcomed the news that the region was included in the offshore development plan for the first time. Cheryl Hyles, head of programmes at the region’s sustainable development agency, said: “We have very strong natural resources. The South West is already planning how we will reach 2020 targets, and over the next few months we will be bringing together industry representatives to discuss how we can make this particular opportunity work to the region’s advantage.”
Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said: “It is hoped the Crown Estate’s investment and leasing programme for round three will provide developers with confidence to make investments much earlier on, like signing grid connection agreements or ordering turbines.”
Rob Hastings, the Crown Estate’s director of marine estates, said: “We recognise that the 2020 EU renewable energy target is a major challenge for the UK. It will demand a strategic vision. We need to be sensitive to other marine users and conservation interests, and we have to deliver all this in the context of worldwide competition and a limited supply of new wind turbines. We believe a holistic and joined-up approach is key to the delivery of this project.”
5 June 2008