Plans to build massive wind farms off the coast of Britain are in doubt due to an obscure piece of legislation that means oil companies can force turbines to be moved if fossil fuels are discovered in the area.
The Government want to build up to 7,000 turbines offshore over the next decade.
However the rules laid down for leasing the sea bed currently state that wind turbines have to be moved if a licence to drill for oil is given in the area.
Environmentalists fear the little-known clause will deter energy companies from building turbines in case oil is discovered and are lobbying the Government to change the law.
There are already tensions between the powerful fossil fuel lobby and the growing green industry over the future of the seas around Britain.
Oil companies are complaining that wind farms disrupt mobile drilling rigs and helicopter flights and there are fears they may be ready to bring legal action.
Now the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has uncovered an obscure legality that could mean the turbines are not built in the first place.
The Crown Estate, that leases the sea bed on behalf of the taxpayer, states that existing rights granted to offshore wind farm operators will be terminated whenever the government declares a license for oil and gas exploration in the same area.
Nick Molho, Head of Energy Policy at WWF-UK, said the legislation could stop the wind energy companies developing wind farms for fear they will lose the lease in future without any compensation.
He called on the Government to reverse the clause in the up-and-coming Energy Bill so that wind power is given the priority.
“For decades, the oil and gas industry has benefited from a very favourable environment with tax breaks, which are still being granted today, and more recently with an exemption from the licensing requirements of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. The Government really needs to shift the focus of its energy policy away from oil and gas and instead unambiguously support the renewable energy industry, which is the industry of the future,” he said.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman confirmed that there is a clause that enables all or part of a lease to be terminated, but the situation has not actually yet occurred where by this has actually happened.
“Government believes that both the offshore wind farm industry and the oil and gas industry are needed and can successfully co-exist in our seas to ensure the nation’s energy needs are met,” a spokesman said.
“In the very unlikely event that it proved impossible to access an oil or gas find without an adjustment to an already consented wind farm, there is a clause in the wind farm site lease which enables all or part of the site lease to be terminated by The Crown Estate at the request of Government.
“If it was necessary, a first step to resolving any issue would involve commercial negotiations between the companies to find a reasonable commercial solution to be put to the wind farm owner. It would not be our preferred policy to intervene”.
:: Just one in three proposals to build onshore wind farms are being given the go-ahead, because of local protesters campaigning against turbines, according to a new study.
Last year more than 50 per cent of wind farm developments on land were approved, compared to a third this year.
Older generations are far more likely to oppose developments than people under 35.
Renewable UK blamed local campaigners who use the planning process to block developments.
The lobby group for the wind industry said England could gain over £1.3bn in investment by 2030 if all onshore wind farm developments currently seeking approval are agreed.
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