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Feedback sees turbine array slashed to 188

One of the largest renewable energy projects of its kind in Europe has been reduced by almost half after public and environmental concerns, it was announced today.

The £3 billion Atlantic Array, an offshore wind farm in the Bristol Channel, is expected to provide power for up to one million homes, making it instantly one of the most significant pieces in Britain’s self-sufficiency puzzle.

Developer RWE npower renewables originally intended for 417 turbines, 14km (8.5 miles) off north Devon. However, after consultations with those likely to be affected by such as scheme and environmental groups, the firm has revised its plan, meaning as few as 188 could be built.

RWE expects to apply for consent to progress from the Planning Inspectorate by the end of the year, with a view to building up to 278 turbines at sea. In a rare move, the firm has decided to return for a second consultation with residents in north Devon and south Wales.

Announcing the move today, Robert Thornhill, Atlantic Array development manager, said: “We had a consultation last year, with a lot of feedback. Visuals were one of the key concerns raised, and since then we have been progressing our environmental and engineering work. As a result, we have reviewed the project, reduced the project area to take into account the aim to reduce the visual impact and we have identified an area of relatively higher usage by birds and marine mammals to the north so we have moved the project out of this area to avoid that.”

The development chimes with other significant renewable projects in the West Country. These include the multi-million-pound Wave Hub off the coast of Hayle, as well as the Marine Energy Park encompassing much of the South West coast line.

Mr Thornhill said the total output – up to 1,500MW – was not likely to alter, despite the changes to the number of turbines. If the highest-performing machines are used, their height will be 220m to tip, two-thirds of the size of the Big Ben clock tower. At their lowest, they will be 165m to blade tip.

Mike Birkin, South West campaigner for Friends of the Earth, welcomed the revised plans. He said: “This is pleasing, it obviously shows that the consultation stage has not been an empty gesture, the firm has listened. There is an environmental reason for developing this site anyway, and off-shore energy is having a huge impact on contributing to the South West being a massive part of the bonanza that is offered by a new industry.”

The firm is hoping for permission to build in 2014, with connection to the National Grid by October 2016.

The second phase of consultation will begin in north Devon on July 12 at Abbotsham Old School House.