A giant offshore wind farm planned for the English Channel is likely to be radically scaled back and could be scrapped altogether amid fierce local opposition and restrictions on subsidies.
The £3bn Navitus Bay project, which is currently being assessed by the planning inspectorate, would involve up to 194 turbines and has been highly controversial because it would be visible from the Jurassic coast, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as the Isle of Wight and Bournemouth.
The project’s developers, EDF Energy and Eneco, have now quietly submitted plans for a smaller wind farm that would involve a maximum of 105 turbines and be further from the shore.
The new plan was drawn up in response to a request from planning inspectors, implying they have concerns about the visual impact of the initial plan.
It is now expected to be considered alongside the original application, with a decision on both resting with the energy secretary next autumn.
The original application for Navitus Bay would have placed the turbines – which are between 580 and 656 feet tall – less than 9 miles from shore at the closest point, by Durlston Head. The revised proposal would be almost 12 miles from shore.
However, critics of the project, including Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West, have already said they remain opposed to even the scaled-back option.
The Telegraph understands that EDF is keeping the project under review and is unlikely to proceed if it believes doing so would taint its reputation.
The French nuclear energy giant is best known in the UK as one of the Big Six household suppliers and as developer of Britain’s first new nuclear plant in a generation at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
While Hinkley Point has attracted national criticism over its costs, EDF believes the project has secured widespread public acceptance in Somerset in a way Navitus Bay is yet to in Dorset.
Mr Burns said he and the leader of Bournemouth council met Vincent de Rivaz, EDF Energy chief executive, recently and told him: “We are going to fight this every step of the way.”
“My sense is he was taken aback at the strength of feeling expressed to him,” Mr Burns said.
Mr Burns said the developers’ engagement with local communities had been “disastrous” and he was “absolutely not” happy with the revised proposal because of concerns about its impact on the Jurassic coastline’s UNESCO status and tourism to the area.
One wind industry source with links to the project said they believed that while Mr de Rivaz was willing to stake his reputation on fighting for a nuclear plant, he would not “fight for a wind farm”.
Even if EDF gains planning consent and decides it wants to proceed, the project is further in doubt because of Government restrictions on funding for renewable energy.
Offshore wind farms rely on consumer-funded subsidies and industry experts say Navitus Bay would face tough competition to secure a subsidy contract.
Only a limited pot of funding will be allocated by the Department of Energy and Climate Change each year. This year’s budget allocation process can fund just one offshore wind farm – despite five expected to seek subsidies.
Navitus Bay is thought to be among three offshore wind projects that would be hoping to compete for subsidies for the first time next year if DECC releases more funding, potentially in addition to some of those that failed to secure funding this year.
DECC it is yet to confirm how much budget, if any, will be awarded.
Gareth Miller of consultancy Cornwall Energy, said: “Based on the expected cautious approach to budget release by DECC it is realistic to assume that the 2015 auction for less-established technologies [such as offshore wind] will still be highly competitive through over-supply.
“Therefore I am afraid that there are likely to still be disappointed parties in 2015 just as there are now bound to be in 2014.”
Mike Unsworth, project director for Navitus Bay, said it remained “fully committed” to the original proposal.
“Ultimately the Secretary of State will consider which option strikes the right balance between benefits and impacts. However, Navitus Bay continues to have confidence in its original planning application, and believes it strikes the right balance and proposes sufficient measures to address any potential impacts.”
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