The world’s biggest wind farm planned for construction in the UK could pose a threat to thousands of birds, conservationists have warned.
Giant turbines generating enough energy for two million homes are to built in the flight paths of two of iconic seabirds.
Gannets and kittiwakes fly regularly over the coastal site where 300 turbines can now be built after today’s Government approval.
Conservationists say they are “deeply concerned” for the hundreds of thousands of birds that flock to Yorkshire’s North Sea coastline to nest but feed where the turbines will be built.
Hornsea Project Two wind farm is planned for open water 55 miles off shore and will create 1,960 construction jobs as well as work for 580 operational and maintenance staff.
Giving the 1.8gigawatts scheme development consent today, Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said: “Britain is a global leader in offshore wind, and we’re determined to be one of the leading destinations for investment in renewable energy, which means jobs and economic growth right across the country.”
Yet news of the £6 billion scheme has generated “deep concerns” for environmentalists who fear that the location will impact on a stretch of coastline internationally renown for its striking seabird cliff colonies, often described as one of Britain’s great contributions to the natural world.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says offshore wind farms are vital if the UK is to cut its carbon footprint but believes Hornsea Project Two poses an “unacceptably high risk to seabirds that nest on the Yorkshire coast”.
It says research work monitoring satellite-tracked seabirds shows how Hornsea Project Two would be directly in the flight path of threatened gannets and kittiwakes and, in combination with other North Sea wind farms, poses an “unacceptable level of threat” to the birds as well as having potential impacts on guillemots, razorbills and puffins.
Gwyn Williams, RSPB’s head of reserves and protected areas, said: “Each year, hundreds of thousands of birds flock to the cliffs between Flamborough Head and Filey Cliffs in a mesmerising seabird spectacle.
“The importance of this site, not just to Yorkshire but to the UK, has been recognised and the site is designated as a Special Protection Area by the Government.
“Many of the birds that nest there fly out to feed where these wind turbines are being proposed, just over 60 miles away. Combined with the impacts of other offshore wind farms we are deeply concerned about the future of these seabirds.
“We have looked at the plans, and tried to work with the developer, but do not feel the ecological mitigation measures proposed are in any way adequate, and Hornsea Project Two continues to pose an unacceptable risk to nature.
“We are now even more concerned for the future of the Flamborough to Filey seabirds if the developers of the Hornsea zone bring forward their next two phases.”
The RSPB says its 2050 Energy Vision publication shows it is possible to have a low-carbon, high-renewable energy future in harmony with the UK’s nature and has developed maps to show where offshore technologies can be delivered.
Mr Williams added: “We are keen to continue to work with the energy companies to help find suitable sites that won’t give rise to the potentially disastrous effects Hornsea Project Two may have on nature.”
The Government green light to the project follows Dong Energy’s investment decision to build the 1.2gigawatts Hornsea One Project that will power one million homes.
Dong Energy has yet to commit to funding the second project but says it will be reviewing the development consent and then work towards making a final investment decision.
The company is in control of Hornsea Project One, Two and Three, earmarked to be built in the so-called Hornsea Zone, which represents one of the world’s largest allocated spaces for offshore wind development at more than twice the size of Greater London.
Hornsea Project One is due to be located 74 miles off the Yorkshire coast, covering about 407sq km and will consist of up to 240 turbines, each of which is 190 metres tall, and with a 2020 operational starting date. The aim is for Project One to be operational by 2020.
Brent Cheshire, Dong Energy’s UK chairman, said: “Development consent for Hornsea Project Two is very welcome.
“We have already invested £6 billion in the UK, and Hornsea Project Two provides us with another exciting development opportunity in offshore wind.
“Hornsea Project Two is a huge potential infrastructure project which could provide enough green energy to power 1.6 million UK homes.
“A project of this size will help in our efforts to continue reducing the cost of electricity from offshore wind and shows our commitment to investing in the UK.”