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United Kingdom

Three zones for greater competition -- Offshore strategy in UK

Future offshore wind farms should be concentrated in three areas around Britain's coast, says the UK government. Wind farms will be bigger and closer together so that developers will be able to share survey work and costs of bringing power ashore, making the electricity cheaper, says the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in its offshore wind strategy published in November. "The new framework will enable developers to think big," says UK energy minister Brian Wilson.

The DTI proposes that the next development rounds should focus on the north Irish Sea, from the Solway Firth down to north Wales, and on the other side of the country, on the Greater Wash off eastern England and the Thames Estuary off the south east coast. The three zones will not, however, preclude wind farm proposals elsewhere.

The "Future Offshore" consultation document sets out the DTI's proposals to take offshore wind beyond Britain's first round of smaller wind plant: 18 developers were granted seabed leases in 2001 by the Crown Estate -- owner of the territorial seabed -- to develop wind farms of no more than 30 turbines each (Windpower Monthly, October 2002). The new strategy is a "major step forward" in ensuring the orderly development of a UK offshore wind industry, claims Wilson. In theory, the three strategic areas could source enough electricity to power the whole of Britain, albeit intermittently, he says.

"The most crucial part of this strategy is that it focuses on key areas to develop our wind potential," says Wilson. "This will stimulate greater competition, which in turn means the most efficient use of the sea will be made."

Shallow waters

The proposed areas have relatively shallow waters -- mostly at a depth of up to 30 metres -- and extend beyond Britain's 12 mile legal limit. New legislation is needed for wind farms outside British territorial waters, but the government proposes to grant exploration licences for sites beyond the limit, allowing developers to begin exploratory work until the new legal framework comes into force. This will be necessary for a proposal already being drawn up by Canadian oil company Talisman Energy for a wind farm near its Beatrice oil field in the outer Moray Firth.

The government has begun strategic environmental assessments (SEAs) of the three areas. The first phase of the SEAs will assess the major environmental risks and uncertainties and will identify work programs for reducing them. This is to be completed in early 2003, before the Crown Estate invites bids under the next round of site leases. "I expect much larger proposals to come forward than the 30 turbine projects leased in the first round," says Wilson. Already, plans for a 500 MW wind farm of 150 turbines in the outer Thames Estuary have been revealed by Powergen Renewables.

The government is also seeking views on how licences for offshore developments should be allocated and whether to operate fixed or rolling leasing rounds. The DTI favours a bidding process that focuses on the "credibility" of wind farm proposals -- their scale and impacts -- rather than on price. It proposes inviting applications in fixed rounds every three years within the strategic areas. The Crown Estate's target for announcing the first competition is April 2003.

The consultation document also proposes improvements to the consents process to streamline planning approvals offshore, and it invites views on offshore electrical cable infrastructure. The DTI requests responses to the consultation by February 18, 2003.

The British Wind Energy Association welcomes the consultation, which "proves that we are seeing the birth of a new industry," says the BWEA's Nick Goodall.

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