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British offshore vision hits reality -- Industry questions 33 GW target

The offshore wind industry has extended only a cautious welcome to the British government's expansive plans for 33 GW of wind capacity off the UK coast by 2020. That would require ramping up installations to 5 GW a year from 2015, says Gordon Edge of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). The industry suggests that a more modest target of 20 GW is "ambitious but achievable."

To reach 20 GW would require delivery of 3 GW a year. "That looks like a much more sustainable level for the UK market," says Edge. "If you want to go beyond 20 GW, you have to throw everything at it, and then some." A BWEA assessment of the supply chain's ability to deliver offshore wind in the UK shows that by 2015 the industry could be installing 1 GW of new capacity a year.

The government target was announced by energy secretary John Hutton in a new draft plan for the next generation of offshore energy development, including oil, gas and wind. It aims to see up to 25 GW of offshore wind built in addition to 8 GW already planned from the first two rounds of offshore development. This 33 GW would be enough to power all the homes in the UK, he claims.

The plan invites comments on the scope of the government's planned strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of the seas around the UK, a precursor to further offshore development. The SEA will examine territorial waters around England and Wales up to a depth of 60 metres and "renewable energy zones" outside the 12 nautical mile territorial limit up to 200 nautical miles from the coast. But it will not cover Scottish and Northern Irish territorial waters where, it says, there is limited scope for development.

Comments on the SEA are required by the Department of Business and Regulatory Reform (BERR) by the start of February 1. Also early in 2008, the Crown Estate -- the owner of the seabed -- will kick off the competitive process for bidding for offshore wind development leases under "Round 3". Running alongside the SEA, BERR is commissioning a major study of the power grid to absorb large increases in electricity from offshore wind farms.

"The challenge for government and for industry is to turn this potential -- for our energy and economy -- into a cost-effective reality," says Hutton. The BWEA report, "Offshore Wind -- Moving up a Gear," predicts over £35 billion of investment by 2020, with possibly up to 50% directed to British companies. Long term stability should attract new entrants into the market, especially as companies seek to diversify out of oil and gas, it says.

Report author Bruce Valpy of BVG Associates comments: "There has been a significant change in attitude from utility developers from obligation to opportunity."

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